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2012

Charlie Plassmann a Sierra West community leader from Driftwood just south of Austin, Texas sent this article from the local Wimberley View newspaper.  The Sierra West Subdivision has been a recognized Firewise Community/USA® site since 2011 and we at the National Fire Protection Association are excited by their continued commitment to the Firewise program, especially when one considers that Texas was one of the hardest hit during last year’s fire season where 2,900 homes were burned and more than 4 million acres burned.  According to national wildland fire experts this year is going to be a very busy and challenging fire season.  

Sierra West

This winter’s unseasonably mild and dry weather pattern is causing an alarmingly increased risk for wildfire prompting a national warning for residents to take action to prevent damage from wildfire. States such as ColoradoTennessee and New York are already seeing the reality of these dangerous conditions.

Firewise“The unusually dry and windy weather at this time of year means that wildfires pose a greater threat to individual properties and neighborhoods across the U.S.,” said Michele Steinberg, NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program Manager. “It’s simply easier, in these conditions, for fires to start and burn out of control. But residents can do their part and take simple steps today to lessen the risk of damage if a wildfire occurs.”

While these states continue to recover from the devastating effects of recent wildfires, now is the time for residents across the country to prepare themselves and protect their homes from brush, grass and forest fire damage. Contrary to common perception, a wildfire does not have to burn everything in its path. In fact, clearing property of debris and maintaining landscaping are important, yet simple, first steps for homeowners. 

Below are additional actions residents can take to reduce the risk of home and property becoming fuel for a wildfire – actions that have saved communities, such as those in South Gulf Cove in Florida.

  • Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.
  • Keep lawns hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire.
  • Remove flammable materials within 3-5 feet of the home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch the house, deck or porch.

Read the full list of tips and actions you can take here

Learn more about how to keep families safe and reduce homeowners’ risk for wildfire damage at www.Firewise.org. Additionally, complimentary brochures, booklets, pamphlets, videos and much more can be found on the information and resources page of the website and ordered online through the Firewise catalog

Jim Broshears

Retired Fire Chief, Jim Broshears of Paradise California with Spanish Broom

Weed Wrench

CCC Member with weed wrench to pull broom roots and all from the ground mid-winter to early spring

In California and several western states, the cry “doom the broom!” has special meaning. Several species of the Broom plant were introduced for erosion control and ornamental use from the Mediterranean and have now spread to be a weed on an estimated 600,000 acres in California. It is not only a problem that affects habitats by crowding out other plants but is also a very serious problem that can contribute to the intensities of wildfires. As you can see, the Broom plant spreads prolifically. Like soybeans, it fixes nitrogen so it can fertilize the soil for itself creating healthy, thick stands of ladder fuel.  There are four species of Broom Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) pictured here, French Broom (Genista L.), Scotch Broom (Cytisus L) and Portuguese broom (Cytisus striatus).

One plant can produce over 20,000 seeds, so it is important that the plant is properly removed to prevent spreading. The best time of year to remove Broom is when soil is moist during the middle of winter or early spring and they can be pulled before the plant has had a chance to produce seeds.  A weed wrench shown here by the CCC is the best way to pull the plant out.  The wrench is placed at the base of the plant and with a slow sideways motion the plant is pulled out by the root.  You don’t want to cut the plant in winter or spring when there is soil moisture or it will produce more suckers and spread.  Cutting should only be done when the plants are drought stressed and 80 to 30% will not resprout.  Once the plant is pulled it should be bagged and disposed of so that seeds are not spread or burned (only with the permission and following the regulations of your local fire district). Residents of Sutter, Yuba and Butte Counties in California can get more information about Broom, methods of removal and its potential environmental impact from Glenn Nader, Farm Advisor with the UCCE Cooperative Extension at ganader@ucdavis.edu.

To see more “broom doomers” in action, visit the Scotch Broom Challenge area of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County (California) website for images, videos and more.

--Faith Berry

 

A few days ago, we kicked off a new program to help fire departments fund the purchase of life-saving fire safety educational materials. Sparky’s Wish List™:  Partnering for Fire-Safe Communities invites fire departments to create a free online wish list for Fire Prevention Week materials. Businesses and the public can fulfill departments’ wish lists and provide these critical educational materials for their communities.

"Fire safety education saves lives, but with current budget pressures, it’s hard for many departments to pay for a range of educational materials,” said Jim Shannon, NFPA president. "Sparky’s Wish List is designed to help close the gap between what fire departments can afford and what they need to educate on fire safety.”

Every year, fire departments in the United States respond to more than 350,000 home fires resulting in at least 2,500 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries.

The official launch of Sparky’s Wish List was held at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis where thousands of firefighters were among the first to learn about the new site.

“Every year, we see fire-related injuries that might have been prevented if the victims had received fire safety tips, installed functioning smoke alarms or practiced an escape plan,” said Chief Brian Sanford, Indianapolis Fire Department who was among the first to sign up his department. “Our first line of protection is educating the community. Sparky’s Wish List will allow us to work with community members to provide these critical educational resources.”

Fire departments create a wish list by creating a profile and clicking the boxes to indicate the materials they need. Donors can purchase those materials by searching for their hometowns and opening their department’s registry. The materials will be sent directly to the fire department.

Visit Sparky's Wish List and follow step-by-step directions. Tools and resources are also available for departments to learn how to spread the word to the community and engage potential donors.

 I was pleased to find out (via some emails from friends) that a recent interview I did with 10 News in Tampa resulted in an informative short article and video.  Local media in southwest Florida have been instrumental in helping to warn Florida residents about the wildfire danger we are facing this spring. The article links to the Firewise home page and Florida's wildfire safety resources. You can watch the video here.

--Patrick Mahoney

 

Wicked Local
Photo: Cliff Felton

Due to the lack of snowpack, warm temperatures and excess dried vegetation left over from last year’s tornado and recent storms, abandoned lots, woodland glades and marshlands have turned into kindling, all contributing to an increase of brush fires across the Bay State.

On Wednesday, April 25 at 12 noon (Eastern Time), Wicked Local, a "portal" site representing featured content from 158 individual hyper local Massachusetts community websites, will present a live blog discussion forum titled, “High Noon: Brush Fire Survival for Communities and Homeowners.” NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program manager, Michele Steinberg, Plymouth Fire Chief Ed Bradley, and area fire chiefs will be on hand to take questions about wildfire prevention and mitigation.  

Topics will touch on what homeowners can do now to reduce their wildfire risk, and provide information about the role of fire fighters and first responders, regulations regarding wildfire, and much more.

To participate, when you tune in on Wednesday, April 25, click on the “High Noon” story of your Wicked Local page. The window where you can interact live with our experts will be at the bottom of the story. For those who live outside of Massachusetts, choose a town, and connect to one of the many Wicked Local online newspapers.

Have questions? Feel free to send them ahead of time to fmand@wickedlocal.com.

After the event, the questions and answers will be published in each paper and online.

Need a reminder? Sign up for an email reminder about the event at the bottom of your Wicked Local page.

We look forward to hearing from you!

JournalCongratulations to NFPA Journal® which won two EXCEL Awards from Association Media & Publishing!

The October 2011 special wildfire issue won a bronze award in the 20,001-100,000 category, while the magazine won a silver award for overall excellence in the 50,001-100,000 circulation category.

Check out the Journal’s special bonus issue :  NFPA + Wildfire, which takes a comprehensive look at NFPA’s global efforts to ensure our safe and compatible existence with wildfire. You can also read about NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program, our work with international partners, NFPA’s standards development process, emergency management, the fire service and much more.

KRQE
KRQE News 13 recently posted an article about New Mexico's fire season which is fast approaching and expected to be a bad one.

While fire officials are trying to figure out how to best protect people and property, some insurance companies say they might drop coverage for people who chose to live in those high-risk areas.Last year much of the state was ravaged by fires. This year, the risk is high with severe drought conditions and little moisture. It's a risk that's also affecting insurance.

"As we see this increasing wildfire threat move into a dangerous active season, insurance companies really do expect homeowners that live in these higher-risk areas to share that risk," explained Carole Walker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association .

By sharing the risk, homeowners are urged to learn what their insurance companies require to stay affordable and insured.

Officials say preparing property will help it withstand a wildfire with minimal intervention. It'll also help save the homeowners money.

"It's that pocket-book incentive of getting and keeping affordable insurance that's really going to get people oftentimes to do the right thing and protect their property," Walker said.

While fire officials are preparing themselves for another dry season, Ruidoso Fire Chief Harlan Vincent said he wants the community to be prepared as well. He said there's a new tool to keep everyone on the same page. This year's new emergency notification system is called Call Me Ruidoso , and it's a system designed to be the lifeline for evacuation alerts.

The message fire officials and insurance agencies are sending is for people not just to be aware of risks but also to take action.

"If you're unwilling to make a defensible space, you're living in a high-risk area, you're too high of a risk for us to insure," said Walker.

"It's not going to be a matter of paying higher rates because of no mitigation steps," she said.  "It will affect your ability to get and keep insurance."

Some things homeowners can do to keep their area safe is making sure they thin trees and vegetation on their properties. Another is having clear access for emergency crews.

Keith Worley, advisor for the federal Firewise Communities Program, said their mantra is to keep landscape lean, clean and green. He also said homeowners should keep a Class A roof and a high level of maintenance including cleaning gutters and decks and around foundation.

April Fire BreakThe April issue of Fire Break, NFPA’s wildland fire newsletter, is available for viewing. In this issue, you’ll find:

  • News about a number of communities using Firewise principles to address the challenge of downed trees and debris, that can turn into fire fuel, left by recent tornadoes
  • A story about Staten Island’s fight with an invasive weed that is being blamed for an increased number of brush fires along the coast
  • An announcement about the newest member of the Wildland Fire Operations Division, Cathy Prudhomme
  • The names of the winners of the Firewise Plants Calendar Photo Contest
  • Sparky’s new earth-smart activity checklist, that also helps keep homes and property safer from wildfire

… And lots more! Sign up today! It's free, informative and will keep you up to date on the latest news and information on mitigating your wildfire risk to take back to your communities, organization or fire house.

Russian Delegation 001

Russian Delegation 7
On April 6, the Wildland Fire Operations Division field office in Denver, hosted a delegation of six individuals from Russia, two interpreters, and three USDA Forest Service staff members that were escorting the group.  The contingent made their way to the Denver office via Molly Mowery, our program manager for Fire Adapted Communities and International Outreach.  Through one of her many outreach activities she connected with Brad Kinder with the USDA Forest Service International Programs, where he works as a program specialist with Russia, Europe, and Near Asia.

Prior to arriving at the Denver field office, the group had been to DC, Colorado State University’s Wildland Fire Science Laboratory, and the Rocky Mountain airport tanker base.  Once the group arrived at our location they were given an overview of NFPA, the Firewise and Fire Adapted Communities program, by Dave Nuss, manager of NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division.  After a quick (locally headquartered) lunch at Chipotle, where interpreters had to help place potentially confusing orders, the afternoon field trip commenced to two local Firewise Communities. 

The field trip was led by Keith Worley, a Firewise regional advisor for the Southwest, professional forester and certified arborist.  For those of you who haven’t met Keith, he has an engaging and colorful presentation style that kept the group’s two Russian interpreters on their toes trying to keep up with his narration. 

Site visits included the Woodlands-Escavera five hundred home community located in the Villages at Castle Rock in Castle Rock, CO, and the seven hundred home Perry Park development in Larkspur, CO.  Woodlands-Escavera obtained their Firewise Community status in 2009, and Perry Park has maintained their status since 2002.  Worley arranged for Castle Rock Fire Chief Art Morales to join the group at the stop in his jurisdiction and Randy Johnson, the Fire Marshal with the Larkspur Fire Department during the Perry Park visit.

The delegation took loads of pictures and asked lots of questions while touring the fuel treatments on community open spaces, defensible space at the homeowner level, the fire and fuel breaks and the forest management thinning projects.  They had plenty of questions about how residents receive wildland fire information and education, what motivates homeowners to implement mitigation projects and take personal responsibility, funding, and what laws or role government played in mitigation projects.  They were amazed at how many homeowners do the work themselves!  Questions abounded about the size of the home’s lots, square footage, taxes, and utilities.  At the end of the trip, pictures with Fire Marshal Randy Johnson overlooking the spectacular hillside views of Perry Park were a must have souvenir. 

-Cathy Prudhomme

http://www.sparky.orgEarth Smarts
Sparky the Fire Dog is celebrating Earth Day all month long! He has partnered with NFPA's Firewise program to develop a great checklist that parents and their children can do together to help protect their homes from wildfire. By checking off everything on the list , you will be helping to protect animals, trees, plants and your home!

PhotoTo get started, you'll need:

As a special surprise, if you leave us a comment here on the blog, or on either Sparky the Fire Dog or Firewise Communities' Facebook pages, you'll be entered into a random drawing to win one of 5 reusable Sparky bags!

Just let us know if you have used the checklist, what you thought about it, or your future plans to go through it with your children!

CERT members

Port Richmond CERT members assisting with traffic control during 4 alarm brush fire at the Fresh Kills Landfill on April 9th

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On February 28, 2012, I posted a blog describing the ongoing brush fires occurring along the Eastern Shore of Staten Island. During the last few weeks several brush fires have erupted on Staten Island, due to dry conditions and low humidity.

Phragmites, an invasive grass, grows practically to the back doors of homes along the shoreline, and when ignited can produce flames of up to 70 feet with high rates of spread. Several agencies have joined together draft a CWPP. While mitigation strategies suggested by the plan are being implemented, efforts are underway to educate homeowners about the Firewise program.

The Port Richmond Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) has offered to deliver the Firewise message to their neighbors. CERT members are volunteers trained in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue and disaster medical operations, and can assist others in their neighborhood when professional responders are not immediately available. They support responding agencies during emergencies and take an active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.

Port Richmond CERT have 50 members and host 60 table top events on Staten Island to distribute emergency preparedness information to residents.

I recently met with Frank Marino, Public Information Officer of Port Richmond CERT, to tour the neighborhoods along the Eastern Shore considered most at risk, and to strategize about how best to inform residents about the Firewise Communities Program. As we visited the various areas, it quickly became evident the issue was not only the close proximity of the phragmites, but one of emergency access. Many of the streets are extremely narrow and result in dead ends. Evacuation of residents, coupled with access for emergency vehicles can be problematic.

We quickly decided the Ready, Set, Go! program should be incorporated into outreach efforts.

Additional information we plan to provide for homeowners are methods they could use to reclaim their property from the phragmites to help create a safer Home Ignition Zone. Plans are now underway for CERT members to visit neighborhoods at risk to talk with residents about the Firewise program and to distribute Firewise materials. Neighborhood informational meetings will follow. In the near future, Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone workshop will be scheduled to train CERT members to conduct home assessments.

-Heidi Wagner

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Jenny Hinderman and Suzanne Wade Workshop Cadre and representing Conservation Districts

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Matt Eberlein of DNR handing out Workshop certificates to his team

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Debbie Robinson of DNR handing out Workshop certificates to her team

During the month of April I was delighted to be invited to be one of the cadre of a very professional 2-day Firewise Workshop held at Campbell’s Resort in Chelan, Washington.  The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with Debbie Robinson at the lead hosted the event with some financial assistance using a Western States Fire Managers Grant.  About 40 attended the workshop representing homeowners, state and county agencies, fire chiefs and fire marshals, private tree companies, fire safety coalitions and conservation districts. 

Koshare Eagle, DNR Southeast Regional Manager welcomed the group on Monday morning with one of the local Kittitas County Commissioners, Alan Crankovich; which told the attendee’s that he has seen firsthand what Firewise principals have accomplished by keeping unwanted arson fires at check and from spreading to homes.  Alan said, “I am sold on Firewise since the first time I saw the program in 2001”. Alan spoke about two of his close friends that he has engaged with about Firewise.  One friend is in great support of Firewise because he wants a park-like setting around his home, where Alan’s other friend’s view is 180 degrees from that type of landscape, which wants the densely covered wilderness look.  Alan said to his two friends, “It is your personal responsibility to get involved with Firewise!”

Others that gave presentations were Guy Gifford, Debbie Robinson, Steve Harris, Matt Eberlein, all representing DNR, with Suzanne Wade and Jenny Hinderman representing Conservation Districts.  The workshop was based on why we as private property owners need Firewise and why we need to get involved now.  The cadre broke out into four teams using an ArcView projected computer program to show a community in a wildland urban interface (WUI) area with only one entrance to the community with various types of ground vegetation and trees, in addition to combustible construction materials of the homes.  Each group decided whether to evaluate just one property or the entire community using the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 299.  NFPA Standard 299 was recently replaced with NFPA Standard 1144, but once DNR created their educational curriculums and the cost of printing home evaluation forms for an entire state were made commitment years ago, so it takes time and funding to make the change.  The four groups the following day gave their reports on how their team evaluated the home(s) using an NFPA 299 scoring matrix in addition to what their team recommendation would be to the property owners.

The second day finished up with Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) information, and I presented on the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program to a cadre of speakers about project funding and grant ideas for their local communities.  As one of the local fire chief’s summed it up, “if we lose one house from wildfire it affects a family, if we lose and entire neighborhood, it affects us all”.  So now is the time; this weekend, this month, this spring, to take action.  The best time to do Firewise is before the fire starts! Visit the Firewise website to help you get on your way!

-Gary Marshall

CathyPrudhomme1408The Wildland Fire Operations Division is pleased to announce that Cathy Prudhomme has joined us as an Associate Project Manager for Wildland Fire Youth Education. She is based in the Division’s field office in Denver and will be working on developing Firewise and wildfire safety educational programs and products for a variety of youth audiences.

Cathy was most recently a program manager for community preparedness with the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and has a career track record in fire safety education. This includes a decade with the Colorado Springs Fire Department where she focused on Firewise outreach and public education, and coordinating an education and awareness campaign on carbon monoxide poisoning for Kidde Safety/Nighthawk.  Cathy served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and earned her B.A. in communications and marketing from the University of Colorado.

Please take the opportunity to meet and greet Cathy on her visits to Quincy or in your western travels!

-Michele

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Wildfire professionals attending the FireSmart training launch in Canada

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Field trip during the European Forest Fire Network workshop in Northumberland, England

Our division staff typically refers to this time of year as “conference season” because it is chockfull of more opportunities to travel, present, and attends conferences and workshops than can be fulfilled.  And this spring was no exception.  The unique and exciting bit for me, however, was that this year’s conference season also brought a few new and unique international opportunities. 

On one end of the spectrum, I participated in a European Forest Fire Network (EUFOFINET) workshop in northern England.  The workshop was hosted by the Northumberland Fire and Rescue Services and was part of an ongoing series of workshops hosted by various countries throughout the EU.  More than 50 delegates were present, including myself.  Although this workshop’s theme was organized around wildfire suppression activities, my talk was anything but focused on wildfire suppression (in fact, quite the opposite, since I shared the U.S. perspective on wildfire mitigation programs).  The workshop proved to be a tremendous opportunity to learn about the wildfire risks facing our European colleagues.  It was also a good reminder that the U.S. has relevant information to share regarding lessons from our wildland-urban interface. 

Following my trip overseas, I headed up to British Columbia to participate in Canada’s first FireSmart Communities launch (think Firewise Communities/USA, only in Canada).  Kudos to Partners in Protection for pulling off an excellent training session!  There were over 80 participants from various provinces for the 2-day workshop.  Topics covered all things FireSmart – from the FireSmart landscaping principles in the different priority zones to the nuts and bolts of the new FireSmart application process. 

And a big thanks to all of the Firewise staff who have contributed to this ongoing effort since the implementation of our MOU with Partners in Protection last March.  Their expertise was essential in transferring important tools and resources. It was a huge accomplishment on all fronts, and I’m excited to see Canada moving full steam ahead with a community recognition process based on success of the Firewise program. 

Although this year’s conference season isn’t over yet (next stop: Los Angeles, and then Seattle), I have a feeling of fulfillment from meeting new colleagues and seeing the birth of FireSmart communities.  Now I just need to remind myself which time zone I’m in… 

-Molly Mowery

http://www.nfpa.org/categorylistconf.asp?categoryID=1600http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef016303e5f0b4970d-piWFSM LogoNFPA’s June Conference & Expo in Las Vegas is right around the corner. From June 11 - 14, thousands of fire protection, life safety and electrical industries professionals will convene at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to network, share best practices and lessons learned.

Please join me, the Wildland Fire Operations Division staff and our Wildland Fire Management Section members at a breakfast meeting on the 11th where we’ll provide an update on our Division’s activities here in the States and across the globe.  We also  invite you to attend our section-sponsored classes during the week that examine campground emergency preparedness, wildfire regulatory tools and lessons learned from the Texas Bastrop Fire. All sessions take place in the Convention Center. Here’s a review of what we have planned:

Executive Board and Section Meeting; Monday, June 11;  7:00-8:00 am; Room Reef F 

M33: Campground Emergency Preparedness:  A Social Wildland-Urban Interface; Monday, June 11, 9:30-10:30 am; Room Breakers KL; Speakers: Jeffery Hartle, Hauptmann School of Public Affairs • Dianna Bryant, University of Central Missouri

Campgrounds are where urban tourists encounter wildlands. Public safety managers need to collaborate with campground operators to protect transient populations. Preparedness for fires and other emergencies at campgrounds has not been studied. Based upon a two-year research project covering 170 campgrounds in 21 U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces, we report that preparedness is uneven. NFPA 1194 requires posting of emergency numbers, but communication may be difficult because of increased reliance on cell phones, which may not work where campgrounds are located. Posting of local hazard information is not required, leaving urban campers with little guidance about unfamiliar risks. To protect tourists, comprehensive emergency preparedness should include campgrounds, which are a social wildland–urban interface.

T08: Assessment of Wildfire Regulatory and Planning Tools, Tuesday, June 12, 9:30-10:30am; Room Lagoon CD; Speakers:  Molly Mowery and Ray Bizal, NFPA • Don Elliot, Clarion Associates •Casey Grant, Fire Protection Research Foundation

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, Communitiy Wildfire), Protection Plans, and hazard mitigation planning. This topic will be addressed through a panel discussion that will focus on: framing the WUI problem and general tools for addressing the WUI; regulations as a tool and results of a recent applicable research study; and highlighting current NFPA codes related to wildland fire. 

W15: The Bastrop County Complex Fire: Learning from Wildfire Disasters, Wednesday, June 13, 9:30 – 10:30 am; Room Lagoon CD; Speaker: Ryan Depew, NFPA

The Bastrop County Complex Fire is the worst fire in the history of Texas, burning 32,400 acres (approximately) and destroying 1660 structures. This session will cover the details of the tragic event and the NFPA standards related to wildfire preparation. Building materials, Firewise principles, and the data collection methods being used to learn from the event will also be discussed.

NFPA’s Conference & Expo is the year’s largest and most important event for the fire protection, life safety, and electrical industries. Come see why it’s widely regarded as the most comprehensive event in the industry.

For more information about the conference, visit the NFPA website. And don’t forget to Check out all the sessions and register today! We hope to see you there!

-Dave Nuss

Marty Kasinskas Wisconsin WildlandUrban Interface Forester

http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef0168e9bbc3e9970c-piMarty Kasinskas, Wisconsin Wildland/Urban Interface Forester

FTX 90 demo at Fond du Lac

http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef016303c62523970d-piFTX 90 demo at Fond du Lac

Last month I attended the Minnesota Family Woodland Conference in Duluth. This conference was sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Forestry Association, the US Forest Service and the Saint John’s Arboretum. Approximately 500 landowners attended the conference, which offered more than 60 classes, 4 workshops and 5 site tours.  Six of the classes and one of the tours dealt with Firewise principles. The conference also had an exhibit hall that drew in over 30 vendors offering a variety of products and information. NFPA had a Firewise booth at the expo.

I attended the Minnesota Firewise Tour, a visit to Fond du Lac, Minnesota’s only recognized Firewise Communities/USA site. The tour was attended by 10 people from Minnesota and Wisconsin. When we arrived at the demonstration site, workers from the Fond du Lac Reservation gave us a demonstration of some of their brush removing equipment. They showed us how the Fecon FTX 90 was used to clear brush. This mulcher made quick work of an area of juvenile pine trees and other brush. After the demonstration, we were taken to a local home where they had almost completed a Firewise defensible space project. We were able to see what the area looked like before the project by looking across the street into a forested area. The entire project looked natural and created an excellent defensible space around the house.

On Saturday the classes began and what a variety of classes they had! Homeowners could choose up to six different sessions dealing with living in the forest. The classes contained a lot of great information but the real learning came from networking. I was able to meet several people from Wisconsin that lived in communities that have mitigation projects going on but have not applied for their Firewise Communities/USA recognition yet. The people attending were extremely friendly and were interested in learning how to keep their homes safe. This is especially true of this year with the warm/dry winter the area experienced. When I wasn’t in class, I was at the booth talking to homeowners and handing out Firewise information. It was truly a great experience and I hope that Minnesota will be able to hold this conference again. I urge all homeowners to attend conferences like this one to learn more about creating defensible spaces and how to live in the forest safely! My hat’s off to Larry Himanga and his staff at the DNR for a wonderful conference!   

--Todd

Massachusetts
This winter season's warmer temperatures, although embraced by communities across New England, have actually had negative effects on this year’s wildfire season. A recent brush fire that occurred in Brimfield, MA., along with others in neighboring towns and states, are underscoring the threat these fires pose to homes and properties across New England. A lack of snowpack, warmer temperatures, high winds and excess tree debris from last year’s devastating tornado and October blizzard have only contributed to the dangerous fire conditions that experts predict will continue into the Spring.

The Firewise Communities Program wants residents to know that there are efforts that they can make to help protect their homes from the threat of wildfire, because wildfire doesn’t have to burn everything in its path.  In fact, cleaning your property of dead leaves, needles and branches, and maintaining your landscaping are extremely vital first steps. Here are just a few ways that you can help to reduce the risk of your home and property becoming fuel for a wildfire:

  • Clear      leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This      prevents embers from igniting your home.
  • Create      a “fire-free” area within five feet of the home, using non-flammable      landscaping materials such as rocks, pavers and/or high-moisture content      annuals and perennials.
  • Remove      dead vegetation from under your deck and within 10 feet of the house.
  • Remove      flammable materials (firewood stacks, propane canisters, dry vegetation)      within 30 feet of your home’s foundation and outbuildings, including      garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house,      deck or porch.

For more easy safety tips, please take a look at the full press release

Learn more about how to keep your family safe and reduce your home’s risk for wildfire damage at www.firewise.org. Many resources are free and complementary brochures, booklets, pamphlets, and videos can be found on the “information and resources” page of the website and ordered online through the Firewise catalog.

A dry winter season, compounded by the debris left behind from a tornado that ripped through western Massachusetts in June 2011, has left the northeast vulnerable to wildfire.  Many may view wildfire as a problem that is unique to the southern and western regions of the country, but ask the firefighters and residents in and around the area of Brimfield, MA about the threat of wildfire.  You may be surprised by their response. 

On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, a brush fire consumed approximately 40-50 acres in the area of Brimfield, MA.  Area fire fighters and mutual aid from as far as Connecticut helped to fight the blaze.  Fire authorities are now reporting the fire to be contained within the established perimeter.  No homes were reported to be threatened by the fire as yet. 

The news reports highlight the problem of fuel for the fires with tons of dead trees and debris left behind from the June 1, 2011, tornado in Western and Central Massachusetts. This problem is now a shared concern of many central and southern U.S. states where tornadoes have left ample debris behind.

This week, nearly all of New England is under a fire weather warning – an unusual occurrence due to the Northeast’s dry and warm winter and early spring.   

-Ryan Depew

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As the Fire Marshal for the City of Bend, Oregon, I have long been involved in working closely with neighborhoods at extreme risk from wildfire in their efforts to gain official status in the Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program

One such community, Rimrock West, a subdivision in the Deschutes River canyon, is densely covered with sagebrush, junipers and ponderosa pines.  Forty-three homes sit on narrow roads with one access route out of the community, which is a scary wildfire scenario during Bend’s hot summer months. 

Rimrock West residents know far too often with the summer season ahead and the chance of a wildfire at their front door step, a wildfire threat is very real.  They know most of the time the cause of wildfire is something they as residents can’t control, whether it is a lightning strike, a downed power line or a discarded cigarette. But together, we decided to tackle the issue. These residents learned through local fire officials (and through interagency cooperation) that their homes, property and the values of the community could be spared if they took action now before the fire starts.  For these residents, it’s not if the fire will happen, but when? And will they be prepared?

The Rimrock West neighborhood is over 30 years old, when, back in the day Home Owner Associations (HOA’s) were required to leave brush intact to keep the “natural” vegetation landscape. They were also instructed to construct their homes with wood shake roofs to blend in with the “natural” environment.  But these folks have discovered today, from a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) official; their environment is not “natural” and the vegetation is overgrown.  To make matters worse, trees have been competing for moisture and the ‘natural’ evolution of the fire ecosystem has not been a part of this area for decades, leaving overgrown brush to contend with.  Bend Deputy Fire Marshal Johannsen recommended to residents that homes with wood covered roofs were the most vulnerable during a wildfire due to flying embers from burning trees and brush during a fast moving wildfire.

It was time for action; the HOA Board knew they had to do something to protect their community and what better way than to get involved with the national Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program?  Board members, with assistance from the Oregon Department of Forestry, organized work days to clear natural vegetation including the highly flammable juniper shrubs and mugo pines that were planted by landscape companies.  They pruned low hanging limbs from trees and removed the existing dead hazard trees.  The goal was to break the continuity between ground fuels and ladder fuels to keep a wildfire small and low to the ground and out of the trees, and from spreading to the homes, to give firefighters the best outcome when fighting a fire.  Rimrock West residents now know that since they have done the work to make their home and property defensible from wildfire, it also gives firefighters a safer location to make a stand to protect themselves and their equipment.

The end result, after 724 hours of labor involving 15-20 Rimrock West residents over several work days, was a manicured park-like setting that is a more “natural” landscape than before.  As a neighborhood in a forest setting, the residents reduced the possibility of an inevitable wildfire from igniting many of their trees and more importantly their homes.  Not only have they become a recognized Firewise community, but the community serves as a fuel break between a wildfire and the next community up the hill.  A quote from a proud Rimrock West resident, Stephen Clark, said, “It’s a wonderful example of what private and public collaboration can achieve.”  A true statement indeed!  We all have to come together to safeguard our personal property by taking personal action to protect what is important to us and our neighbors. What better way than becoming a recognized Firewise community!

Watch a video clip of NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks on hand as Rimrock West was officially deemed a 'Firewise Community.' 

-Gary Marshall

Journal of ForestryTwo wildland fire research papers were recently published in the latest Society of American Foresters Journal of Forestry (March 2012, Volume 110, Number 2).  The first is an economic study that looks at suppression strategies on federal wildland fire expenditures (Gebert & Black, 2012) and the second is a qualitative study on community wildfire risk perceptions (Gordon, Luloff & Stedman, 2012)

Over the past 10 years, the magnitude of fire management expenditures has increased considerably.  In the first study, Gebert and Black test the underlying assertion that the use of less aggressive suppression strategies for wildland fires may constrain the rising costs of emergency wildland fire expenditures.  The authors analyzed 1,330 wildland fires as reported by US Forest Service and US Department of Interior for fiscal years 2006 to 2008.   What they found was that management objectives and strategies do affect costs, but the results vary by both agency and by the cost metric used.  The authors indicate that less aggressive protection strategies may result in a lower cost per acre or cost per day; however the increased acreages associated with the less aggressive strategy may lead to a total fire management cost that is greater than or equal to more aggressive protection strategies.  The study showed that less aggressive strategies do lead to more acres burned today.   How this affects the ecological objectives today and tomorrow, and whether this leads to less fire and lower costs in the future is an important question that warrants further research.   Another important consideration to be explored is firefighter safety and how that is impacted by a less or more aggressive fire protection strategy.

Trying to understand public wildfire risk perception is increasingly important as the wildland-urban interface (WUI) continues to expand.  These perceptions are influenced by ecological, economic and socio-demographic factors including low-density housing, second home development, local values and norms and the strength of public services.  Research on factors motivating collective mitigation of wildfire risk is central to addressing information and education needs of WUI stakeholders.  For natural resource managers, understanding risk perception is important as it influences resident risk reduction strategies and increases hazard mitigation. 

In the second paper, Gordon, Luloff & Stedman compare community wildfire risk perceptions among five areas in the eastern United States: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Counties within these areas were selected on socioeconomic, biophysical and wildfire-prone criteria.  The survey participants were asked several questions related to risk awareness and concern; wildfire exposure and experience; and social factors.   The authors conclude that despite the federal designation of wildfire risk, most participants in the study said their communities were relatively unconcerned about wildfire.  In Maine and West Virginia the wildfire risk was perceived as unimportant due to the ‘low intensity’ of the fires they experience.  In Pennsylvania, the perception of higher risk was driven by the fact that there is rapid in-migration of urban residents into the WUI.  While the levels of risk perception were greatest among the survey respondents from Minnesota, the research found that over half of those surveyed were unconcerned about wildfire due to apathy, a culture of independence and a contentious relationship with government.  The authors conclude that clear, constant and consistent messaging about fire risk and the creation of opportunities for civic involvement is a more successful strategy than one that communicates biophysical vulnerabilities via occasional lectures and limited public involvement. 

Happily, the Firewise Communities/USA® national recognition program provides a simple process to engage citizens in wildfire safety action at the neighborhood level, using clear, constant and consistent messages and a ‘bottom-up’ or grassroots approach. 

-Hylton Haynes

 

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In mid-March I was at work at the Myakka River District office of the Florida Forest Service when we got the call about brush fires in a residential area of Charlotte County. I quickly realized, “Oh gosh, it’s in South Gulf Cove ,” and made for the scene. You see, South Gulf Cove is a recognized Firewise Communities/USA site, and a neighborhood I’d been working closely with for more than five years.


Almost as soon as the first call came in, we heard reports of fire starts in another, then another and another area in the community. While the state is still investigating the cause, I wanted to observe what was happening to homes in the area. Would the local efforts to reduce fuels and protect homes pay off?


 

There was swift and significant response to the fire from the Florida Forest Service as well as Charlotte and Sarasota County fire and law enforcement.  Equipment including a helicopter for water drops was on scene, and law enforcement assisted with evacuation orders and road closures.


 

The fires started in heavily vegetated areasand ran into areas that had been modified by the Florida Forest Service two years before. The fire behavior changed dramatically when the fire line reached the mitigated areas, which helped firefighters on scene get it under control. It is my opinion that, if that area had not been mitigated earlier, homes would have been lost that day due to the heavy vegetation, very dry conditions, and strong winds.


From what I was able to observe, in the areas up close to the homes, the mitigation that was done around these homes allowed firefighters to get to the fire and contain it before it reached the homes. These homes had a minimum 30-foot defensible space and that was what really came into play in a couple of areas. Fire burned through many unoccupied, unmaintained lots. Vegetation on these lots ranged from six to eight feet in height, compared to the mitigated lots where the tallest plants were two to three feet in height.


Residents have reported relief that the fire was brought under control so quickly, but are looking for more ways to get Firewise work done, especially in the unoccupied lots that seem to have the heaviest load of vegetative fuel.  With their local Firewise committee and partnership with state and local fire services, they can continue to make progress to make their community safer from this threat.


--[Patrick Mahoney | mailto:%20firewisepatrick@nfpa.org]


Alitrue
If you haven’t yet had a chance to review the Spring Firewise How To Newsletter, you’ll want to check out the great piece on Ashland, Oregon, on page two. The story documents a wonderful example of a municipal fire department going the extra mile to get neighborhoods involved in their own wildland fire safety. 

Ashland has a long history of wildland fire and has worked for years to address risks in its wildland/urban interface – primarily homes on the perimeter of public forested areas. But the Oak Knoll Fire of 2010, destroying 11 homes in a neighborhood in the heart of the city, shocked residents and fire professionals alike.

Under the leadership of Fire Chief John Karns and Firewise Communities Coordinator Ali True, the city took this “lemon” of a fire experience and made some delicious lemonade out of it. In just over a year, the city has assisted a dozen neighborhoods in achieving Firewise Communities/USA recognition. The process involves education directly to residents and requires them to come together to address their own wildfire safety concerns.

Ms. True has used her wildland fire knowledge, especially regarding Firewise landscaping, to educate homeowners. The city has set up an Ashland Firewise Communities website and uses a wide array of communications techniques, including a strong emphasis on social media, to get the word out that wildfire can damage homes in ANY neighborhood in Ashland, but there IS something residents can do to be safer.

--Michele

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