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AliTrue Reason #7 to attend NFPA's Backyards & Beyond conference: Learn how landscaping in an urban environment influences fire spread and behavior.

Ali True, Firewise Coordinator for the city of Ashland's Fire & Rescue Department, will review the experience of the 2010 Oak Knoll fire in Ashland, Oregon where 11 homes were lost in an area not formally considered to be "wildland/urban interface." Homes outside the mapped wildfire hazard zone of the city were not required to have nonflammable roofing, fire-resistant plantings, or defensible space. Following the fire, the city made a strong effort to promote Firewise throughout its boundaries, resulting in Oak Knoll's recent recognition as a Firewise Communities/USA site.

As Ashland Fire Chief John Karns said in an interview with the Ashland Daily Tidings  last fall, the Oak Knoll fire "was not an anomaly. It could happen again tomorrow."  WUI residents, planners, landscape architects and building officials will want to learn more from Ashland's experience. Attend this presentation to find out more about how to treat the home ignition zone in a small urban lot setting. Ms. True will review the difference between fire-prone and fire-resistant vegetation, and provide landscaping guidelines for managing wildfire fuels in a neighborhood setting.

--Michele Steinberg

Photo caption and credit: Ali True, Firewise communities coordinator for Ashland Fire & Rescue, says pampas grass is an example of a highly flammable plant that shouldn't be placed near homes. Julia Moore / Mail Tribune photo

Trophy We want to thank everyone who submitted comments to our Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference Registration Contest! We received so many amazing responses from people looking to learn more about wildland fire and our Firewise Communities program - it was hard to choose just one! So hard, that we ended up with a tie and are awarding two winners this afternoon. They are:

Richard Nelson and Jamie Gomez

Our contest winners' comments are below: 

Richard Nelson said:

I am new to the position of fire safety educator in my fire department and want to fully understand the Firewise concept. We have a Firewise community in our city and I need the tools to sustain and enhance what is already in place, as well as to expand the program into new neighborhoods. There are three main areas I want to focus on at this conference; first how to encourage community involvement, second to enhance firefighter and homeowner safety, and third to create networks within the professional community. To improve community involvement I want to focus on how to recruit and motivate new community support, especially from youth from elementary to college age. To enhance firefighter safety I need to focus on home owner’s responses to fire, and fire fighting strategies and tactics in the W/UI. Last I need to get to know other professionals in the field. This conference will provide a foundation, but to build on this I need to create relationships and professional networks. Talking and working with other professionals and listening to their ideas and experiences will help in sustaining and expanding Firewise in my community.

Jamie Gomez said:

As Underwood Conservation District’s Firewise Coordinator, there are three top three lessons that I hope to learn from the National Fire Protection Association® “Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference”. Alongside numerous community members, we have been able to achieve some initial successes throughout Skamania and Klickitat County in southern Washington State. However, we face numerous challenges ahead. How can we keep the spark alive? The second lesson is about digging deeper into the science of wildland fires, home ignitions and the factors that influence human behavior. Science sometimes needs to be translated into a message that is locally relevant so that key findings are learned by all. How can we learn from the best to teach the rest? The third lesson is about learning by example. What are other communities doing, in particular, to address the Wildland Urban Interface problem? Using this kind of ‘nuts-and-bolts’ knowledge, combined with a scientifically sound yet locally relevant message and some practical tips to keep the spark alive, I hope to return home with a full toolbox to help our District’s communities take on wildfire hazard reduction in the backyard and beyond!

 Congratulations Richard and Jamie! We look forward to seeing everyone in Denver. 

Casa Bonita South Park With mariachis, flame jugglers, lost caves and cowboy shootouts, who wouldn’t want to experience the Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant after presentations at NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference?  Casa Bonita opened in Lakewood, Colorado in 1974 and gained its claim to fame when it was featured in a 2003 episode of the popular cartoon series South Park.  In the episode, one of the main characters, Cartman, tries desperately to get invited to a friend’s birthday party at the restaurant.  Cartman claims it’s his “most favorite place in the whole world,” and with good reason, too.  Casa Bonita combines authentic Mexican cuisine with entertainment features such as live theatre, dancers, mariachi bands, an arcade, and a 30-foot man-made waterfall.  Enjoy an all-you-can-eat-deluxe-dinner served with crispy tacos, enchiladas, Mexican rice, refried beans and honey-soaked sopaipillas while professional divers take a leap of faith into the lagoon below.  At the end of the day, people come to Casa Bonita for the wacky experience more so than the food.  You might even see a man in a gorilla suit running around.

Keep checking back every Wednesday for more fun activities to during the Denver Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference

Casa Bonita

Oklahoma Fires With continued drought conditions expected over the next several months in Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin declared the week of September 19 “Wildfire Preparedness Week.”  This comes on the heels of a recent press announcement from the state that it’s also launched “Ready, Set, Go! Oklahoma,” which provides residents living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) information about how best to prepare themselves, their families and property against the threat of brush, grass or forest fires. As many of you know, as a major component of the “Ready” portion of the program, NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program, also helps guide homeowners on these steps and provides valuable tips and resources.

Kudos to Oklahoma for taking positive steps to mitigate wildfire risk across the state.  Together we can all make a difference.

Does your state have a wildfire preparedness week? Let us know so we can spread the word.

In a recent article in, Dave Nuss, NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division director, discusses ways firefighters can support communities on their way to becoming Firewise. Are you a wildland firefighter or fire safety professional? Read the entire article for timely information and resources available.  More firefighter safety training and tips can be found on our website.

And let us know, as a firefighter, what do you find happening in your communities?  Share your observations, concerns and success stories with our Firewise audience. And thanks for all you do to help keep our communities safe from wildland fire!

Firewise in Virginia
On September 20, Michele Steinberg, Firewise Communities program manager, and Heidi Wagner, Firewise Northeast advisor, traveled to Virginia to meet with the Virginia Department of Forestry and community leaders in Wintergreen and Chinquapin to discuss the work being done to lessen the communities’ risk of brush, grass and forest fires. During their visit, Michele was interviewed by NBC affiliate WVIR 29 in Charlottesville regarding mitigation efforts directed toward Wintergreen Mountain, an area filled with downed trees and debris left as a result of a 2003 storm.

Watch the interview and to learn more about Wintergreen’s efforts.   

Fall is in the air and that means NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference is right around the corner. Register for early-bird rates by Monday, October 3 to receive a discount on the pre-conference workshop, conference or the package price for both events.

Don’t miss out on your chance to build relationships, share your experiences and expertise with community leaders, residents, fire safety and other professionals who live and work in the WUI!

Backyards & Beyond

Goldendale, WA According to a recent AP article, “Washington pushes homeowners to prepare for wildfire,” Washington state ranks among the best in the country for getting its communities to prepare for wildfires. With 84 communities in that state that are officially recognized by NFPA, we enthusiastically applaud their efforts. This latest story coming out of the Pacific Northwest continues to illustrate the importance of preparing for wildfires before they threaten your home. A group of Greek Orthodox nuns in Goldendale, Washington took Firewise principles to heart, and because of their actions, saved their monastery as a wildfire raged around them. Read more about this dedicated group who followed the path to safety.  

How have you incorporated Firewise principles into your community action plan?  Let us know. Share your success stories and ideas with our Firewise audience.  We look forward to hearing from you.

WA Nuns 

Denver downtown aquarium

When presentations are done for the day at NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference, take a walk on the wild side at the Downtown Aquarium located in – you guessed it – downtown Denver. More than just an aquarium, the Downtown Aquarium is home to 500 species of fish, mammals and birds that all rely upon water. Exhibits sample a wide range of ecosystems from around the world including the North American wilderness, desert, rainforest, coral lagoons and more. From otters and    Mystic Mermaids sunfish to swimming Sumatran tigers, the Downtown Aquarium has a little something for everyone. If you’re curious and want to learn more about water animals, be sure to catch the Mystic Mermaid show, where mermaids swim amongst their sea life friends while teaching about the importance of taking care of the environment.         

Hungry? The Downtown Aquarium has a full-service restaurant on its first floor and serves fresh seafood and steaks. The dining area is arranged around a 50,000 gallon centerpiece aquarium full of tropical fish that allows floor-to-ceiling viewing from all tables.  If you get there early enough, you might just make it in time for happy hour at the Dive Lounge. 

The Downtown Aquarium is open Thursdays 10 am – 9 pm and on Fridays and Saturdays 10 am – 9:30 pm.  Happy hour ends at 7 pm on weeknights and admittance is $15.95 per person. 

Keep checking back every Wednesday for more fun activities to during the Denver Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference

Backyards & Beyond Want to attend our Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference in Denver in October? Want to attend for free? Check out our contest and enter for a chance to win free registration! 

Details can be found here - but hurry, the contest closes on September 28th!

Program Manager Molly Mowery explains how you can stay on top of the latest wildland fire news and information by visiting the Firewise website and connecting to the program's active social media sites. 

Dave Nuss, NFPA's Director of Wildland Fire Operations Division, invites you to attend this year's "Backyards & Beyond" Wildland Fire Education Conference in Denver this October. This event is devoted to bringing together a diverse audience of leading wildland fire experts, Firewise® community representatives, community planners, civic leaders, homeowners and residents, insurance professionals, landscape architects and others. Register now and reserve your seat!

Firewise How-to Newsletter The Fall 2011 issue of the Firewise Communities How-To newsletter has now been posted online. 

This newsletter is published quarterly and distributed to residents of Firewise Communities/USA recognized sites and other interested folks. If you're a homeowner or community resident whose home is located in a region susceptible to wildfires, this newsletter will provide you with timely, pertinent information on how to best protect your home and yourself in the event of wildfire.

The current issue covers the following features: The Firewise community - Making the most of Backyards & Beyond; A Firewise community: Wilderness Ranch; Questions and answers with Pat Durland; and Around the Firewise home: Autumn cleanup. 

Don't miss an issue! Add your e-mail address to our newsletter list.

After my first full day with the Texas State Fire Marshal's office, I spent Saturday on a continuation of the Bastrop Fire post review. Take a look at the photos below from the day. 

Incident Command Post

I attended a daily incident briefing at the Community Center where the Incident Command Post had been established. Lots of progress being made, but plenty of work to do going forward.

Staging Area

This is a small sample of the fire apparatus at the Staging area. President Obama declared the Bastrop area a Disaster area Friday night, which should bring many more resources to the area. 

Smoke still sits in the areas where the fire pasted a few days ago

State Forest

What used to be a beautiful section of Bastrop State Forest, after the burn. 

Bastrop State Park
Bastrop State Park

Firewise Home
A home that was destroyed in a previous fire survives the Bastrop Fire. Firewise principles in place.

-Ryan Depew

We will never forget. NFPA & Firewise join in the remembrance of all that was lost on September 11, 2001. 

9.11 Slide

The September/October issue of NFPA Journal includes a cover story titled, "9/11: A Special 10th Anniversary Report" highlighting fire and life safety improvements and NFPA’s effort to strengthen codes and standards since that day. 

As the staff liaison to Forest & Rural Fire Protection Technical Committee at NFPA, I had the opportunity to travel down to Texas and take part in a post fire review through the State Fire Marshal’s Office of the Bastrop wildfire.

The LA Times reports that Texas fire officials have brought some major blazes under control, allowing residents to return to their homes, but warned that the state may still face more fires given record summer heat and drought. 

During the last week, firefighters across the state have responded to 176 wildfires that burned 126,844 acres, according to the Texas Forest Service. The largest fire, in the Bastrop area east of Austin, has destroyed 1,386 homes, a state record for a single fire. Firefighters had the blaze 30% contained Thursday and expected to make headway in the coming days, but local officials warned that they could see more fires if hot, dry conditions persisted.

I'll be posting photos as I make my way around Bastrop, so keep checking back for updates. 

Bastrop TX home burn
This is one of the first homes lost in the Bastrop Fire 

Bastrop Fire, Truck

Bastrop Fire Garage

Bastrop Fire
45 mph winds pushed the Bastrop Fire in the early stages of the fire

Isidro Gonzalez and Manual Almanza

Isidro Gonzalez and Manual Almanza with the Black Eagles 4 Porterville, CA called in to help the firefighting efforts

NFPA's Firewise Communities Program offers some resources to cover wildfire season if you are interested, including tips for homeowners on preparing their homes and evacuation

-Ryan Depew

Texas destruction 2 Texas destruction

On a recent trip to Texas, I witnessed firsthand the severe drought they have been experiencing over the last several months. With record temperatures and lack of rain fall, the fire conditions around the state are at an all time high. Resources are being stretched thin. The State has requested and received assistance from across the United States and is using aerial equipment from as far away as Canada to combat the fires from the air. Citizens living in areas that have been ravaged by the wildland fires have been given evacuation notice as short as 10 minutes.

Families are leaving their homes with just the clothes on their back. If you have not already created a family emergency plan, today is the day you should get started. Families should have key documents, such as insurance policies and phone numbers of insurance agents and claim centers in case you need to file a claim. You should also gather medications, extra glasses, and any vital health equipment you may need.   

If your community uses emergency phone notification and you do not have a home phone, contact your local emergency dispatch center via the non emergency phone number and inquire how to register your  Ready Set Go cell phone to receive emergency notification in case you have to evacuate during an emergency.  Remember seconds count and be prepared to evacuate when the time comes.  

NFPA's Firewise Program has some great information on the Ready, Set, Go! program established by the IAFC, to help fire service and homeowners with evacuation planning. Additionally, the NFPA's "Get Ready" information has excellent resources including an emergency plan card and emergency kit. 

-Orlando Hernandez, NFPA Public Fire Protection Staff Liaison

Montana As students go back to school, wildfire season reaches its peak in Montana. State fire officials say that in the last week of August there were more than 42,000 lightning strikes in a 36-hour period that sparked over three dozen wildfires in and around the Northern Rockies. According to published reports, one of the lightning strikes resulted in a 2,000 acre wildfire that threatened 256 homes before firefighters set up protection lines.

With wildfire season underway, Montana communities are looking for ways to reduce wildfire risk. Many Montanans have already taken steps to have their communities become recognized Firewise Communities and have lowered their risk of wildfire damage. The city of Bigfork, Em Kayan Village, and neighborhoods such as Elkhorn in Whitefish are among 15 communities within the state that participate in the national Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program, and have undertaken wildfire safety efforts for several years.

For tips on how you can protect your home in Montana, as well as links to additional materials and resources, take a look at the full story

All of us at NFPA and especially in the Firewise Communities program have been watching the news anxiously as Texas wildfires continue to rage and encroach on heavily populated areas in the central and eastern parts of the state. While news reports may sound like no one is prepared for these severe fires, our staff knows that more than 40 communities in the state – several in the Austin area – have indeed spent years preparing their homes as part of their participation in the Firewise Communities/USA recognition program.


I corresponded Tuesday with Millard McBurney, the Firewise Committee chairman for River Place, a subdivision in Austin served by the Lake Travis Fire District. River Place has been a recognized Firewise Communities/USA® site since 2008. Mr. McBurney writes:

River Place community has escaped the direct path of the wildfires so far.  The Austin daytime temperatures fell below the 3-digit range yesterday (80 uninterrupted days in a row) and should not go above 92 today.  The disasters at Steiner Ranch, roughly five miles across a canyon of wildland scrub forest, got everybody on alert.  River Place has adopted the "Ready, Set, Go!" program from the Texas Forest Service for  2011.  Our committee got City of Austin firemen to place a door hanger brochure on every front door advising our homeowners what to do.  My wife and I rehearsed what valued papers etc to take and strategized which route north to Waco or Dallas we'd take.  All other routes are congested.

Steiner Ranch fire professionals stopped all evacuated residents from returning.  Even the mayor stood out front and explained that it was too dangerous to enter.  Fifty-five hundred houses were without electricity.  Many pets were stranded without food and water. As my wife and I stood on the hill at the intersection of River Place Boulevard and Treasure Island, a crowd gathered and many took pictures.  Gray and white plumes of smoke huffed and puffed along the horizon.  We saw two helicopters repeatedly deliver water scooped out of Lake Travis via airborne carrier buckets to the flame site.  Although the wind blew the smoke away from River Place, we could smell it. 

Many River Place residents have natural firebreaks in the front or back of their houses, sometimes both. Unfortunately, about 50 homes back up to greenbelts. Our committee has identified the worst case folks and we are making headway at least on awareness. The Home Owners Association (HOA) has already written a directive that automatically allows the homeowner to mitigate fuel 15 feet into HOA land. The Municipal Utility District (MUD) has also given permission in our one and only case of adjacent MUD property.  We think that the country club will also permit some clearing, too. We are working with US Fish and Wildlife to gain access to the federal lands while the protected species are gone, but it is a long process.

One fire station out our way used a reverse 911 calling procedure that automatically contacted all residents in their given territory to evacuate immediately.  I think that resulted in zero fatalities at Steiner. 

Meanwhile in Bastrop County, 40 miles east of River Place, 476 (nearly 500 says the news media) homes burned completely. The pine trees, with their easily ignitable resins, are supporting the runaway characteristics of the wildfires around Bastrop city and county.

The Texas Forest Service is using 100% of its workers, materials and resources.  Many have discovered complete ruin of their own home or that of a neighbor on the same cul de sac. TFS is requesting help from other cities. The Bastrop fire covers 40 square miles. It is deadly. Rain is not expected until November.

While residents there have been working hard to prepare, it is not until the extreme event occurs that these preparations are tested. While we know that using Firewise principles does not guarantee complete safety, we also know that these techniques and practices, especially when used community-wide, are saving homes and lives. We hope to hear more from River Place and other Texas communities about how they are faring during this devastating fire season. 13th Door

NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference runs from October 27-29 and that means Halloween will be in the air. After a day of education sessions, networking and presentations, attendees are sure to get into the Halloween spirit with more thrills that await at The 13th Door, a haunted house located just 10 minutes outside Denver. 

America's Best Haunts The 13th Door is based on the legend of Andrew Barrington, a troubled child from a well-to-do family who was raised by his uncle after his father died unexpectedly. As Andrew grew older, he developed a gambling problem and often went to his uncle for money. When Andrew finally got cut off, he crashed his uncle’s All Hallows Eve party in the penthouse suite of the Barrington Hotel and murdered guests one by one. Only one party-goer survived, and they claimed to have escaped through “The 13th Door.”

The 13th Door is set in the infamous Barrington Hotel, where the ghosts of slain party guests such as Bobby Bones, Chef Boyardead, and the Deadutaunts still roam. If you’re not careful, you just might run into the killer himself.

The 13th Door is open 7 – 11 p.m. on Thursdays and 7 p.m. – 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Parking is free, and admittance is $15.95 per person with special grouping prices available.  To learn more about The 13th Door, watch their video

Keep coming back to check out our newest Denver highlight each Wednesday until the conference. For more information and to register, visit our 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildfire Education Conference page on our website.

Picture 7 
Flames creep toward a house in Bastrop's Tahitian Village neighborhood Monday. Planes later dumped fire retardant on the home, which was still standing mid-Monday. Nearly 500 homes in Bastrop had been destroyed. Photo: Jay Jenner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dozens of wildland fires continue to burn out of control in Texas. According to a report on, more than 60 new fires erupted over the weekend. The report says that hot, dry weather, coupled with a historic drought, have made conditions ripe for rapid fire growth. The Austin Statesman reports that in Bastrop County, about 30 miles southeast of Austin, authorities have raised early estimates of the number of destroyed homes from 300 to nearly 500.

NFPA’s Firewise Communities web site offers a wealth of information about wildlfires, including frequently asked questions, evacuation planning, and videos on how to make your home safer from fire.

- Mike Hazell

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