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"Understanding Homeowner's Intentions & Actions When Threatened by Wildfire" is the topic that Sarah McCaffrey of the USDA Forest Service presented on at the Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference

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. 

The McCafferty & Winter study was done looking at the Ventura, Alachua, Helena Tri County areas and the perceptions of the people who live in each. Take a look at the study for further information on the findings.

-Lauren Backstrom 


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. 

Ali has helped to create materials for homeowners to show them what plants and trees are fire resistant and therefore an ideal choice. Check out the Firewise site for a list of fire resistant plants in your state

-Lauren Backstrom


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".

Weight in Gold
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. 

To learn more, check out the information and resources page on the Firewise website.

Ryan Depew
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".

See Ryan's presentation below.

NFPA's Backyards & Beyond Conference - National Wildland Fire Safety Standards: Developing and Using NFPA 1141 & 1144

Patty Champ

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. 

- Mike Hazell


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As we gather in Denver for this year's Backyards & Beyond conference , we wanted to make sure that the readers of this blog know that the October special issue of NFPA Journa[l |]® addresses the increasing problem of wildland fires and the challenges we face. 


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.


Also in this special issue of NFPA Journal:

The controversy over the “stay-and-defend-or-leave-early” model and its impact around the globe&#0160;The challenges of living in the wildland-urban interface; a perspective from the fire service</li> </ul>


Starting the Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference off on the right foot in Denver today, Keith Worley - Forestree Development, LLC and Firewise Regional Advisor - presented an educational session on "Hunting for Dollars." 

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. 

For more information, check out the Grants & Funding area of the Firewise website or contact Keith directly

-Lauren Backstrom


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 RanchDespite not being able to be with us in person today at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference to personally accept their award, the Firewise team still wants to acknowledge the work of River Bluff Ranch in Spokane, Washington.

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.

You can read all about River Bluff Ranch here, including their design plan and homeowner’s association promises for continued effort.

Jim Shannon and Keith Worley
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.

This commitment has lead to Sundance celebrating their 10th anniversary with NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA® program. They are also one of nine pilot sites being honored at 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference for their continued effort.

Check out Sundance, Utah’s full history with the Firewise program

Jim Shannon and Kathy Christensen

NFPA President Jim Shannon with Kathy Christensen of Salt Lake City, UT

Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah has the distinction of being one of nine pilot Firewise Communities/USA® sites who are celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

To recognize this effort, Michele Steinberg awarded Emigration Canyon with a special award at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference.

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!

Learn more about Emigration Canyon’s Firewise efforts over the years.

Jim Shannon and Ann Cooke

NFPA President Jim Shannon with Ann Cooke of Jemez, NM

Congratulations to the Greater Eastern Jemez WUI Corridor in Jemez, New Mexico for being one of nine pilot Firewise Communities/USA® sites who are now celebrating 10 years of commitment. All nine of these pilot sites are being honored at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference with an award presented by Michele Steinberg and NFPA President Jim Shannon.

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.

Read more about Greater Eastern Jemez as well as their Board’s mission statement

Jim Shannon and Harry Steele

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.

Wilderness Ranch is one of nine pilot communities in the NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA® celebrating 10 years of commitment. Michele Steinberg awarded the community with a special plaque at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference to acknowledge their hard work.

Read about Wilderness Ranch’s Firewise history, and about what’s included in their plan.

Jim Shannon and Mary Prescott

NFPA President with Mary Prescott from Orlando, FL

Ten years ago, the NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA® program was just getting started. Nine communities joined as pilot sites and are still committed to the effort today!

The Wedgefield community in Orlando, Florida is one of these pilot sites being honored at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference with a special award from Michele Steinberg.

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.

Find out more about Wedgefield’s start with the Firewise program with their complete case study.

Jim Shannon and Bob Owens

NFPA President with Bob Owens of Perry Park Municipal District

Michele Steinberg was pleased to present a special award to the Perry Park Municipal District in Larkspur, Colorado at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference. Perry Park Municipal District is one of nine pilot NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA® sites, now celebrating their 10th anniversary!

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.

Learn more about Perry Park and their Firewise Journey, including their “Trees Saving Trees” effort

Jim Shannon and Ken Kucera

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.

NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program celebrates 10 years, and honors the nine original pilot sites for their continued efforts in reducing wildfire risks. Genesee Foundation in Golden, Colorado is one of these pilot communities and accepted an award for this distinction from Michele Steinberg at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference.

Read Genesee Foundation’s complete history with the Firewise Communities Program

Jim Shannon and Darrell Willis

NFPA President Jim Shannon with Fire Chief Darrell Willis of Timber Ridge in Prescott, AZ's Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program celebrates 10 years, and honors our nine original pilot sites for their continued efforts in reducing wildfire risks.

During Opening Session at the 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference in Denver, Colorado, the community of Timber Ridge in Prescott, Arizona was awarded an award distinguishing it as one of the original pilot communities.

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.

Read a full description of Timber Ridge’s work to remain a Firewise Community over the last 10 years

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 10th anniversary. 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.

Mr. Shannon talked about the development of a new “Fire Adapted Communities” program, the result of a Congressional act that called for a cohesive strategy for mitigating, as opposed to merely suppressing, wildland fires. Through a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, NFPA is overseeing the creation of the program and related website, due to launch next spring. Providing guidance and content is a coalition of eight organizations, including the U.S. Fire Administration, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Association of State Foresters.

NFPA also continues to broaden its research capabilities and knowledge base about wildland fires, recently publishing a data report that examined brush, grass, and forest fires that occur across the United States. In addition, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an NFPA affiliate, is overseeing a research project on the use of regulations and planning tools designed to reduce wildland fire risk.

“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.”

Jim Shannon

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
  • NFPA 1142, which deals with water supplies
  • NFPA 1143, which deals with wildfire management
  • NFPA 1144, aimed at reducing ignition hazards around the home

“At NFPA, we value the importance of collaboration,” said Mr. Shannon. For the past 25 years, NFPA has played an active role with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a consortium of fire organizations and federal agencies that oversees wildland fire management in the United States. And since 1986, working with the U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters, the “Firewise Communities Program” has been supporting communities and advocating wildfire safety principles and community preparedness to a broad U.S. audience.

“We continue to strengthen our relationship with the U.S. Forest Service and other important organizations such as the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and others by working together on our new Fire Adapted Communities Program,” he said.

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.

Jim Shannon
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.

Jeff Jahnke
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.

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