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Photo and information shared by Dave Celino Photo of Northeast 

 

 

A wildfire crew comprised of 16 state firefighters from Massachusetts DCR and 4 State Firefighters from New Hampshire Dept of Lands have been assisting firefighting efforts on the Elephant Hill fire in British Columbia, Canada.  The 20 person hand crew have been assisting along with crews from across the globe to battle the over 420,000-acre fire just outside of Clinton, BC.  The international crews they worked with came from Australia and New Zealand to assist their Canadian partners.

 

One of the main focuses of their firefighting efforts this week has been to keep wildfire away from the village of Clinton.  This crew was mobilized on August 3, in the Hopkinton State Park in Massachusetts and was initially transported to Quebec and from there to British Columbia.  The mobilization is facilitated through the Northeast Forest Fire Compact, which dates back to 1949 and establishes a formal forest fire mutual aid system between all New England States, New York, and the provinces of eastern Canada.  “We are very proud of our wildland firefighters and the opportunity to lend much-needed assistance to our friends and neighbors to the north.  Our staff is well trained, and by all accounts, their skills and professionalism have been welcomed by fire managers on the Elephant Hill Fire”, said Dave Celino, Chief Fire Warden for the Massachusetts Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.   The crew will be headed home with new found partners and skills.

 

 

Dave Celino, Massachusetts Forest Fire Warden shared these photos

The campaign message for NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week October 8-14, 2017 is, “Every Second Counts Plan Two Ways Out!”.  This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme stresses the importance of everyone having an escape plan.  Having a good plan in place can make all the difference in your survival from fire. 

 

Because every year, wildfires burn across the U.S., and more people are living where wildfires are a real risk, NFPA’s Wildfire Division has developed a tear sheet, “Seconds count: plan two ways out”.  This new product is a pad with 100 tear sheets that features a fun maze activity that can be used with children.  Children love mazes which makes this new product a great conversation starter for families on planning to evacuate before a wildfire occurs. Be sure to check out NFPA’s FPW products. Order early to receive your materials in time for Fire Prevention Week.

 

NFPA also has free downloadable products for Fire Prevention Week and for wildfire preparedness.  Make sure that kids and parents in your community understand the need to plan for fires wherever they are, indoors or out. 

NASA image of wildfires in Canada

Wildfire activity has been reported this year in areas across the globe by NASA satellites. These satellites are able to detect large amounts of smoke on the ground and pinpoint the fire activity.  An August 4 Modis Satellite report shared for instance where wildfire activity was occurring on the Island of Greenland which is mainly covered in ice.  The western side of the island is the area where most of the activity is occurring.

 

In Portugal, firefighters are battling at least 60 wildfires according to satellite images.  According to the NASA report low air humidity’s, high winds, and high temperatures are contributing to the severity of the wildfires there.  Seventy-nine percent of the Portuguese mainland has been affected by drought this year as well.

NASA images of wildfires in Russia

The Western area of Canada according to the satellite images is also being impacted by multiple wildfires.  According to the report, the province of British Columbia has the highest fire activity and highest National Preparedness level at a 5 out of 5.  About 1,245,000 acres have been affected this year alone in British Columbia.

 

Other areas across the globe noted by satellites that are impacted by wildfire include Central Africa, Brazil, and  Siberia in Russia.   You can check out the latest NASA YouTube videos of fire and smoke on the NASA website.


After a wildfire has made the headlines, the often unreported risks of soil erosion and flooding remains.  The difficult work of landscape restoration begins.

 

In early June, wildfires burned over 39 square miles along the “Garden Route” region of coastal South Africa, east of Cape Town. The wildfires forced the evacuation of at least 10,000 residents in the hardest-hit town of Knysna and its surrounding suburbs, with thousands more fleeing elsewhere as various fires spread.

 

In its aftermath, the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative was developed to assess the loss and guide redevelopment efforts across the region. They released a progress report in early August focusing on necessary landscape restoration efforts from the June and previous wildfires.

 

Their current work includes:

 

• Over 50 erosion control projects along exposed slopes by moving dead brush into stack lines; installing “bio-sausages”; and utilizing “bio-blankets” to retain top-soil, especially in catchment areas.  

 

• Monitoring large-scale invasive alien plant re-growth, while completing plans to employ a hydro-seeder for native plant development.

 

• Hiring and training efforts to spread the erosion control projects.

 

Val Charlton, Managing Director of the South Africa "Land Works Non-Profit Company" and its FireWiseSA Program, that serves on the initiative, shared with me her reflections on the current work.

 

“The Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires were some of the most devastating ever experienced in South Africa. Declared as a Provincial Disaster, it has been really heartening to see how people and organizations pull together - or "inspan" as we say in South Africa - to address the many post -fire challenges.”

 

Val explained that, “the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative has been formed as a multi-disciplinary, intergovernmental and civil society platform to do just that - rebuild, be innovative in approach and build back better. It will be a long haul, but folks are committed.”

 

Noting some of the challenges faced by the initiative, Val shared that, “in addition to more than 1000 homes damaged or destroyed, this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - outstanding natural areas and rare biodiversity.”

 

The landscape restoration focus is of great importance right now to the initiative. Val explained that, “as winter rains [southern hemisphere in August] are expected, addressing mudslides, slippage and erosion control on the steep slopes have been some of the first actions. Stabilization of the burn scar will remain a priority in the near future in order to keep roads open and avoid risk to homeowners adjoining and on the slopes.”

 

You can follow their post-fire landscape restoration and community rebuilding efforts on The Garden Route Rebuild Facebook page.

 

Photo Credits: Garden Route Rebuild 3Aug17 Progress Report, pulled 14Aug17 

Photo submitted by Jennifer Berry of Gary and Mugsy Berry 

September is FEMA's National Preparedness Month and is a good time to revisit your family’s evacuation plan in the event of a wildfire.  Being prepared before a wildfire disaster can help keep everyone in your family safer.  One family member often overlooked is the family pet. 

Taking simple steps to prepare pets for an evacuation can make it easier for everyone else.   Some steps that you can take to make the process easier for your pet are:

  •      Have a crate ready for your pet that is the right size for your pet. Practice with your pet getting into the crate so that it is easy and familiar for your pet.  It will make it easier for you both.
  •      Make sure that you have organized important documentation for your pet including, Special needs documentation (a list of the pet’s current physical disabilities or illnesses, emotional or behavioral problems and how to deal with them, special feeding schedule requirements, dietary restrictions, allergies), copies of ownership records (adoption records, registration paperwork, pet health insurance policies, municipal or county license tags and paperwork), Microchip paperwork.
  •      Create a kit for your pet in a plastic tub and use a sharpie to update the contents inside. (some items to include are a 3-7 day supply of pet food, a can opener and spoon if your pet is eating canned food, water and food dishes, clean water for 3-7days, collar or harness, leash, cat litter tray and scoop, bedding, toys, dog waste bags, first aid kit, and cleaning supplies including spray disinfectant and paper towel).  Keep the kit where it will not get too hot or too cold.
  •      List of important pet related phone numbers because internet access may difficult. Include veterinarian, local animal control agency, animal shelter/boarding facility, list of nearby pet friendly hotels, and even friends that may be willing to temporarily take your pet while you are away from home (this may be neighbors who are part of a buddy system network where neighbors help evacuate each other’s pets).

 

Focusing on your pet can help remind you what your two-legged family members will need as well, and can help make emergency planning engaging for children.  Don’t forget to check out NFPA’s TakeAction website for some great resources available to help you prepare your pet in the event of an evacuation for a wildfire, including a downloadable pet evacuation checklist. 

Photo by Faith Berry at NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire in Santa Fe

The National Volunteer Fire Council referred to the NFPA’s Fourth Needs Assessment Survey, about the need identified in NFPA’s survey for fire departments lacking the necessary training to identify the importance of grant funding to meet this need.  To help fire departments be able to pay for the training they should have, they have worked together with Josh Cellars a wine distributor from California to offer ten $5,000 grant awards to volunteer departments who members of the council or have a firefighter that is part of their department and is a member who applies.

 

According to their website funding can be used to train department personnel, both online and in person, purchase training aids, student materials, or props needed to support training.  One area identified where this training funding can be used is for wildfire.  The grant period is open from August 1 to September 30.

 

To learn more about this grant funded opportunity apply on the National Volunteer Fire Council website.  Volunteer fire departments and others needing wildfire risk reduction training should take a look at NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire classroom training. 

Two opportunities were recently shared by wildfire prevention partners in the Southwest.  The first is for grant opportunities (Rural Fire Defense 80/20) for rural fire departments in Oklahoma and Community Wildfire Protection grants.  According to an Oklahoma Forestry news release, “The grants are authorized by Governor Mary Fallin, funded by Oklahoma Legislature and administered by the Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.  Oklahoma’s Rural Fire Coordinators grade the applications and select recipients.” The Rural Fire Defense 80/20 grant will provide funding for equipment and construction costs for rural fire departments that serve communities with populations less than 10,000. The Community Wildfire Protection grants are available to city, towns and local fire departments with a completed Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). For more information about these opportunities visit the Oklahoma Forestry Services website or call 405 522-6158.

 

A second opportunity available is to participate in a free webinar presented by the Southwest Fire Science Consortium on August 31 at 11 AM.   Webinar presenter, Sasha Stortz from Northern Arizona University will be speaking about the East Jemez Landscape Futures (EJLF) project.  This collaborative project has engaged twenty different stakeholders to work together to manage areas of the eastern Jemez Mountains.  Because of the positive collaborative working group, they were able to develop a holistic approach to land management.  For more information about this webinar opportunity, visit the Southwest Fire Science Consortium website.


Like any ignition, fire needs an outside heat source applied to the trifecta of available fuel, heat, and oxygen to burn. As the BBC News reported on Monday, the outside source of ignition for various wildfires in southern Sicily between 2013 to 2015 were a band of 15 volunteer firefighters.

 

They are accused of fraud in inflating received payments by both reporting fake fires and setting deliberate fires. They would receive about 10 Euros ($11.75 USD) an hour while on response.

 

Not surprisingly, they garnered initial suspicion because they received more dispatches than any other team and a review of the 115 emergency calls over that period often showed the same phone number reporting wildfire starts under different names.

 

Of all the variables that influence wildfire behavior – fuel, topography, and weather (wind and humidity), I think the motivation of the ignition source is the most difficult to define. While lightning is a natural source of fire, “human-caused ignitions” comprise the vast majority of wildfire starts. Agricultural burns can be understood. The spark from a target practice bullet or the blade of a lawn mower hitting a rock can fall under negligence. The abandoned campfire that continues to smolder can lead to criminality. Yet. It’s the motivation of an arsonist that remains not as clear cut as you may think.

 

2016’s Clayton Fire in Lake County, California, was lit by an arsonist suspected in a dozen other fires in the area dating back to the summer of 2015. The November 2016 NFPA Journal Wildfire Column explored that fire, what motivates people to set fires, and how to counter the anti-social behaviors of those who want to watch the world burn.

 

While greed and false-heroism may have motivated these fire setters in Sicily, it is the selfless acts of countless firefighters currently responding to wildfires from the Mediterranean coasts to Montana, and elsewhere, that truly define what emergency services are all about.

 

Photo Credit: NIFC Public Photo Library Wildfires Album, pulled 8 August 2017.  


On Monday August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the United States, working its way from Oregon to South Carolina. This amazing experience is the event of the summer, with millions of observers expected to flock to the states in the total viewing path.

 

While an awesome event to behold, there are those who wish the timing was different. August is peak fire season for much of the country and 2017 has already been a busy year.

 

With the eclipse expecting to bring a large influx of visitors driving and camping into these areas, state and federal wildfire response agencies are gearing up for the worst. They are laying contingency plans for wildfire response and evacuations. Resources are being prepositioned and agencies are taking an “all hands on deck approach”. Some are even cancelling days off for fire staff.

 

Visitors have an important role to play in preventing human caused wildfires during the eclipse.

 

• If towing a trailer, make sure your chains are secure and not dragging.
• Visit the website of your eclipse viewing destination to find out the burning rules and restrictions, permissions vary across public lands.
• Don’t assume you will be able to have a campfire.
• The USFS has some excellent tips are preparedness regarding personal safety and wildfire.

 

For those living in the path of the eclipse, we encourage you to prepare as well. Firewise USA® has easy tools to help you reduce your risk from wildfire, checkout the Firewise Tips Checklist for Homeowners.

 

Most of all, enjoy a safe eclipse experience!

 

Photo credit: NASA Downloadables | Total Solar Eclipse 2017 

In collaboration with the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, NFPA is proud to launch our new Firewise USA™ online application and renewal system we've dubbed the Firewise Portal. This new portal brings the Firewise USA program™ fully online with a new and intuitive system that allows a collaborative place for potential Firewise sites to document and track their progress while they work towards becoming a nationally recognized Firewise program participant.

 

Firewise Portal DashboardIn addition, we've designed the new portal to guide participating residential sites in documenting their annual renewal information  in a more intuitive and user friendly way. The new renewal process seamlessly guides users through the process of documenting the Firewise events and the mitigation activities that were completed throughout the year.

 

It also provides the program's Firewise State Liaisons a more active role in managing their state's program. The end result is a new system that is able to assist sites in continuing their ever important efforts to make where they live safer and more resilient to wildfires.

 

The Firewise USA program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters.  This portal was equal funding partnership between the USDA Forest Service and NFPA.

Residents, local leaders and elected officials in Payson, Arizona, have been wrangling for years about whether and how to adopt local regulations that would require wildfire safety measures in new construction as well as rules around existing home and landscape maintenance to reduce wildfire ignition risks. With my career-long interest in sound land use planning and regulations for natural hazards safety, I have been watching and waiting to see where this struggle would end up. Payson's challenges are not very different from many jurisdictions in fire prone areas around the country and even in the state of Arizona. Yet, with just as much wildfire risk as its neighbors in Prescott and Flagstaff, the town of Payson has recently rejected regulatory changes that might have influenced future development toward increased safety and sensible maintenance measures that would allow local authorities to enforce on egregious nuisance properties that pose a threat to neighbors. 

 

Why? There are lots of reasons, and to me they are both extremely frustrating and completely understandable. Some of it has to do with scale and capacity. Flagstaff and Prescott are much larger jurisdictions, and their regulatory changes have more of a chance to be enforced with more personnel and resources. Some news sources note that Flagstaff and Prescott enacted wildfire regulations only after devastating and deadly fires - and it's been 27 years since Payson was the center of attention with the 1990 Dude Fire which took the lives of 6 firefighters. Other news reports have highlighted the often ugly back-and-forth among factions in town, with different sides hardening their stance. Some continue to insist that any such regulations are "draconian" and involve cutting every tree down. Others scoff that the law has no place in telling them to clean up their pine needles or sweep their decks, and insist that the regulations are "freedom-robbing". 

 

I found it ironic in early debates about strengthening safety rules that local officials pointed to the Firewise USA program as a reason NOT to do anything more about new construction or enforceable regulations for nuisance properties. Arizona and the general region around Payson have been strong leaders in adopting the voluntary, neighborhood based program. After all, if voluntary action works so well, why should the town council have to get involved in promoting the highly unpopular notion of safety rules for private property? Along with my NFPA colleagues and co-authors Lucian Deaton and Faith Berry, I addressed this exact question in the Arizona State Law Journal in 2016. 

 

In "Firewise: The Value of Voluntary Action and Standard Approaches to Reducing Wildfire Risk," we lay out the reasons why, even if programs like Firewise generate goodwill and progress through voluntary community engagement in wildfire risk reduction, regulation is still needed. The first important point is that Firewise USA engages existing communities already living with the wildfire threat in ongoing neighborhood action. A voluntary program to address existing structures and infrastructure has no power to control the siting, design, construction and landscaping of new homes and subdivisions. Local regulations do. 

 

So many of the news stories I read through years of coverage in outlets including the Payson Roundup seemed to catalog every excuse possible as to why a regulatory approach would not benefit the town. Sadly, many of them quoted individuals who perceived the model codes proposed as involving aggressive tree removal, or not valid because it referred to conditions not specific to Payson. During the ongoing debate, news articles started to refer to the possibility of "watered-down" codes and a citizen committee who would write new standards. As my colleagues and I wrote about NFPA standards, 

"(s)uch guidance is not simply guesswork about what concepts and practical steps will make homes and communities safer from wildfire. NFPA’s primary business is a consensus codes and standards process that uses volunteer expert committees and public input to develop minimum safety standards across a range of fire, electrical and related hazards. NFPA’s technical committees are comprised of individuals from diverse disciplines, including first responders, insurance professionals, special experts, manufacturers, industry leaders, enforcers, researchers, government officials, and independent contractors. These technical committees, under the guidance of NFPA staff, develop consensus standards that can be adopted as enforceable codes or ordinances."

The work, care and expense that NFPA puts into its process is also true of other standards-making organizations. Local jurisdictions have the power to amend standards to suit their needs, but re-writing standards based on limited experience and local concerns leads to a real danger of regulations that do not hold up to science-based minimum safety standards. To put it another way, a standard for new construction in wildfire-prone areas that calls for non-flammable roofs but doesn't address windows, siding, decks and vents will not serve to ensure that ignition-resistant homes will be built.

 

Along with voluntary programs like Firewise USA, local regulations can insure that residents are adhering to science-based standards to make changes to their homes and the landscape immediately surrounding their homes to reduce the risk of loss due to a wildfire event. Regulation can encourage residents who are not participating voluntarily to engage in Firewise efforts, thereby helping to make the community as a whole safer. This is due in part to many homes in WUI communities and neighborhoods being in close proximity to each other and having what is called an overlapping home ignition zone. This means the condition of one home can affect the survivability of the next door neighbor’s home. Many of the news stories I read referred to residents, often those engaged in Firewise or individual home risk reduction on their own property, who had become frustrated by the town's inability to enforce on neighboring property with levels of poor maintenance that constitute a serious hazard.

 

Sound regulation that has been institutionalized into a state’s or community’s way of doing business has the added benefit of addressing wildfire safety in design and development and making it easier for future buyers of real property to maintain that property in a relatively Firewise condition. Standardized approaches to safer development also serve to level the playing field for developers and builders and provide a measure of equity and fairness with regard to requirements for new construction. 

 

Perhaps the most frustrating - but understandable - refrain that I read over and over again during the last several years was concern about cost. Payson officials and residents feared that regulations would cost too much for residents, or drive developers away. I wonder if anyone asked about who bears the cost of failing to regulate in order to mitigate a well-known hazard. Wildfire safety regulations cost money, that's true. So does a major wildfire that destroys homes and businesses that were built without fire safety in mind. 

NFPA's Wildfire Division has a new addition to its Denver Field Office.  Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan joined NFPA in June and will be assisting the Wildfire Division with the Firewise USA program.  Megan served as the Washington State Firewise Liaison for the last year and a half in the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Megan brings the perspective of a state liaison to the Firewise program that manages their efforts nationally.  Currently in 42 states, the Firewise USA program has a liaison in each of those states that coordinates the Firewise efforts locally.

 

Megan has been working in and around wildfire since 2003 and is a red-carded wildland firefighter.  She holds a Master's degree in Natural Resources from the University of Idaho and a certificate in Fire Ecology, Management and Technology.  Besides moving Washington's Firewise program forward, she was also active in the state's fire coordination center.

 

Being an avid trail runner, Megan looks forward to exploring Colorado's vast trail networks with her husband and three dogs. 

Warren Edwards, a Senior Fellow with the Global Resilience Institute, (GRI), Michele Steinberg, and Tom Welle of NFPA's Wildfire Division briefed Congressional staffers interested in community resilience on the wildfire issues and challenges recently in Washington D.C. 

 

Warren discussed how GRI is looking at critical infrastructure at risk from wildfire and the potential for "western" style wildfire in the East.  GRI is part of Northeastern University and recently held a wildfire summit at NFPA Headquarters in Quincy, MA.  A key part of what that group look at was how there can be a cascading failure of critical infrastructure from a wildfire event and society's ability to be resilient to that failure.  There was also discussion on the level of awareness of wildfire risk in the East versus in the West where larger, more intense wildfires happen more frequently, but actually how more wildfires in general happen in the East.

 

Tom briefed the audience, collectively known as the Hazards Caucus Alliance, on the new types of intense fires, that aren't really all that new, and how increased costs and expenditures are not really changing the bottom line on structure losses or fatalities.  Programs such as NFPA's Firewise USA, Ready Set Go! from the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network were also discussed as means to bring residents at risk to a level of being more adapted to wildfire.

 

The main point for this group was to understand that while Wildfire is a national problem, it really demands local solutions and the hope is to provide these Congressional staffers information on how the Congress can support efforts on the local level with National policy and funding.

 

(photo by Michele Steinberg:  Tom Welle (L) and Warren Edwards)

 

To view video, click here

 

With wildfires burning in 10 U.S. states – including the 390 square mile Lodgepole fire in Montana – we are also following wildfires that have erupted across the Mediterranean region of Europe earlier this week. Our thoughts are with all those effect, both here and abroad.  

 

Fires along the French southern coast and on the Mediterranean island of Corsica have forced over 10,000 to evacuate. Many have slept on beaches to escape fires that have burned over 15 square miles. The fires are burning as hot, dry and windy weather bake the region.

 

In an article by the BBC, a firefighter explained that faced with multiple fires, “"The situation is not under control because we don't have enough resources.”

 

The reality of this statement reminds me that fire departments are not the only ones with a role to play in wildfire risk reduction. As any fire service will be overwhelmed by the scale of such fires, steps that residents can take to reduce fire threat around their homes will create a safer environment for firefighters and help them better focus their response. Learn more about what you can do to prepare for wildfire in your area.  

 

Thankfully, no fatalities have been reported thus far, though many, including responders, have been taken to hospitals with smoke inhalation.

 

Additional fires are burning across the Mediterranean region in Portugal, Italy, and along the Adriatic coast in Montenegro and Croatia. Another article from the BBC has several videos from those fires

Photo Credit: BBC News, France appeal over 'virulent' Riviera and Corsica fires 25July17, image pulled 26July17 

Picture of Brock Long speaking to FEMA Youth Preparedness Council taken by Faith Berry

I was invited to attend FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council meeting in Washington DC. The youth from across the United States who participate are selected by FEMA to become preparedness leaders in their regions through an application process. Brock Long, FEMA’s newly appointed administrator, took the time to share with the students about how they can become a part of successfully helping their regions better be prepared for disasters. He shared the importance of good communication both external and internal to building preparedness success. Good communication he felt was not just texting, but face to face conversations which can help remove barriers and help people successfully work together to create resilient communities.

 

He also said that the students should never burn a bridge because of a disagreement, but rather accept that sometimes it is ok to disagree with others. They should learn how to talk and share time and sometimes a meal with those they disagree with to build good relationships that can ultimately solve problems. He spoke about the fact that everyone has a part to play in preparedness because preparedness solutions need to be more realistic, no one size fits all. He encouraged them to talk to people to help figure out how to create effective solutions.

 

Many Firewise neighborhoods have shared with the NFPA how they have had to build good working relationships with their local fire districts, land managing agencies, school boards, local businesses and elected officials to be successful. Good communication skills can be an integral part of creating successful preparedness project implementation in a neighborhood and larger community. NFPA’s Firewise USA program provides some great project tips that can help start the successful wildfire preparedness conversations where you live.

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