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Amazing wildfire risk reduction and preparedness efforts have occurred in 2020 across the country during the challenge of COVID-19.  You can nominate an outstanding individual, group, or organization that continuously demonstrates exceptional wildfire risk reduction achievements to be considered for the National Wildfire Mitigation Awards.  The deadline for submission is Friday, November 13, 2020. 

 

Established in 2014, in response to an overwhelming number of great wildfire mitigation program efforts across the nation, the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards program recognizes outstanding work and significant program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are jointly sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the USDA Forest Service.

These awards are designed to recognize effective community wildfire adaptation and risk reduction efforts by individuals and organizations. A wide range of efforts are recognized, such as the creation of local mitigation coalitions, community wildfire protection plans, community-wide risk assessments, reducing home ignition risks, hazardous fuel treatments, fire department engagement in wildfire risk reduction, and use of codes and ordinances. The award sponsors seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts.

Submit a nomination and view the nomination guidelines and selection criteria here on NASF’s website.

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please 
visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

To meet the needs of homeowners and business owners at risk from wildfire, and the fire departments that serve them, NFPA will develop a digital wildfire safety hub containing online learning modules, 3D simulations, educational videos, and other essential resources, all thanks to a generous FEMA grant. The Fire Prevention & Safety Grant was awarded to NFPA for a two-year project to transform its classroom-based wildfire risk reduction training into a comprehensive digital learning experience that reaches millions of Americans living and working in the wildland/urban interface (WUI).

 

While the past few years of devastating wildfires in California have captured national attention, it’s not only California communities that are vulnerable. The recently released Wildfire Risk to Communities data shows that 24 states, nearly half outside the Western U.S., have a significant risk to homes. With nearly 44 million properties identified as vulnerable to the impacts of wildfires nationwide, the potential for future structure damage and loss is enormous. NFPA chose a digital experiential approach to ensure the widest possible dissemination and implementation of critical wildfire mitigation measures to these high-risk areas.

 

The project will be conducted in partnership with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization, and overseen by a technical advisory panel of experts. NFPA will develop three curricula: one each for homeowners, business owners/property managers, and fire service and public safety personnel. Each will provide the appropriate knowledge for each audience regarding WUI fire mitigation practices, using interactive web-based training and engaging simulations in a 3D virtual environment. The experiential training modules and additional tools will be readily available, along with NFPA’s rich wildfire safety content, on the planned website hub.

 

NFPA believes the courses and tools we will build with the support of this grant will help spur much needed risk-reduction measures at the property and neighborhood levels, buoying the voluntary efforts of residents and firefighters who engage in fire adaptation including NFPA’s Firewise USA Recognition Program and its annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day campaign.

 

Image: An in-person classroom training, Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire. The new training and resources will use the information and knowledge this class is based on to expand NFPA's wildfire safety education to millions of Americans through digital delivery.

graphic showing the home ignition zone, highlighting the immediate 0-5 foot space and the intermediate 5-30 foot space.  Both are important for protecting homes from wildfire.

The home ignition zone (HIZ) is the foundation NFPA has built its wildfire preparedness programs and resources on.  A concept coined by retired USFS researcher Dr. Jack Cohen, the basic premise of the HIZ is that the condition of the home (what it is made of and its state of repair) and the vegetation surrounding it, out to 100 feet, have the biggest influence on whether or not a home will ignite from a wildfire.  It is broken down into three areas of concern, the immediate, intermediate, and extended.  Previously we learned about the immediate 0-5 feet, today we'll cover the 5-30 foot zone.

 

The Intermediate Zone is 5-30 feet from the furthest exterior point of the home.  While the 0-5 foot focuses on eliminating combustible material, this area is all about spacing and maintenance, making sure there isn't continuous vegetation all around the home.  It uses landscaping and breaks (areas of non-combustible materials such as dirt, cement, or rock) to help influence and decrease fire behavior. 

 

When looking at a home or group of homes, here are items to consider:      

  • Are there fuel breaks such as driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks?
  • Are lawns and native grasses maintained? General recommendation is a height of 4 inches.
  • Is vegetation in this area spread out? It is recommended that trees and shrubs should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up continuity; trees should be spaced to a minimum of 18 feet between crowns.
  • Have ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) been removed so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns?  Have trees been pruned? General recommendations are up to 6 to 10 feet from the ground; for shorter trees, do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.
  • Are plants, trees, and lawns watered to keep them from becoming dry?

There is potential for a lot of work needed in this area, but don't get overwhelmed.  Take stock of what you have, prioritize tasks - maybe put some easy wins first, and keep chipping away.  Our preparing homes for wildfire page has excellent tips to help you on your way.

 

This intermediate zone presents an opportunity for overlap with adjacent properties.  As you work on projects, consider reaching out to your neighbors to collaborate and leverage resources. 

 

Sign up for NFPA Networkto stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

  

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

 

Even as wildfire weather conditions continue to plague parts of California, October has seen wildfire activity erupt across Colorado. In recent days, fires that have been burning in more remote areas of northwest and central parts of the state for more than two months have been joined by fires closer to populated areas including the city and county of Boulder and the celebrated resort town of Estes Park. At the time of writing this blog, the National Weather Service is predicting cold and snow moving in – but the cold front is bringing strong winds first, that will make controlling the spread and movement of these fires all but impossible.

 

It’s hard to get a handle on all that’s happening, but reports include thousands of people evacuated from developed areas all around the Front Range region. In our current pandemic situation, sheltering thousands of people together presents real concerns about virus transmission. The East Troublesome wildfire has grown in just a couple of days to the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history (the Cameron Peak fire north of it near Fort Collins, still burning after starting in mid-August, is the largest at more than 200,000 acres). There are real concerns that these fires will spread and join. It’s mind-boggling to watch as week by week and day by day, “largest fire” records are shattered. NFPA’s Firewise map includes the data on fire perimeters and hotspots for you to track the location and growth of these fires.

 

There have been homes destroyed, but while the fires are still burning, firefighters and county sheriffs are focused on fire response, not yet on damage assessment. Many community safety leaders are sharing information about safe evacuation, safe return, and disaster recovery.

 

As my NFPA colleague Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan posted back in September, it’s time to be prepared, especially to evacuate, if you’re in an area with a fire weather watch or warning happening. See her post for the tips we provide to keep you and your family safe. If you are in an area under these warnings, keep aware of the news and check your local sheriff’s or emergency management agency’s website or social media pages. As the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association advises, be sure to take steps to protect your finances by knowing your insurance policy, keeping your receipts, and contacting your agent whether you’ve been evacuated, are under a pre-evacuation alert, or if you’ve suffered a loss due to wildfire.

A Firewise site in California used the five-year anniversary of a tragic wildfire and the rebuilding of a damaged local bridge to host an innovative community event that drew residents and numerous local agencies.  The event illustrates how a Firewise site can sustain local risk knowledge, while also bringing neighbors together in a challenging time to gain wildfire education and guidance on what they can accomplish around their own homes individually. 

 

A local newspaper article highlighted that the Cobb Firewise Group 2 in Lake County, California, hosted a, “ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the newly restored bridge and a drive-thru contest where participating residents decorated their own vehicles or golf carts and drove them across the bridge.”  This, among other events held this year, helped Cobb Firewise Group 2 renew and continue their active status in the Firewise USA Program

 

I caught up with the site’s organizer, Cindy Leonard, who shared with me that they, “have been hard at work on fire preparedness and emergency preparedness, while we are also still in the midst of disaster recovery from the Valley Fire National Disaster in 2015.”

 

Adapting to the realities of 2020, Cindy explained that, “The Emergency Preparedness Committee of the Cobb Area Council started doing two annual preparedness events a few years back.  When it came time to do our Spring event we needed to pivot to the drive-through model due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  We are used to pivoting around here, due to PSPS [public safety power shut off] events, evacuations, smoke days, it seems like every year something new gets added to the list!”

 

To help host the event, Cindy noted that they, “received some funding through the EPIC/Listos program that North Coast Opportunities is administrating, as well as funds from the Rebuild North Bay foundation to do the spring drive-through event.”

 

We applaud Cobb Firewise Group 2’s commitment to the Firewise USA program through their innovative community outreach and to building resident empowerment around wildfire risks in Lake County, California.  Learn more about what you can do around your home by taking a drive over to Firewise.org.  

Photo Credit: Cindy Leonard, 21 October 2020. 

 

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

When reading about the wildfires ravaging the western United States, it is easy to get bogged down with a sense of sadness as scenes from the frontlines are more and more heartbreaking. However, one thing is certain. People are pooling brainpower and mobilizing efforts to control what can be controlled. Out of the ashes rise stories about neighbors helping neighbors implement successful mitigation efforts in Firewise USA sites, researchers using data to identify pockets of high-risk residents who may need unique support during evacuation, and local agencies re-designing Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP) on the fly to consider added complications of living in wildfire risk zones amidst a global pandemic.   

 

Community is at the heart of the issue.  We only need to look as far as the wildland urban interface to find this intersection of data-informed decision-making, energetic community partners, and residents who portray an ever-valuable sense of responsibility for safety. In fact, Firewise USA can serve as the perfect micro-model of Community Risk Reduction (CRR). Leaders in local initiatives collect information about the people, geography, weather, and hazards such as building materials and local vegetation to assess wildfire risk. They take stock of available services and resources. Then they pull local partners together to develop plans and take measurable action to mitigate risk.

 

Most importantly, these initiatives truly reflect the “C” in CRR with a never-wavering connection to the people who live in the community. As we hear more and more about the silver linings that peek through the ash, I suspect we will find creative ways to leverage the passion and energy found in Firewise sites to reduce risks even beyond wildfire.

 

Community Risk Reduction (CRR) is a process to identify and prioritize local risks of all kinds, followed by the integrated and strategic investment of resources to reduce their occurrence and impact. It requires a deep look at local data and consideration all of the puzzle pieces - geography, systems, and resources – to get a clear view of how hazards might impact resident safety. This Community Risk Assessment (CRA) is the critical first step in the CRR process. Once that information is gathered, a local team determines the priority issues and then develops plans to address those risks. The process, while it can be challenging, is hugely beneficial to those who are laser-focused in allocating resources in impactful ways.

 

Stop by NFPA's CRR page for updates about Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction and access to NFPA 1300 Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development. You can also follow me on twitter @KBerardReed for updates about these important topics.

 

Photo Credit: Firewise Photo Library

 

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

In recognition of the value of wildfire risk reduction, including participation in NFPA’s Firewise USA Recognition Program, Mercury Insurance is the second major insurance company in recent years to offer discounts to its California customers who have taken steps to protect their homes.

 

Wildfire season in California has gotten progressively worse in recent years, lasting longer and growing in severity. It’s increasingly important for homeowners to actively reduce their wildfire risk to better protect their homes, families, and property.  

 

Mercury Insurance now offers wildfire mitigation discounts to California homeowners living in wildfire-prone regions. Homeowners who take one or more steps to harden their homes against wildfires or live in a community recognized by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as a Firewise USA site will be eligible to receive discounts of up to 18%.  

 

“We’re in this together, which is why Mercury is engineering solutions to encourage proactive actions that better protect homeowners from wildfires,” said Jane Li, Mercury Insurance’s director of product management. “It’s important for homeowners in these areas to take proactive steps to help shield their property from fire, and it’s just as important for everyone in the community to work together to reduce their shared ignition risks, which could save them money and improve their insurance eligibility.”

 

Mercury joins auto and home insurer USAA in rewarding homeowners for their active participation in wildfire risk reduction via the Firewise USA Recognition Program. USAA began offering a homeowners insurance discount to its members in Firewise USA sites in California in 2014 and has expanded this program to 10 additional states over the years.

 

Mercury’s community-level discount is for homes that are located in an NFPA Firewise USA Recognition Program site, shelter-in-place community, or are part of a community with an active annual fuel mitigation program in place. To learn more about eligibility, get an online quote or speak to a Mercury agent

 

To learn more about Firewise USA and whether your community participates, please visit www.firewise.org.

A recent op-ed picked up by many small-town papers reminds us that amidst the all too frequent scenes of burned out homes following a wildfire are neighboring green trees. The op-ed challenges our perception of wildfire impacts and its authors, Professor Stephen Pyne and Forest Service Fire Scientist Dr. Jack Cohen, have a lot of experience to share on the topic.

In the piece, they explore why the “tsunami of flame” narrative is so appealing but also why it is not reflective at all of how wildfire spreads in a community, nor of the urban conflagration that unfortunately follows. In reading it myself, I find Pyne and Cohen bring a wealth of historical context to the current wildfire risk discussion. As we develop again in rural areas with new “wildland urban interface”, it’s a lesson worth hearing again too.

The op-ed is part of the “Writers on the Range” initiative that helps support local and rural newspapers in western states with journalism pieces that discuss the region’s natural resource diversity. I encourage you to read some of the other pieces on their site and, of course, in local papers across the west.

 

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

Firewise USA site members and partners with sign in front of community buildingWhen looking at wildfire preparedness, it is important to remember that everyone has a role to play, including residents.  More and more people are living where wildfires are a real risk, but that risk doesn't have to go unchecked.  There are proactive steps that individuals and neighbors can take to help protect their homes and communities and improve their safety when faced with a wildfire.

 

Join us Wednesday, October 7th at 4 p.m. EDT as NFPA’s wildfire safety team discusses the Firewise USA program and resources to help you and your neighbors on your wildfire preparedness journey.  We’ll walk step by step through the process of organizing a Firewise USA site, using our online portal and web resources to help you learn about wildfire and take action to make homes more ignition-resistant.

 

If you’re already part of one of the more than 1,700 Firewise USA sites around the nation, we’ll show you how to update your information for 2020 and point out where to find new and helpful resources to educate and motivate your neighbors. Remember, annual renewal applications are due by November 20, 2020.

 

Register today for Becoming Wildfire Ready with Firewise USA: Tips, Tools and Techniques and share the event with your friends and neighbors.  Just in case you aren't able to join us live, the event will be recorded and available on our website at a later date.

 

Sign up for NFPA Network to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

  

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

graphic showing a home, patio, and immediate 0-5 feet around it, also know as the immediate zone.

Here at NFPA we spend a lot of time sharing resources to help residents who are trying to reduce their risk from wildfire. We frequently speak of the home ignition zone and what actions to take, sometimes forgetting that people might be new to the entire concept. 

With that in mind I'd like to take a moment to review the what home ignition zone is and its first component - the home and the immediate area.

The Home Ignition Zone is a concept coined by retired USFS researcher Dr. Jack Cohen.  The basic idea is that the condition of the home (what it is made of and its state of repair) and the vegetation surrounding it, out to 100 feet, have the biggest influence on whether or not a home will ignite from a wildfire. Original research by Dr. Cohen and additional research from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) shows that the first 0 to 5 feet around the structure, known as the immediate zone or noncombustible zone, has the greatest impact on your risk and should be your starting point.

This area is critical due to the primary source of how homes ignite - embers and small surface flames.  You want to keep this zone free of  combustible materials, which can be a landing bed for embers or can help carry surface fires up to the house.

Some items to consider in the immediate zone:    wooden steps to a home covered in dried leaves and pine needles, combustible fuels right next to wooden lattice

  •  Is there dead vegetation, dried leaves, pine needles, and ground debris near foundations?
  • Has hardscaping been used around perimeters to keep them free of litter/debris? Are there concrete, stone, or gravel walkways?
  • Have wood mulch products been replaced with non-combustible alternatives, such as crushed stone/gravel options?
  • Are there trees/shrubs next to the home? Are there branches overhanging the roof or within 10 feet of chimneys?

Check out these resources to learn more about the area and what actions to take to reduce your risk in this zone:

  • Preparing Homes for Wildfire - get recommendations and download tip sheets (English and Spanish) to share with your family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Immediate (noncombustible zone) wildfire research fact sheet - download this fact sheet and share far and wide with those in wildfire prone areas.
  • Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes -This online learning module is an overview of fire history, fire basics, and how homes burn. The module can be completed in approximately 30 minutes and is available in English and Spanish.

By spending a little time in this area you can greatly improve the chances of your home withstanding a wildfire and gain a greater peace of mind.

 

Sign up for NFPA Network to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

For more than a decade, federal and state agencies, local governments, and nonprofit advocates of wildfire safety have been working to get their arms around the magnitude and scope of wildfire risk in the U.S. The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy includes protecting homes and communities as one of its three main objectives. Yet prior decades of research had largely ignored aspects of community risk in favor of a focus on managing vegetation and landscapes rather than people and property. 

 

This year, however, the public can benefit from the results of recent work to combine what we know about the science of home ignition with the known information about wildfire spread and community vulnerability. I talk about why I think the new Wildfire Risk to Communities platform is so incredibly valuable in the current issue of NFPA Journal. In addition to my thorough admiration for the accomplishment of agencies and their partners in bringing this resource to the public within two years of a Congressional directive, I found the risk information on the platform to be presented in an attractive, easy-to-use, and compelling manner. It is a giant step forward in helping community leaders justify and advocate for improved wildfire planning and safety. 

 

-Follow me on Twitter @Michele_NFPA for more information about wildfire safety resources!

In a year that has been described as unprecedented, September has lived up to that reality. In the last several days Washington, Oregon, and California have dealt with extreme weather conditions resulting in devastating wildfires.  Many of our partners and Firewise USA participants are in a state of heightened alert, watching to see what the current fires will do and monitoring for new ones.

 In light of that, and the fact that September is National Preparedness Month, we want to encourage folks to take a few minutes to make sure you and your family are ready. If there are wildfires in your area:

  • Stay aware of the latest news and updates from your local media, fire department, and state agency responsible for wildfire
  • Get your family, home and pets prepared to evacuate.
  • Place your emergency supply kit and other valuables in your vehicle.
  • Move patio or deck furniture, cushions, door mats and potted plants in wooden containers either indoors or as far away from the home, shed and garage as possible.
  • Close and protect your home’s openings, including attic and basement doors and vents, windows, garage doors and pet doors to prevent embers from penetrating your home.
  • Leave as early as possible, before you’re told to evacuate. Do not linger once evacuation orders have been given. Promptly leaving your home and neighborhood clears roads for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire, and helps ensure residents’ safety.

This week has been heartbreaking to watch. The staff in NFPA's wildfire division would like to acknowledge that there are Firewise USA sites impacted and those residents remain close to the heart of the program as these fires continue to burn. 

 

 As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Handing Firewise USA recognition sign to recipientAs wildfires ignite landscapes and communities during this active fire year, interest in community action to improve wildfire safety is at an all-time high. Folks are seeking out the Firewise USA recognition program in greater numbers than ever before, with hundreds of new sites in the process of having their applications approved. This is great news, but when articles come out that a new site has met the criteria, the headlines often say that the community has become “Firewise-certified” or “earned their certification from Firewise.”

 

What’s in a name? And why doesn’t “recognition” smell as sweet to copy editors as “certification?” Often, the brief articles I see celebrating a community’s hard work to become safer from wildfire will use NFPA’s information about Firewise verbatim, and will talk about the community being recognized for its efforts, even when the headline says “certified.” All this would be simply a fussy English major’s headache, if it weren’t for the real concern our program team has about what “certification” and “certified” imply.

 

A quick web search showed a pretty consistent pattern that certification applies most often to people, not to groups, and implies a high professional standard of achievement that allows an individual to access a certain job role or professional qualification. Certified accountants come to mind. One of the few certifications I found applying to an organization had to do with the ability of organizations to access specific government funding. And of course, NFPA develops and provides certifications of various kinds to help fire inspectors, electricians, and others demonstrate technical competency in their fields.

 

NFPA’s national recognition of neighborhoods where residents organize and follow guidelines to become safer from wildfire doesn’t apply to individuals (and certainly not individual homes). Yes, there are criteria that have to be met, but they are fairly flexible and are intended to encourage people living in high-risk areas to get started on a years-long, community-wide journey toward greater safety. Unlike a certification, Firewise USA recognition is not an end-point, nor the end-all-and-be-all of wildfire safety.

 

The more we see “certified” and “certification” being tossed around in articles and online conversation, the more the perception of Firewise USA seems to become warped and conflated with individual homes meeting some mythical standard of safety or insurability. This perception is understandable, especially in California, where more and more people living in high-risk areas have experienced insurance rate increases or have had to shop for insurance when their carrier declines to continue covering their property. However, we simply can’t claim that any given property is safer or its risk has been reduced just because the minimum community-wide criteria have been met on a voluntary basis. While we’ve seen positive effects on overall community safety over time, Firewise recognition is not a magic wand we wave to make a home with a flammable roof and overgrown vegetation safe from wildfire. Recognition is our encouragement and acknowledgment that communities have taken the first steps toward safety, and toward a sustained effort to change the results when wildfire strikes.

 

Photo: Community members presented with Firewise USA Recognition sign, NFPA.

Evacuating large groups of people with little notice during an evolving wildfire event is challenge enough in any other year.  But in 2020, the added risk to evacuees and responders from COVID-19 exposure hangs ominously over an already difficult effort.  So what is being done to balance this current reality?  The latest NFPA Podcast talks with Luke Beckman, a director at the Red Cross Pacific Division, to learn how the organization revamped its response plans and operations ahead of the massive wildfires now striking Northern California.

 

I caught up with Jesse Roman, Associate Editor of NFPA Journal and the host of The NFPA Podcast, to learn what stood out to him from the conversation.  Jesse shared, “It was amazing to learn how the pandemic forced the Red Cross to completely change so many aspects of its disaster response. Even things like feeding and sheltering evacuees—stuff the Red Cross has been doing a very long time—suddenly had to be completely re-imagined in just a few months because of the virus."

 

Jesse went onto explain that, “It’s incredible how quickly they were able develop new strategies, train their huge staff of volunteers, and be ready to jump right into action when the fires hit.”

 

This conversation, "Disaster Planning During a Pandemic", has additional insight about similar evacuation planning for late July’s Hurricane Isaias, and can be found under the “Latest Podcasts” from August on The NFPA Podcast page.  Previous editions are also worth your time and you can listen and subscribe to it on Apple, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

 

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

Today’s LA Times article about the numerous wildfires north of San Francisco, CA, and in Northern California highlights in stark terms their current challenge.  “…The sheer magnitude of what has already burned is sobering: about 1.3 million acres this month alone, with four more months of potential fire season to go. Only 2018 saw more land scorched in California — over an entire year.” 

Wildfires in California are a normal occurrence, but two factors make the current situation more severe then we’re used to hearing about at this time of year.  One is a tremendous amount of lightning and the other is that August’s dry weather creates a much different landscape then what meets the usual wildfires of October and November. 

 

As of Monday, August 24, there are over two dozen major fires and multi-fire event “lightning complexes”.  The San Francisco Chronicle has a very good live-map of the current wildfires and their status information.  The LA Times explains that, “the blazes include the LNU Lightning Complex fire, which at nearly 350,000 acres is the second-largest fire in California history. The SCU Lightning Complex fire, at more than 347,000 acres, is the next largest.  Combined, they dwarf the Thomas fire, which at 281,893 acres shattered the records just three years ago.”

 

The majority of the roughly 1100 residential and commercial structures lost and evacuations seen thus far have occurred since August 15th, “which marked the start of what officials are calling a “lightning siege” of about 12,000 strikes that started an estimated 585 fires…” in the state, as noted by the LA Times. 

 

I spoke with NFPA’s Wildfire Field Representative, Dave Shew – also a long-time California resident – about the role lightning is playing in ignitions and he explained that usually at this time of year, weather that is generating lightning is more north in the Sierra Nevada Mountain areas, not down towards San Francisco, and never this concentrated.  He stressed, “the widespread lightning siege in the Bay area is unheard of at this time of year.” 

 

Lightning is also connecting with a landscape full of dry vegetation baking in August’s heat.  There is also little respite delivered by over-night lower temperatures that one would usually see in the fall months. 

 

From his vantage point in Napa County, CA, north of San Francisco, Dave shared with me that these current wildfires, “seem to have a very different feel from our typical fall wind event fires.  With those, we get hurricane force winds blowing everything up, but as soon as the wind stops blowing, the fires essentially go out.  With these, we are still in the summer, with longer, hotter days, and very little or no cooling at night to allow for a “recovery” period.”

 

Dave went onto explain that these current fires, “appear to be largely topography driven, and yes, there are significant winds, but much more influence from dry vegetation and topography than normal.”  As lightning findings this fuel, he explains that it is, “not uncommon for them to smolder for a week or more before they start really burning.  So unfortunately, we are nowhere near out of the woods yet.”

 

Photo Credits:
1) Dave Shew, NFPA. 8-17-2020 PM Hennesey and Gamble Columns.  
2) Dave Shew, NFPA. 8-24-2020 current smoke obscuring views from a similar perspective. 

 

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

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