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2011

In the past week the Associated Press released an article about California lawmakers’ decision to charge an annual firefighting fee to people who live in or near forests (Fire fee a solution for strapped Western States). This $150 fee will be levied to each structure on a parcel protected by CAL FIRE, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. As the article points out, this is not an entirely new concept.  Other western states, including Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, also collect a fee that goes toward fire fighting budget, although these fees are less than $150.

California’s decision is part of its effort to balance its General Fund. Governor Jerry Brown cites his reasoning for the fee to the California State Assembly: “As a result of population increases and urban development in state responsibility areas in recent decades, there has been a significant increase in state costs associated with fire protection in state wildland areas. This bill recognizes that a portion of the costs borne by the state for wildland fire prevention and protection services should be funded by the landowners in these areas.”

These words shouldn’t come as a surprise. Some of you may recall an earlier post I wrote this past January “Irresponsible Development Cited as Reason for Wildfire Budget Slashing [in California]” when I discussed Governor Brown’s statements regarding the need to curb state wildfire suppression costs being spent on protecting rural areas.

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In spite of state’s motives to balance their budgets, the “beneficiary pays principle” for firefighting fees raises an interesting debate. Should folks who live in the wildland-urban interface have to pay an extra fee to the state? What if they are already doing defensible space, and/or paying a local fire prevention fee for the unincorporated area where they live? And does this fee result in reducing catastrophic fire losses? In other words, in order to reduce wildfire suppression costs, shouldn’t we be putting our efforts into mitigation projects such as fuel thinning and educational efforts such as Firewise/Fire Safe Councils

-Molly

Gazette I’ve mentioned before our Wildland Fire Operations Division’s recent initiative to collaborate with the Canadian non-profit association, Partners in Protection. As part of this ongoing relationship, I co-authored an article with Kelly Johnston, Director for Partners in Protection and City of Kamloops Wildlfire Protection Coordinator. 

Our article appears on page 14 of the Spring 2011 edition of the Alberta Fire Chief’s Association journal, The Gazette. If you’re interested in learning more about NFPA’s efforts to support Canada’s wildfire mitigation outreach, I invite you to read our article.

-Molly

Wildland fire A recent guest commentary on denverpost.com by Rick Cables, a regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, caught my eye this week. His explanation of why forest fires are sometimes necessary, the purpose of prescribed burns, and his message about doing our part to help our wildland firefighters struck a chord with me.  If you have a minute, take a look.  It’s worth the read.

In the month following the devastating loss of two wildland firefighters in Florida in late June, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Florida Forest Service issued a report outlining the findings and future recommendations based on a review conducted after the Blue Ribbon Fire. Florida wildfire You can read the article that highlights the results of the report here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention NFPA’s stand on firefighter safety.  Check out NFPA’s codes and standards section on the website, and in particular NFPA 1584:  Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training Exercises, which addresses this issue.

And there’s something more going on. While these recommendations don’t pertain to us directly as ordinary (non-firefighter) citizens, the idea that all of us have a role to play in keeping our communities and homes safer, does.

According to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, “The men and women of the Florida Forest Service have one of the most important jobs keeping our families and our homes safe from the dangers of wildfire.  We must do what we can to help keep them safe, too.” 

Pine Ridge Community Day Patrick Mahoney echoes this sentiment. Patrick is our southern region Firewise Advisor and fellow Florida Division of Forestry firefighter and wildfire mitigation specialist.  In a recent blog post about the incident, he so eloquently writes that homeowners and community members can (and should) do our part to protect our houses and property, and by doing so, will help firefighters do their job safely and without incident. 

This tragic loss is a serious reminder of the many people who are directly affected by wildland fires. It’s time we all take a hard look at the rate, locations and intensity of these fires that are continuing to spread across the country… and take action.  No one is immune anymore.

As history tells us, getting a job done together is certainly a lot easier (and maybe even more productive) than doing it on your own.  Just a few short hours a day can make a world of difference to us personally and to those who fight these fires and work tirelessly to keep us safe.

Visit our website for tips you can use around your home.  But don’t stop there. Talk to your neighbors, start a conversation with like individuals on our social media platforms, make a plan TOGETHER and...GET INVOLVED.  The sooner we band together against wildfires, the safer we will all be.

-Dave

On USDA’s blog, a recent report on USDA Forest Service plant research caught my eye. “Black Fingers of Death Fungus May Lessen the Intensity of Wildland Fires,” says the headline. Wow! They had me at "Black Fingers of Death!” As humor writer Dave Barry might say, wouldn’t that be a great name for a band?

 

All kidding aside, this is exciting news for areas of the U.S. that are plagued with an invasive species known as cheatgrass. This highly flammable and hard-to-eliminate species was introduced from Europe and presents serious fire risks in the western U.S. The fungus, Pyrenophora semeniperda, is what Forest Service researchers are investigating. So far, they have found it does a number on cheatgrass seeds and prevents them from repopulating in areas where the plants have been removed. The fungus gets its heavy-metal-rock name from the appearance of finger-like, black fruiting bodies that protrude from seeds it has killed.

 

I’ll keep a lookout for more news on this bio-control method and hope to see progress in its application. Look on the Firewise website for more about plants you can use around your home that are fire-resistant and non-invasive. They might not have quite as cool names as our friendly fungus, but they’ll help keep your property beautiful and safer from fire.

 
The Honey-Prairie Complex Fire, a lightning-caused wildfire in northern Georgia, has been burning since April 30. On the Florida border, this nearly 300,000-acre fire affects the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding communities.

As firefighters have worked to contain the fire, a national Wildland Fire Prevention Education Team has been deployed among the state and federal agencies to reach out to citizens with wildfire safety messages. Such teams are mobilized when there are severe burning conditions and extra precautions and preparedness are warranted.

In Georgia, the deployed team has planned and executed successful outreach focused on Firewise messages along with traditional fire prevention messages. Eric Mosley of the Georgia Forestry Commission has been documenting the team’s successful strategies, including a fuel reduction demonstration project, Firewise billboards, tours of the fire area for local officials, and notices in church bulletins.

People often wonder, what happens to the wildlife when a wildfire burns through a large area?  The answers vary depending on many factors, such as the size of the fire, the intensity and rate of spread, as well as other conditions.  While most of the focus (that we hear about) tends to be on structures and the Wallow numbers of acres lost, we at Firewise like this article in the Las Vegas Sun, from the Associated Press, titled, Endangered species hit hard by historic Ariz. Fire”.  It gives us a good glimpse into how some species were – or were not—affected during the recent http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef01538fbfaa62970b-pi Arizona Wallow Fire, and serves to remind us of the bigger picture of all those struggling to live with wildfires. Check it out.  It’s eye-opening and worth the read.

-Molly

Colorado has experienced an earlier than usual wildfire season and it has prompted us in NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program to reach out further to those who may be affected by introducing an op-ed filled with important tips and resources regarding wildland fire mitigation and safety. Unlike traditional press releases that reach thousands of people across the country, our op-ed piece was written with Coloradans in mind, and highlights some of the steps the state is already taking to keep its citizens safe. 

Capture Thanks to The Denver Post who posted this op-ed online and for recognizing the importance of wildland fire prevention and homeowner responsibility.

We look forward to seeing more of our op-ed pieces in papers across the country. Have you seen examples of Firewise in action in your state or community?  Feel free to share your stories with us. We’re always happy to highlight the great work our neighbors are doing.

-Dave

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