Jack D. Cohen, Research Physical Scientist, USDA Forest Service
Michele Steinberg, Firewise Program Manager, NFPA
To close the NFPA Backyards & Beyond wildland education conference, Jack Cohen and Michele Steinberg delivered a lively presentation, taking conference attendees on a Firewise journey. First, Jack Cohen, research physical scientist with the USDA Forest Service, gave the crowd a brief look at his past and where his interest in wildfire began and how wildfires gained national attention in 1986 through the Wildfire Strikes Home Conference. While displaying interesting photos from his research over the years, we learned more about the sequence of events and factors contributing to residential destruction from wildfire. Jack worked with some of the initial pilot communities of the Firewise program.
Michele took over there to detail the Firewise Communities/USA program from the pilots through today. She shared how the pilots offered several lessons that shaped the program, including; the need to focus on one community at a time, the importance of mitigation education, the focus on action instead of reaction and the maintenance of persistance and patience. Today, the Firewise program includes over 750 communities in 40 states and has an 80% retention rate over the past 10 years.
Increased global population and developement is resulting in communities around the world being impacted by the threat of wildfire. Last year alone, the international community saw unprecedented catastrophic wildfires in Russia, Israel, and Tibet. In today's session at NFPA's Backyards & Beyond conference in Denver, panel members (from left) Kelly Johnston of Partners in Protection, Val Charlton of Firewise South Africa, Sean Tracey, NFPA Regional Office in Canada, and Molly Mowrey, NFPA Firewise Communities Program, talked about international outreach efforts and strategies for global wildland urban interface communities.
Keith Worley is a master at using humor to introduce Firewise principles to the community. The self-described “Fire Wiseguy”, “Chainsaw Santa Claus”, and “Forest Gnome”, Keith says humor is an excellent teaching tool. “It gets your audience involved and helps them understand and remember your messages,” he said in this morning’s session called “Humor in the Wooo-eee!” at NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond wildland fire education conference in Denver.
Keith showed a video of a Fourth of July parade in his hometown of Perry Park, CO, which featured the “Perry Park Precision Pruners Firewise Drill Team” (featuring the “Lopper Lassies”) – the team took home first place! Keith also showed off his prototype “Swiss Army chainsaw”, complete with a magnifying glass so you can see what you’re cutting, a beer bottle opener, a rearview mirror, and nose-hair trimmer. Session attendees jumped right in, offering up their product development suggestions: a toilet paper holder, a sound system, a latte machine, a web cam, and a built-in walker for more “mature” workers. “The genius and brain trust in this room is incredible!” said Keith.
Around the world, youth are seen as critical to educating families and other community members about disaster management. In the United States, youth have been used to a limited extent to spread the Firewise message, although this is an intended focus for 2012. Terry Mallet of the Eagle Promise Charitable Fund, Ken Pekarek of the GIS 4 Schools program and Sarah McCafferty of the USDA Forest Service (filling in for Pam Jakes who was unable to attend) discussed the classroom model that Minnesota and West Virginia use to educate youth and introduce them to Firewise.
Ken and Terry informed the attendees about how their program educated youth in their communities. Students in Minnesota and West Virginia complete risk and wildfire hazard assessments for communities. Sarah McCafferty additionally explained how the USDA Forest Service is working on a National Research Project on how youth can help programs like Fire Adapted Communities. She shed some light on a few of the things that outh programs need to emphasize to be the most successful, including balancing classroom goals with community goals, partnerships between schools and local community groups, evaluations on the progress of goals, and promotion of intergenerational learning.
On Wednesday night, a group of conference attendees returned from dinner to find the hotel courtyard covered in several inches of snow. Never having experienced making a snowman before, members of the group from South Africa decided there was no time like the present. Enter their friendly colleagues from Canada, who helped shape a snowman (which according to one unnamed source, ended up looking more like Mickey Mouse with a thermometer in his mouth).
Kelly O'Shea, director of Partners in Protection in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and Val Charlton, managing director of Firewise Africa.
Kelly Johnston of Partners in Protection in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, and Lisa Westhaver, wife of Alan Westhaver of Partners in Protection in Jasper, Alberta, Canada.
In the past few years, more than 150 firefighters have lost their lives at wildland fires. Dennis Childress, retired from the Orange County Fire Authority, discussed firefighter safety in the WUI this afternoon at NFPA’s “Backyards & Beyond” conference. Dennis provided all of the fire service members in attendance with a complete program they could take back to their departments to train everyone on the concepts and strategies learned during today’s session. This program included a PowerPoint template, educational videos and a notes handbook.
As society moved outward from urban to rural areas, the skills needed to fight these fires is evolving. Combining structural and wildland firefighting techniques is becoming a specialty and firefighter safety is becoming more of a priority.
Dr. Steve Quarles spoke to the testing of the SIAM science and principals at IBHS.
Jack Cohen, Research Physical Scientist with the USDA Forest Service and Dr. Steve Quarles, Senior Scientist with the Insurance Institute Business & Home Safety (IBHS) led a featured presentation this morning at NFPA’s “Backyards & Beyond” conference on ‘Assessing Home Ignition Potential in the Wildland/Urban Interface.’
Jack started the discussion detailing the Structure Ignition Assessment Model (SIAM). This systematic and objective tool can be used to assess home ignition potential in the WUI based on flame and firebrands within the home ignition zone in conjunction with the home’s design, materials and potential debris. The idea that home destruction largely results from ember ignitions and low intensity fires that spread across surface fuels in a community came from many experiments and real case studies combined.
Steve then detailed the IBHS building in Richburg, SC where a simulation was created to test ember exposure and radiant panels on a house made from various types of materials, including different roofs, types of siding, landscape, gutters, etc. They took the results and analyzed the ignition potential of each.
Did you know that U.S fire departments responded to an average of 356,800 natural vegetation fires per year (2004-2008)? In most of these fires, less than one acre burned. These incidents accounted for 23% of all fires reported to local fire departments. During a session at the Backyards & Beyond wildland fire conference in Denver, NFPA’s Marty Aherns and Michele Steinberg presented facts and figures about brush, grass, and forest fires in the United States, as well as local fire department response.
On average, 976 brush, grass, or forest fires were reported per day.
4,800 buildings were involved in these brush, grass, and forest fires per year.
Less than an acre burned in three-quarters (74%) of these fires. Only 4% burned more than ten acres.
Overall, one in five of these fires were intentionally set.
Friday afternoon’s session on technology gave participants a glimpse into the power of GIS. As Laura Blaul, Kate Dargan and Jennifer Schottke explained, geographic information systems (GIS) brings mapping technology into the service of the community, allowing residents and firefighters to create a common view of risks. Each presenter demonstrated innovative fire safety applications for GIS tools that can serve as catalysts for community dialogue and action.
Blaul, the Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal for the Orange County Fire Authority, showed how color-coding parcels on a risk map helped motivate homeowner action and allowed the county to measure mitigation program results over a three-year period.
Dargan, former California State Fire Marshal and co-owner of technology firm Intterra, provided more details on how Orange County’s system worked using a blend of all kinds of data to create a shared view of fire risk in the context of the county’s Ready, Set, Go! program. The scalability of the information allows users to “make it personal.”
ESRI’s Jennifer Schottke coordinates the software development and services company’s public safety industry marketing activities. She covered the basics of GIS and demonstrated the use of the web-based ArcGIS Explorer portal. A draft map of Firewise Communities/USA sites showed the potential of this tool for easy user access to real-time information about mitigation work and fire incidents.
NFPA’s Lauren Backstrom and Mike Hazell led a discussion today on how to use the internet and Social Media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, etc.) to reach audiences with Firewise and wildfire safety messages. Lauren advised attendees to define clear goals (i.e. reaching audiences you can’t reach via traditional outreach efforts, influencing behaviors, improving customer service, etc.) before jumping into Social Media. She said it is important to give readers a reason to “follow” your online efforts. “Social media is all about having a conversation,” she said, “so you need to make sure your posts are interesting and that you speak in a ‘human voice’, not ‘corporate speak’.”
Mike said Social Media gives you an opportunity to potentially reach huge numbers of people with your electronic messages, something that was not even thinkable a few short years ago. “The great thing about Social Media is that your messages don’t always get communicated through a direct connection – they’re transmitted by someone who knows someone who knows someone.”
Cassy Robinson of the Savannah River National Laboratory is leading hands-on demonstrations of Wildfire Wizard, a free software tool for homeowners, builders, fire agencies, and community planners program. The program allows users to assess the wildland fire risk of their properties and provides mitigation messages, links to instructional videos, and other online resources.
A reminder that the "How-To Newsletter" is a free quarterly publication 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.
We thank our "Backyards and Beyond" sponsors for their generosity and their commitment to provide all attendees with a valuable opportunity to share experiences, lessons learned and best practices with other individuals who have an interest in wildland fire education.
Understanding behavior and social norms is necessary to changing these things. It's important to deal with misconceptions, consider multiple audiences and resource limitations as well. One of the points Sarah stressed was that risk is very subjective, and that risk perception can be influenced by many factors, but an increased risk perception does not necessarily lead to action. She also warns people should be wary of conventional wisdom. For example, there is not sufficient evidence that new or part-time residents are any less aware of the risks in their community.
Comfirmation bias also plays a role in this concept of risk perception. When people have an opinion on something, they are likely to accept new information that confirms this opinion and reject new information that contradicts it.
Firewise urban landscaping is an important issue for those communities living in wildfire prone areas and whose individual homes share the same HIZ. Ali True of Ashland Fire & Rescue spoke on this subject at the Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference this afternoon.
Ali first explained that for Ashland, urban landscaping includes fire resistant plants, tree and shrub spacing, maintenance, fuel free areas and fire resistant privacy screening plants. She discussed the Oak Knoll Fire of August 2010 to emphasize her point about the importance of urban landscaping and building materials in minimizing wildfire risk.
The Oak Knoll fire began due to an improperly disposed cigarette which ignited the grass. Embers spread the fire, which completely destroyed 11 homes within 30 minutes. The entire fire only covered 16 acres - the winds were actually only 10 miles per hour that day, however the temperature was very hot and dry. Of the row of 11 homes that were lost, many had woodshake roofs as well as fire prone vegetation around homes and between homes. The final house of the row, the 12th home, didn't burn and stopped the spread of fire to give the fire department time to respond and contain the fire. This home had mature vegetation, open space around the home, a lack of fire prone vegetation within 30 feet of the home and no ladder fuels.
NFPA's Cheryl Blake, coordinator of this year's Backyards & Beyond Conference, takes a moment to catch up with Steve Quarles, PhD, a senior scientist with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, and Jack Cohen, a research physical scientist with the USDA Forest Service. Steve and Jack will be keynoting Friday morning's general session on "Assessing Home Ignition Potential in the Wildland/Urban Interface".
As the education sessions at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond conference kicked off Thursday morning, Greg Bartlett, a wildfire fire and safety professional and research student at Brandon University in Canada, addressed a group of around 20 fire service and other WUI professionals, with his presentation, "Pre-Planning is Worth its Weight in Gold," which detailed how his quick action, expertise and in-depth knowledge of the WUI helped avert a potential crisis to a goldmine from four large fires that threatened the Province of Saskatchewan.
Greg also talked about lessons learned about how the importance of emergency and incident pre-planning is the key to reducing wildfire risk to communities.
NFPA Fire Service Specialist Ryan Depew today provided an overview on how the NFPA standards development process is structured to take full advantage of the most current information about wildland fires and mitigation strategies. He discussed how the standards are created (specifically NFPA 1141, Standard for Fire Protection Infrastructure for Land Development in Suburban and Rural Areas, and NFPA 1144, Standard for Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire), the information they provide, and how they can be used in the "real world".
Patty Champ, an economist with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, today presented on survey results on homeowner attitudes and beliefs about wildfire. The first survey was conducted in 2007; the second after the devastating 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire that destroyed 169 structures and burned 6,179 acres in Colorado. The second survey was conducted with the same people who had participated in the 2007 survey. The results Patty shared at today’s session focused only on residents from Boulder County.
The surveys asked a broad range of questions about homeowner experiences with wildfire and specifics about the types of scenarios they thought might occur during a wildfire event. Patty said her interest in the survey results is seeing if there were significant changes in behavior or attitudes about fire. “But even after a crazy fire season in 2010,” she said, most measurements did not change significantly. She did note, however, that in the 2010 survey results, there was an increased sense of the risk of wildfire. She also said there was a statistically significant increase in the percent of surveyed homeowners who reported that they had undertaken vegetative fuels management (landscaping) initiatives to better protect their homes.
The cover story, Working Together , details ways that NFPA is working to reduce wildfire losses through a series of worldwide partnerships, research endeavors and community practices, and confirms its mission of saving lives and property on an international scale.
More people worldwide are moving into areas prone to wildfire, and the threat to millions of individuals, their homes and to communities grows ever larger. Understanding the worldwide fire phenomenon and ways to mitigate its damage is paramount.
Keith, known for using humor to emphasize his messages, discussed how grants for Firewise activities are fizzling and reminded everyone not to rely on these but to make the program sustainable without them. He detailed several additional sources of funding, including homeowners associations, municipalities/counties, special districts, incentive programs and private funding pointing out that the key is to stay informed about options and not be afraid to ask for dollars.
Keith gave some great examples of communities using each of these types of funding resources, then covered grant writing tips and how to set up and in-kind tracking program.
Cassey Robinson demonstrates a new software program to help protect homes in the wildland urban interface from fire.
At the opening session of NFPA’s “Backyards & Beyond” conference in Denver today, Cassy Robinson of the Savannah River National Laboratory gave an overview and demonstration of a newly developed science-based software program. The Wildfire Ignition Resistant Home Design (WIRHD) program came about as an initiative of the Department of Homeland Security looking to help prepare and protect the nation's homes from the threat of wildfire.
The Savannah River National Laboratory worked together with the U.S. Forest Service to develop this unique tool based on Jack Cohen's Structure Ignition Assessment Model (SIAM). Taking the science behind SIAM and adding a user-friendly graphical user interface, Wildfire Wizard came to be with the goal of providing a tool for homeowners, builders, fire agencies, and community planners to design, build, maintain ignition resistant homes.
Anyone is able to use this FREE web-based tool to input their own home's information and receive an output including home vulnerabilities with mitigation messages, links to instructional videos, the Firewise, FEMA and FLASH websites as well as an ember exposure probability. The simple eight steps for users are:
Step 1: Home Layout
Step 2: Roof Features
Step 3-6: Wall Features for each side of the home
Step 7: Features of the Home Ignition Zone
Step 8: Ember Exposure
The target date for completion on the software is January, 2012. The program will then be available for all through the Firewise website by February 1, 2012 - so stay tuned!
River Bluff Ranch is one of the NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA® nine pilot communities, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. This “from the ground up” community was developed to be Firewise from the very start. The issues of interfacing residential communities with mountainous forestlands were carefully addressed prior to the beginning of construction.
NFPA President Jim Shannon with Firewise Advisor Keith Worley, who accepted the award on behalf of Kenny Johnson of the North Fork Fire Department
Sundance, Utah was already part of a regional fire advisory council in the late 1990s when they experienced a local fire and found out about the Firewise program. To meet the challenge of sustaining action over the long term, the Council has found that things work best when driven by volunteer homeowners. When neighbors help develop ideas and lead projects, more community members are likely to participate.
Emigration Canyon approached fire mitigation with a housekeeping mindset, according to Firewise Kathy Christensen. She reminds people, “You have to do it again and again to maintain the upkeep around your home. The first time you do it, it’s a big job, but after that if you do a little every year, it’s not so hard.” The community also uses goats to develop fire breaks!
Greater Eastern Jemez is comprised of six distinct communities within the Santa Fe National Forest and Sandoval County boundaries. A representative from each community makes up a Firewise Board in charge of keeping the efforts alive. The community was recently tested by the Las Conchas Fire in June, bringing back terrible memories from the Los Alamos Fire a decade ago, but hard work averted a wildfire disaster this time.
NFPA President Jim Shannon with Harry Steele of Boise
Wilderness Ranch is a development of approximately 225 homes that lies north of Boise, Idaho. They have created a Firewise plan to keep their community educated and prepared. Then, in August of 2010, they saw their years of hard work pay off when they were tested by wildfire. Fire burned around the properties but stayed away from homes, and fire responders were able to fight the fire safely.
Wedgefield experienced days of fear and several evacuations during the wildfires of 1998 and decided becoming prepared for the next inevitable wildfire was the best course of action. Residents have found creative and fun ways to spread the word, get the work done and build partnerships.
Perry Park got its jumpstart from two “sparkplugs” including Firewise Regional Advisor, Keith Worley. After surveying community residents, Keith and others helped overcome fears and clarify myths about wildfire mitigation. Perry Park now has over 600 homes and has formed 18 partnerships to help them continue their efforts.
NFPA President Jim Shannon with Ken Kucera of the Genesee Foundation
Genesee Foundation was a place with little awareness of wildfire prior to engaging in the Firewise pilot. They have since learned that the obstacles they face are similar to those that others deal with throughout the U.S. Every Fourth of July, the Genesee Foundation hosts a community celebration. Included in this celebration is a Firewise display. In addition, the Genesee Fire Department hosted a community meeting and discussed defensible space, evacuation procedures and the recently-completed wildfire hazard assessment.
Timber Ridge, the very first Firewise Community site, is a neighborhood at the southwestern border of Prescott, Arizona adjacent to the Prescott National Forest. Construction on the available 443 lots began there in the early 1980s and continues today, with about 370 homes completed. Homes are close enough together in Timber Ridge to affect each other should a wildfire occur.
How is NFPA helping to make a difference when it comes to wildland fire issues? During his opening address at the Backyards & Beyond conference in Denver today, NFPA President Jim Shannon outlined a host of new efforts and programs.
Last year, NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division was formally established to develop targeted programs to reach everyone who designs, plans and develops our communities. And NFPA recently opened an office in Colorado that provides an important point of contact for the western half of the United States.
“Most of you recognize NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program as a major resource for safeguarding people and property against the threat of home losses due to brush, grass, and forest fires,” said Mr. Shannon. “This year, I am proud to announce that our Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program celebrates its 10thanniversary. What started as a 12 community pilot program has now grown to almost 750 communities in 40 states.”
To support the Firewise program, NFPA has hired six regional advisors who will work to encourage the work of current recognized communities, and help new communities become official recognized Firewise sites.
“As we move forward, NFPA, the Wildland Fire Operations Division and Firewise program staff will focus our efforts on developing new and innovative programs that provide our audiences with resources and the latest information,” said Mr. Shannon. “We will continue to work with our partners to help facilitate an open dialogue on nationally-accepted standards for evacuation procedures in wildfire risk areas. And we will strive to improve statistical information on wildland fires and home losses and develop new solutions by learning from the past.”
“There is still much work to be done,” he said. “All of us here today play a huge role in protecting our communities from the threat of wildfires. By working together, we can take giant leaps forward in tackling our world’s wildfire problem.”
Since 2000, wildfires have ravaged over 58 million acres in the United States. This year alone, close to eight million acres have burned. The National Interagency Fire Center is calling for a heightened wildfire alert in the south due to increased drought conditions through December.
During his opening address at NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond conference in Denver, NFPA President Jim Shannon said that together, he believes we can mitigate wildland fire damage to property and prevent injuries and loss of life by studying the problem, learning from experience and implementing practical strategies in residential development areas.
Mr. Shannon said finding solutions to the wildland fire problem is a high priority for NFPA because wildfires are one of the biggest fire problems we face. He noted that NFPA has developed codes and standards for assessing wildfire risk and creating safer development and infrastructure for over 70 years. Those documents include:
NFPA 1141, aimed at infrastructure and land development
Last spring, NFPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian non-profit association, Partners in Protection. This agreement confirms NFPA’s commitment to developing best practices based on shared experience and knowledge of the wildfire challenges in each of our countries.
Watch: Molly Mowery, Firewise Associate Project Manager, explains NFPA's formalized relationship with the Canadian association, Partners in Protection, and NFPA's effort to address global challenges with regards to wildland fire safety.
It’s estimated that nearly 45 million homes abut or intermingle with wildlands in the United States. And while living in the wildland urban interface (WUI) is ideal for many, it comes with huge challenges, such as fire suppression costs, water supplies, and evacuation planning.
At the opening session of NFPA’s “Backyards & Beyond” conference in Denver today, NFPA President Jim Shannon said that resources to address these challenges continue to shrink due to tough economic times. “But wildfire isn’t concerned with those constraints, and as brush, grass and forest fires continue to rise, communities struggle with how to adapt,” he said.
The 2011 wildfire season is on its way to becoming one of the worst on record. The combination of severe drought and excess fuel build-up in forests and grasslands has made fire seasons progressively worse over the past 50 years. Just last month, in Bastrop County, TX, more than 1,500 homes were destroyed, making it one of the worst fires in the history of the state.
Watch:Ryan Depew, a fire service specialist at NFPA, traveled to central Texas, where he participated in structure fire investigations related to the Bastrop County Complex Fire.
“Wildfires in the U.S. and around the world are placing greater demands on our resources and creating greater risks to lives and property,” said Mr. Shannon. “Many in this room have worked on the front lines and experienced first-hand the intensity and frequency of wildland fires. You know how much damage they do and anybody who lives in a community that has experienced a wildfire knows how devastating it can be.”
And wildland fires are not just a problem in the United States, said Mr. Shannon. “We know that wildland fires have had a profound impact on countries around the world. I extend a special welcome to our international visitors who have traveled from as far as South Africa, Australia and Canada to be with us today to join in this global wildfire conversation.”
Mr. Shannon thanked attendees for traveling to Denver, saying it was wonderful to see so many different organizations and agencies, including representatives from the forest service, fire departments, land management agencies, educational institutions, the insurance industry and homeowner associations. “All of you share this sense of purpose to protect lives and property in the wildland-urban interface,” he said.
On average, homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) in Colorado change hands every 3-4 years. This fact, shared by Jeff Jahnke, Director of the Colorado State Forest Service, at the opening session of NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond conference today in Denver, underscores the enormous task of continued and consistent education about living safely in the WUI. Mr. Jahnke said his organization strives to provide comprehensive support for the care of our natural environment. The key to our future success, he said, is working together and developing partnerships, both at the national and local levels.
Wildland fires are not only a problem here in the United States, but in countries around the world. Today in Denver, at a special pre-conference session, a group of international attendees met to follow up on discussions initiated at the 2011 International Wildfire Conference in South Africa. Together, they have formed a “Community Based Fire Management Working Group” aimed at promoting community level wildfire mitigation, prevention and education on a global level. Their goal is to have this information take a prominent place in sessions at the next International Wildfire Conference in 2015 in South Korea.
Front row (from left): Kelly O'Shea, Partners in Protection Executive Director, Canada; Molly Mowery, NFPA Wildland Fire Operations Division; Alan Westhaver, Partners in Protection board, Canada; and Michele Steinberg, NFPA Wildland Fire Operations Division
Back row (from left): Dave Nuss, NFPA Wildland Fire Operations Division Director; Kelly Johnston, Partners in Protection board, Canada; Zane Erasmus, Cape Nature, South Africa; Thomas Mackenzie, FFA Firewise Africa, South Africa; Jim Shannon, President, NFPA; Pieter van Lierop, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Italy; and Val Charlton, FFA Firewise Africa, South Africa.
Up to 10,000 Colorado residents were without power today as the season's first snow storm dumped up to 12 inches of snow across the state, according to FOX 31 Denver. Photo: Kelly Caudle/FOX 31 Denver
A little snow (well, OK, a good amount of snow) couldn’t stop the steady stream of attendees from arriving at the DoubleTree Hotel here in Denver for the start of this week’s “Backyards & Beyond” conference. Over the next few days, NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division is hosting this event, offering more than 45 educational sessions in five tracks.
This conference couldn’t be any more timely. The 2011 wildfire season is on its way to becoming one of the worst on record. And it’s not just a problem here in the United States. During this conference, we’re welcoming attendees from South Africa, Australia, and Canada, who join us to learn from the experts - and each other - how we can tackle our world’s wildfire problem.
Keep checking back on this blog, as we’ll be offering session overviews, photos, and video from NFPA's “Backyards & Beyond” conference.
If you like to get your conference updates in 140 characters or less, you can also follow this conference on Twitter at www.twitter.com/firewise.
How do we know Firewise principles work? In addition to the research and science behind the Firewise program, many real-life situations have shown the benefits of becoming Firewise. We want to highlight those success stories of Firewise principles in action, either through the recognition program or as individual efforts. First up:
The story from Etoile, Texas shows how you don’t have to be ‘big’ to make a big difference in your community. The station covered efforts by middle school students at the Etoile Independent School District (Etoile ISD) who have been working to make their school – and community – Firewise since 2008.
Actress Kim Novak uses a garden hose to wet down the roof of her home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on November 6, 1961, as a raging brush fire swept within 100 yards of the mansion. The house was saved, at least temporarily, but the homes of many other Hollywood celebrities were destroyed. (Photo: AP/Wide World/Ellis R. Bosworth)
Hollywood received a wake-up call in November, 1961, when a wildfire burned 16,090 acres (6,511 hectares), destroyed more than 484 homes, and caused an estimated $50 million in damage in the tony Brentwood and Bel Air sections of Los Angeles. Among the homes destroyed were those of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Burt Lancaster, according to the November 17 issue of Life magazine. Other celebs, including Kim Novak, Maureen O’Hara, Fred MacMurray, and Richard Nixon, took to their wood-shake roofs and hosed them down, saving them from windblown embers. Life dubbed the event "A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink."
What became known as the Brentwood-Bel Air Fire began on November 6 in a pile of rubbish in Sherman Oaks and was spread by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 60 mph (96.5 kph). It advanced with "nasty capriciousness," according to Life, "sometimes spilling into ravines, sometimes leaping from ridge to ridge."
A 16,000-acre brush fire meets a freeway in Southern California. Brush, grass, and smaller forest fires are common occurrences for many local fire departments across the country.(Photograph: AP Wide World/Mike Meadows)
By Marty Ahrens From the October 2011 NFPA Journal®
Huge fires in the wildland-urban interface have made headlines in recent years, with stories about the federal and state agencies that battle to contain them. But local fire departments around the country are also engaged in fighting wildfire, responding to a range of smaller, but numerous, brush, grass, and forest fires.
During the five-year period of 2004–2008, local U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 356,800 brush, grass, and forest fires per year. On average, 976 brush, grass, or forest fires were reported per day. These incidents accounted for one-quarter (23 percent) of all fires reported to local fire departments. During this period, 4,800 buildings, on average, were involved annually in brush, grass, and forest fires handled by local departments.
The 356,800 natural vegetation fires reported per year include an average of:
145,400 (41 percent) brush or brush and grass mixture fires
132,000 (37 percent) grass fires
36,700 (10 percent) forest, woods, or wildland fires
42,700 (12 percent) natural vegetation fires that were not classified further.
A conflagration occurred in the hills above Oakland and Berkeley California on October 20, 1991. Burning embers carried by high winds from the perimeter of a small but growing duff fire ignited overgrown vegetation and led to the ignition of tree crowns and homes. The fire grew so rapidly that 790 homes were consumed in the first hour of the fire. The cause of the original fire was labeled “suspicious” and many factors came together to contribute to the rapid spread of the fire:
A five-year drought dried out overgrown grass, bushes, trees, and shrubs, making them easily ignitable
The parched leaves of closely spaced trees touched in certain areas and overhung homes in others
Untreated wood shingles were the predominant roof covering for homes in the area
On the day of the fire, unseasonably high temperatures, low relative humidity, and strong winds pervaded the area
Fox 7 in Austin, Texas covered the recent visit of fire officials back at the scene of the first urban wildfire to hit the Austin area. The Pinnacle fire burned 100 acres in April. Since then there have been more than 600 wildfires in Texas that scorched almost 40,000 acres. It is a troubling scene to look at even for veteran fire fighters.
Austin Fire Department Lt. Josh Portie, Justice Jones with the Texas Forest Service, and Firewise Regional Advisor Keith Worley toured the area as a way to learn lessons and help tweak their preparations for future wildfires through the Firewise program.
"There are things out there that can give us some protection from these wildfires and we have just got to bring all those resources together. Get the message out and educate everybody about these principals,” said Portie.
In this day and age, when people want to watch a film they usually do it from the comfort of their own home. There once was a time when a night out at the cinema encapsulated all of the excitement and glamour of old Hollywood. Looking at the sorry state of theatre-going today, one can’t help but wonder, ‘Where did all the magic go?’
The 2011 Backyards & Beyond Conference is only one week away! We look forward to seeing you all there. If you happen to visit one of our Denver destination suggestions, feel free to send us your stories and pictures. Enjoy your trip!
<span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: small;">The Wildland Fire Operations Division Field Office promotes NFPA’s activities and programs related to wildland fire and safety mitigation. It supports NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA Recognition and Firewise Communities Programs , in addition to major initiatives including the Fire Adapted Communities Program , the application of wildland fire codes and standards, research projects, community outreach and membership, and represents NFPA at major wildfire related conferences and events. </span>
The three organizations partnered nationally to promote individual and community wildfire preparedness to approximately 25 congressional staffers. The briefing took place during NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week, a national public awareness campaign established in 1922 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, and to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention and safety.
The risk of catastrophic fire occurrence in the wildland urban interface (WUI) is a major issue in today’s fire protection community. There are many potential tools for zoning administrators, planners, and fire/emergency managers to consider when addressing their community’s wildfire risk. These tools include comprehensive planning, land use regulation, building codes and standards, voluntary programs (e.g. Firewise Communities/USA recognition program), Community Wildfire Protection Plans, and hazard mitigation planning.
A new report, due out in December from the Fire Protection Research Foundation, will help guide future use of regulations and planning tools that more effectively reduce wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface. Read the project summary to learn how these WUI regulatory tools may be enforced.
The LoDo District is one of Denver’s most unique neighborhoods combining history, culture, and retail. Take a walking tour of the 25 square block area to learn about the history of Denver’s birthplace and some of Denver’s most beautifully preserved buildings. You won’t believe how well the district’s saloons and brothels have stood the test of time. If grabbing a few drinks with friends is on the agenda, the LoDo District has over 90 brewpubs, sports bars, restaurants and rooftop cafés to choose from. Groove to some jazz at El Chapultpec, named one of Esquire Magazine’s 50 best bars, or enjoy a handmade beer at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver’s first brewpub. Of course, conference attendees can’t learn about wildfire without looking snazzy, so be sure to browse around the fashionable Larimer Square, located between 14th and 15th street. There’s never a shortage of fun things to do in the LoDo District – it’s the perfect destination for a night out with friends or colleagues!
There are no easy answers for when, or if, to evacuate when wildfire threatens, but NFPA is providing people in fire-prone areas with important information on how to be prepared
NFPA Journal®, October 2011
By Stephanie Schorow
As fire bears down on the house with a roar, the couple inside makes last-minute checks. They have prepared their home and outbuildings with the latest fire-resistant materials, including replacing wooden shingles with asphalt shingles. They also removed trees and bushes near the buildings, cleaned the gutters, and covered the attic vent to their home with wire screen to prevent wind-blown embers from entering their home. They believe they can withstand the rush of the fire front, and that they’ll be able to move quickly with a hose or brooms to put out smoldering embers that could ignite and burn their home or other structures, even hours after the fire front passes.
Miles away, another couple is settling in at a friend’s house. They, too, had thoroughly prepared their home and property for a possible wildland fire, but they also readied themselves and their children to leave as soon as the local sheriff called for an evacuation. When the call for evacuation came, they immediately began loading their car with a prepared emergency supply kit, important documents and food supplies. They had two possible routes in mind to get to their friend’s house in a nearby city. They were on the road in less than 20 minutes.
Molly Mowery, a program manager for NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations Division, wrote an article for the most recent issue of NFPA Journal, a bonus issue all about wildfire. The article, "World of Opportunity" discusses NFPA's expanded reach to address the global wildfire problem.
In recent years, tragic wildfire events around the world have been pushed into the international spotlight. Consider a few headlines from within the past year: "Wildfires turn Russia red: 700 die a day in Moscow as deadly smog doubles mortality rate"; "Bolivia declares emergency over forest fires"; "Israel wildfire death toll tops 40"; "Grassland fire kills 22 in Tibet"; and "Forest fires: Britain bursts into flames."
Since its creation, the Wildland Fire Operations Division has been actively raising NFPA’s profile as an authority on wildland fire mitigation. The division has already initiated studies to look at the effectiveness of regulation in the WUI, and has begun working with other partners to advance the concept of Fire Adapted Communities. Now, NFPA will expand their reach to address the global wildfire problem as well.
The bonus issue of NFPA Journal this year is all about wildfire. One of the features in that issue, written by Michele Steinberg, details the Firewise program, at the leading edge of NFPA’s wildfire efforts, which marks its tenth year of helping communities prepare for fire.
Damaging wildfires have dominated U.S. news headlines since the beginning of the year, as stories have tumbled, domino-like, out of Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, then back to Texas and the Southeast. What’s really news for NFPA, however, among the reports of crisis and disaster, are the mentions of Firewise®. In the first six months of 2011, well over 100 stories have made it into major market media outlets talking about how communities are using Firewise to actively prepare to face the wildfire threat.
Firewise is a term coined by NFPA and its partners in 1993 to describe a vision of communities and homes where residents have learned how to build, design, and maintain neighborhoods that can survive compatibly with the natural phenomena of brush, grass, and forest fires. NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program has developed tools and techniques based on wildland fire science to advise and inform homeowners, builders, firefighters, and community leaders on the most effective ways to prepare homes to resist ignition from wildland fire. Its national recognition program, Firewise Communities/USA®, was launched in 2002 to provide a simple action template for neighbors to work together for greater wildfire safety.
On-line presentation features Firewise principles, information and resources for people in the wildland-urban interface
With the 2011 wildfire season on its way to becoming one of the worst on record, the Firewise staff knows how important it is for residents living and working in wildfire high-risk areas to get the information they need to mitigate their wildfire risk and reduce losses.
Please join me, Michele Steinberg, program manager of NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program, at 1 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, November 8, for an online wildfire safety presentation featuring the Firewise program. Learn how wildfires behave and homes ignite. We will also review Firewise resources and materials available to help homeowners and neighbors work together to design a safe community.
Like social media? We’ll also live Tweet via Twitter. Mark it in your calendar and tweet the webinar using hashtage #Firewise or submit your question to @Firewise.
In the meantime, our online newsletters, “The How To” and “Fire Break” are a great source for the latest news and information about NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division, our Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program and other wildland fire resources to help you get started. Subscriptions to both newsletters are free. Why not sign up today?
We look forward to having you join us on November 8!
"Even though lightning fires represent a relatively small slice of the overall fire problem, the numbers are still quite large," says Ben Evarts, the study's author. "This is important for people to know, since lightning is frequently used in everyday conversation to reference something that is unlikely, when in fact, it's quite common."
In an upcoming special Wildfire NFPA Journal issue, NFPA's Ryan Depew covers "Wildfire Standards" highlighting NFPA codes and standards that provide a practical and effective blueprint for how to minimize and manage the wildfire threat. In addition, Ryan writes how NFPA technical committees are working to standardize how we should collectively address wildfire issues.
This work comes at a critical moment; from January through August this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wildland fires burned nearly 7 million acres (2.8 million hectares), significantly above average for the year-to-date period and the fourth-most on record. The month of June was the second-worst on record, with 1.3 million acres (526,091 hectares) burned. During that eight-month period, thousands of structures were lost in the wildland-urban interface, or WUI — the area where wildland fuels and structures intermix — and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on fire suppression efforts. It is clear that more work needs to be done in order to address loss of life and property as a result of wildfire.
Below, check out a video of Ryan discussing his recent trip to Bastrop, TX. In early September, Ryan traveled to central Texas, where he participated in structure fire investigations related to the Bastrop County Complex Fire, which had destroyed more than 1,500 homes.
Ever wanted to go skydiving but too afraid to take the plunge? Skyventure Colorado located in Lone Tree is the perfect place for commitment-phobes seeking adventure after sessions at NFPA’s 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference. Skyventure Colorado is an indoor skydiving complex complete with high-speed vertical wind tunnels powerful enough to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. Four 300 horsepower fans located on opposite sides of the building power wind gusts in the flight chamber up to 180 mph, giving visitors a realistic simulation of free-falling. It’s the closest thing possible to human flight – who wouldn’t want to give it a try? Get suited up in real skydiving gear and experienced instructors will teach you how to ‘ride the wind.’
Reservations are recommended at Skyventure Colorado, so be sure to call ahead!
Smoke from a distant wildfire hangs in the sky in early September near Bastrop, Texas. The 2011 fire season has been marked by some of the largest wildfires on record, underscoring NFPA’s varied efforts to address the wildfire problem at home and abroad. (Photograph: AP Wideworld/Eric Gay)
One evening in April, Ed Brown and his wife, Val Hall, left their Fort Collins, Colorado, home as wildfire approached and drove to the safety of a friend’s house. From there, they could see thick black smoke emanating from nearby Crystal Mountain and hear propane tanks exploding in the distance. They returned home the next morning to discover their house was the only one in the neighborhood not impacted by wildfire, which destroyed 13 homes and burned nearly 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares).
Read "Working Together", the cover story of our bonus issue of NFPA Journal®, which looks at new research on brush, grass and forest fires, the effectiveness of codes and standards on wildfire issues, and environmental factors that affect wildfires.