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2012

IBHS posted a blog on a recent FAC Coalition post-wildfire assessment done in Colorado, and we thought our readers would be interested in the news as well, so we have shared the post below.  

Recently, FAC assessmentIBHS researchers and representatives from NFPA's Firewise Program, International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and the USDA Forest Service spent three days assessing homes affected by wildfire in the Colorado Springs area. This important research will help reinforce best practices for protecting homes against future fires and will provide additional insight into the importance of protecting homes against wind-blown embers.

This cooperative effort was initiated by the Forest Service as part of the Fire Adapted Communities Coalition, of which IBHS, NFPA and IAFC are members. The researchers examined a representative sample of about 35 homes, located in the Mountain Shadows and Cedar Heights communities that were hard hit by the recent wildfires. Nearly 350 homes were destroyed. The weeks after a wildfire strikes offer a limited window for researchers to examine what is left of homes that were burned and to examine the features that may have allowed other homes to survive the fire.

As is often the case after a disaster, the Mountain Shadows community remains off limits to the general public due to the widespread damage. The research team was able to gain access through escorts from the Division of the Fire Marshal within the Colorado Springs Fire Department under the guidance of Fire Marshal Brett Lacey, Wildfire Mitigation Program Coordinator Andrew Notbohm and Wildfire Mitigation Section Manager Christina Randall.

Researchers used an assessment form originally developed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), which was modified by IBHS for the purposes of this field assessment.

IBHS Senior Scientist Dr. Steve Quarles, who along with Senior Engineering Manager Rem Brown P.E.,  participated in the research, explained the goal of the field work was to examine situations where fires spread from home to home and those where homes were ignited directly by the wildland fire.

Continue reading about the team's findings following their assessment

The NFPA wildland fire operation division is currently demonstrating the power of ArcGIS online at the 2012 ESRI International User Conference.  More than 15,000 geographic information system (GIS) professionals, developers and end-users from 131 countries have converged at the San Diego Convention Center in California for five days of accelerated learning, discovery and exploration.  The advances in mapping through the use of cloud technology and sophisticated computer programming is simply astonishing. 

This past Monday, Jack Dangermond presented his vision on where this technology is moving and how it is enhancing integrated decision making capabilities to all the societal, economic and environmental challenges we face as a society.  To this end ESRI has recently released ESRI Maps for MS Office Add-In which brings the power of GIS technology to the Excel™ spread sheet user, truly an astonishing development.

From a public safety perspective incredible technological developments have been made in the area of wildland fire operations, fire management and planning.   For a little glimpse of this technology check out the Firewise® Mapper (Beta version) and the recently published Texas Forest Service Wildfire Risk assessment Public Viewer.

Firewise Map

Map 1  (click on link or map to access the Firewise Mapper)

Texas Map

Map 2  (Click on link or map to access the Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal)

Bloomberg blog
According to a recent Bloomberg News article, “Colorado’s Fire Danger Grows as Residents Occupy High-Risk Areas,” almost 40 percent of new homes in the U.S. in the past decade were built in the “wildland-urban interface” (WUI) or residential communities bordering forests or grass lands. The article further explains how “fires in these zones are often ignited by people using chain saws, firing guns or driving cars that backfire, contributing to the increase in the number, intensity and average size of blazes and multiplying losses.”

It’s easy to believe, with all the bad news we hear about wildfire damage and losses, there’s nothing we as residents can do to help combat this problem. But Michele Steinberg, who was interviewed for this article about the Firewise Communities Program, says homeowners living in the WUI can actually do a lot to reduce their wildfire risk by preparing homes and communities ahead of a wildfire. To illustrate this point, in the article, firefighters on the Waldo Canyon blaze credited 10 years of work to enact Firewise policies in neighborhoods in and around Colorado Springs, as well as an ordinance that requires new homes be built with non-flammable roofs, with saving many residences.

Now that’s good news!

We encourage you to read the full article. But don’t stop there. Learn more about your role and the steps you can take in reducing wildfire risk around your home by visiting the Firewise website and in your community by checking out the Fire Adapted Communities website. 

           

On July 17, the California Fire Science Consortium hosted a panel of speakers to present "Firewise Communities: A Tool for WUI Residents," on a webinar. You can view it now on YouTube (above), or on the Consortium's website (coming soon). 

Phyllis Banducci with CAL FIRE and Katie Ziemann with the California Fire Safe Council discussed how their organizations partner to administer the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program within California. Pat Durland with Stone Creek Fire LLC provided information about the "Assessing Wildfire Risks in the Home Ignition Zone" workshops he coordinates on behalf of NFPA. There are three coming up this fall that anyone can participate in. 

I gave an overview of Firewise history and principles and demonstrated the Firewise Mapper tool that identifies recognized Firewise communities throughout the nation.

From my point of view, this webinar was a great opportunity for all presenters to educate viewers, answer questions, and demonstrate our collaboration and common goals in the pursuit of safer communities.

--Michele Steinberg

Russian Delegates
During the week of June 25-29, Molly Mowery, project manager for NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division, co-hosted a group of Russian delegates in Colorado with the USDA Forest Service International Programs. Many of their pre-planned tour activities took them to locations affected by devastating fires, including the Waldo Canyon Fire outside Colorado Springs, and the Flagstaff Fire near Boulder. Despite the unique circumstances, the group learned about on-the-ground outreach and mitigation efforts, including the Firewise Communities Program.   

Says Molly, “This was a great experience to work with natural resource professionals from all corners of Russia, including the director of the new Land of the Leopard national park, Fire Prevention Chief for a region outside Moscow, and public educators hoping to reduce black carbon emissions in Siberia.”

The delegates will take back lessons learned from the U.S. and explore ways to apply them in a Russian context.

Blog for NY Times
In the “Room for Debate” section of the NY Times, author Carolyn Kousky ask readers to think about the role government plays in increasing the risk of wildfires and if government policies can actually prevent them. NFPA’s Molly Mowery, project manager for Fire Adapted Communities, joined a host of guest debaters who gave their perspectives on the country’s growing wildfire challenge and ways we can tackle the problem.

Read the entire debate to learn what these experts are saying about how everyone, including homeowners, local codes and planning, landscaping and consistent policies can help change the wildfire landscape. What are your thoughts on this wildfire issue? Share your opinions with us on the Firewise blog at www.firewise.org.

IMG-20120714-00033 (1)
I had the opportunity to participate in Big Bear Valley’s Firewise Day on Saturday July 14, 2012. The success of the day and their wildfire prevention program is due in part to the wonderful partnerships that have been successfully developed.  This ability to work together reminded me of the theme from the Hawaiian Fire Chiefs meeting that I recently attended: “Hand in Hand Together We Can”.

There were two events on the same day, an open house at a local property which participated in two vegetative fuels reduction programs and maintained native plantings as well as two community outreach events for a FEMA Shake Roof Replacement Grant.  Information about Big Bear’s programs can be viewed on their website www.thinisin.org.   Present was the organizer of the events David Yegge (Fire Fuels Program Supervisor Big Bear City Fire Authority), Ricardo Castillo (the Cal EMA grant Manager), Rick Harrick (a local City Council Representative), Penni Overstreet Murphy (Fire Prevention Specialist, San Bernardino County Fire Department) , Representatives from CAL FIRE, MAST, the local radio station, USAA Insurance and the Sierra Club.  

The open house event allowed over 350 participants to walk with a tour leader throughout the property.  The tour examined retrofits that were made to the home and the property to lessen the risk of damage to the home by wildfire.  The homeowner participated with a grant-funded chipping program through the California Fire Safe Council Grant Clearing House and a tree trimming program called Forest Care funded by the US Forest Service and partners the National Forest Association and Cal FIRE.  Afterwards, tourees were allowed to take surveys, obtain information from agency partner booths and finally enjoy a nice tri-tip steak sandwich and coleslaw provided by the sponsoring insurance agency.  Many comments from those participating indicated that the hands-on tour enabled them to better understand proper techniques for making modifications to their home and vegetation while at the same time maintaining a nice, “park like appearance”.  For more information about Firewise home and yard improvements visit the Firewise website, the Fire Adapted Communities website, and finally the NFPA website for information about codes and standards related to wildfire prevention.

There were also two outreach events for the shake roof replacement program in the community held at two local fire stations, one in Fawn Skin Fire and one at Big Bear Fire Authority Headquarters.   Mr. Yegge talked to residents about the risk to a home with wood/shake roofs using fire after-action statistics as well IMG-20120714-00034 (1) as information how they could participate.  Ricardo Castillo, the grant Manager from Cal EMA, was present to answer additional questions and the USAA Insurance representative gave homeowners general information about making their insurance companies aware of the positive change they made to their structure by replacing the shake roof with a Class A roof.  Homeowners were able to sign up for the program on the spot using a smartphone application.  I was also able to see homes that had been reroofed with FEMA grant funds through Cal EMA in the past.

I also saw evacuation signs posted courtesy of funding from the American Red Cross www.redcross.org.  More information about being ready to leave can be obtained by visiting the Ready, Set ,Go! website.

As a homeowner and community resident, you are not helpless when it comes to wildfire events.  There are many free and low-cost things that you can do to protect one of the biggest investments that any of us will ever make --  your home.  Find out how you can protect what is important to you by visiting these websites for more information!  You can make a difference in the outcome in the event of wildfire!

--Faith Berry

Firebreak JulyThe July 2012 issue of Fire Break, NFPA’s wildland fire newsletter, is now available for viewing.

In this issue, you’ll find:

  • The Summer How To Newsletter featuring Nevada County, California, and its Firewise successes
  • Information on how to register for Home Ignition Zone workshops slated for this fall
  • Rules for the 2013 Firewise Calendar photo contest
  • Links to new research on regulatory approaches to wildfire risk

… And lots more!

Sign up today to receive Fire Break each month via e-mail. It's free 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.

CedarHts1We often hear how being Firewise is a shared responsibility.  It’s when we as homeowners and communities team up with our fire services and natural resource managers to manage our risks.  Many homeowners are recognizing responsibility starts with them and their neighbors.  But, they know they can’t go it alone.  The scope of the wildfire problem is too big and affects too many people for one homeowner to solve the problem. 

Cedar Heights, a Firewise Communities/USA site in Colorado Springs affected by the recent Waldo Canyon Fire, recognized it had a problem several years ago.  Concerned residents contacted the Colorado Springs Fire Department to figure out how they could get started.  Fortunately for Cedar Heights, CSFD has one of the best Firewise programs in the nation.  CSFD leadership recognized over ten years ago that many homes had been constructed in wildfire prone areas.  An initial inventory identified over 45,000 homes at risk.

Cedarhts2The partnership that Cedar Heights formed with CSFD paid off during the Waldo Canyon Fire.  Fuel treatment projects in community open spaces west of the community slowed down the approaching wildfire and allowed limited air resources and hand crews to keep the fire in check.  I visited the area last week and saw how the wildfire burned right up to the edge of the treated areas.  Spot fires occurred over the containment line, but were quickly and more effectively contained due to the treated fuels where the embers landed.  Other examples of Cedar Heights fuel treatment projects can be viewed here.

Other projects included evacuation drills and community chipping days.  Cedar Heights was recognized as a Firewise Community in 2008 in partnership with CSFD.  A complete list of Firewise Communities/USA and how your neighborhood can become a Firewise Community is available at www.firewise.org/usa.  

--Keith Worley

Photo captions: Top - Andrew Notbohm, CSFD Firewise Program Manager explains to Jean Blaisdell of Ridgewood FWC how recent fuel treatments helped to protect Cedar Heights. Bottom: Cedar Heights fuel treatment area with burned area on left. Notice the scorched junipers.

CAFireSciConsort
Please join me tomorrow, Tuesday July 17, for a free webinar, "Firewise Communities: A Tool for WUI Residents". Hosted by the California Fire Science Consortium, this one-hour online presentation will also feature  CAL FIRE's Phyllis Banducci, Katie Ziemann of the California Fire Safe Council, and Pat Durland, coordinator of NFPA's wildfire assessment training series and principal, Stone Creek Fire, LLC.  The event will begin at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

The presentation will give an overview of the Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program administered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, US Department of the Interior, the California Fire Safe Council, CAL FIRE and state forestry agencies across the U.S. This program is being used in California to help neighbors work together in high risk areas to achieve safer communities. Click here to register and learn more about how this program can help your community, as well as support and training that is available. I'll also be demonstrating the Firewise mapping tool to show where Firewise Communities/USA sites are in relation to active fires, and other community level information.

--Michele Steinberg

 

From June 23rd to 28th, Steve Moraco set up a camera on his deck facing the Waldo Canyon wildfire and recorded a time lapse video. While the video is a bit long, it's very interesting to see the development and growth of this fire over the course of these five days sped up into one video clip. 

Arizona Daily StarJulie Rogers, a Tucson resident and education director for the nonprofit Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, authored a guest column for the Arizona Daily Star.  She feels that the recent wildfires in the national forests of Arizona and New Mexico, and the blazes in Colorado, give us opportunity to reflect on wildland fires and how we should respond to them.

She proposes that, except when fire danger is high, most lightning-caused fires in unpopulated areas should be allowed to burn, as has occurred in some wilderness areas for decades with positive results. She also feels that the media's depiction of all wildfires as disasters needs to be stopped. Fires only become disasters when people build flammable houses in places they shouldn't. Historically, most wildland areas burn, and need to burn, every few decades. People who build houses near rivers take the risk of flooding. Similarly, people who build houses in wildlands take the risk of burning.

What should we do? Julie says that we need to stop building houses in fire-prone areas. Residents already there must prepare their homes to survive with Firewise principles (see firewise.org). We need to let many lightning-caused wildfires burn when conditions are favorable. And we need more prescribed fires to restore our forests to health.

In sum, we need to stop fighting nature and learn to live with her realities.

Pam LeschakWhile this summer's raging wildfires continue to damage homes and property in a number of U.S. states, an array of organizations are simultaneously promoting preventive tactics aimed at resisting future hazards. Prompting this endeavor is the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which has entered into a new agreement with NFPA to transform entire neighborhoods into wildland fire-resistant areas. 

Launched in June, the Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) initiative links the two entities with eight other organizations aimed at assisting the 70,000 U.S. communities in wildfire-prone areas develop all-encompassing action plans for wildfire mitigation. Pam Leschak, FAC program manager with the USFS, chatted with NFPA Journal about the collaboration and why mitigation is crucial--and cost-saving--in the long run.

She tells the magazine: We’re now looking at fire on the  landscape year round. When a fire involves a community in the  wildland/urban interface (WUI), certain issues—homes, infrastructure,  cultural resources, evacuation, structural protection—add complexity to  an already complicated situation. I don’t think people understand  there’s something they can do in order to prepare. They can help  themselves and their communities. 

Leschak also discusses why NFPA's Firewise® Communities Program is a vital component of FAC. Read the interview in the latest edition of NFPA Journal, and check out the video of Molly Mowery, NFPA's FAC program manager, providing an overview of the new initiative: 

 

-Fred Durso, Jr.

Firewise staff are in Texas this week, starting with Bastrop on July 10, to learn from middle-school and high-school students. We want to know what young people think about wildfire safety! If you are a family in Bastrop please contact Cathy Prudhomme at cprudhomme@nfpa.org if you wish to join in this important conversation!

Bastrop

We just saw this amazing photo and had to share. Reddit.com user Matt Peart posted this picture with the caption, "Great photo of the Colorado Fire smoke, taken by accident by my stepfather showing not only the hell he is driving towards, but the untouched sky he is leaving."

Colorado Fires

According to a recent article published by the Los Angeles times, as of Sunday, seven large fires in Colorado had charred a total of nearly 152,000 acres. None individually is as big as the Hayman fire in 2002 which burned more than 138,000 acres, destroyed 133 homes and resulted in one civilian fatality. But the Waldo Canyon fire west of Colorado Springs, which claimed two lives, and the High Park blaze in the mountains west of Fort Collins, now 100% contained, burned more than 700 structures, making them the most destructive in the state's history.

According the Los Angeles times article four salient points were made:

  1. Federal Officials do not expect the season to be as bad as 2002.
  2. Severe drought conditions in the Colorado basin have caused these significant western states fire events (see below map).  According to Bob Keane, U.S. Forest Service Research Ecologist "We've had conditions like this in the past, so you can't say with any degree of certainty…that this is climate change. But what you can say is that it certainly meets the model of climate change."
  3. According to Tom Harbour, U.S. Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation Management “Prescribed fire and mechanical thinning of dense growth are crucial to making forest lands less vulnerable” and,
  4. “It's that combination of having communities become fire adapted and improving the condition of the forest that is going to get us out of this death spiral of increasingly severe fire that we're in right now," Harbour said.

Map
Map: Fires burning across the continental United States as of 07/03 according to MODIS Satellite Imagery.  Please click on map image to access the ‘beta’ version of the Firewise Mapper.

-Hylton Haynes

FEMAOver the past few weeks firefighters from local, state, and federal agencies have been tirelessly working to battle several large fires across the country. Most importantly, FEMA recognizes their sacrifice and determination to protect lives and property. Thousands of first responders from all levels of government have come together to bravely fight the blazes on the front lines.

FEMA continues to coordinate closely with state, local, and tribal partners as the fire fight continues. In 10 instances since June 1, FEMA has made financial assistance available to support the firefighting efforts for fires in Montana, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. This assistance is provided through Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs).

FMAGs provide financial assistance so firefighters and first responders can focus all their efforts on reducing the negative impacts of the fire. An FMAG authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs, under an approved grant structure.

Items eligible for FMAGs can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.

In case you’re interested in the specifics, the program allows for the “mitigation, management, and control” of fires burning on publicly or privately owned forest or grasslands which threaten such destruction as would constitute a major disaster. FMAGs are provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster.

Other federal partners, such as the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior, are working through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) to provide the necessary assets such as fire engines, helicopters, air tankers and military support to help suppress the fires. You can find more about the federal government’s role at inciweb.org.

Due to summer temperatures and dry conditions, the threat of wildfires will likely continue in the coming weeks and months. If you’re in an area that may be impacted by wildfires, remember these safety tips:

  • Create a      emergency kit and plan to ensure your home,      family, or business is prepared for wildfires.
  • Listen      to and follow the guidance of state and local officials. If authorities      order an evacuation, leave immediately, follow evacuation routes announced      by local officials.
  • Create      an area of “defensible space” around your home. Clear items that will burn      from around the house, including wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue      grills, tarp coverings, etc.
  • If      you’re caught in the open during a wildfire, the best temporary shelter is      in a sparse fuel area. Clear fuel away from the area while the fire is      approaching and then lie face down in the depression and cover yourself.      Stay down until after the fire passes.

For more tips on staying safe before, during and after a wildfire, visit Ready.gov/wildfires.

CO wildfire

As we continue to learn more about the current wildfire situation in the west, our hearts go out to all those in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and other states where homes have been destroyed and lives disrupted from wildfire over the past several days and weeks.

Wildfires continue to grow and threaten communities along the Front Range of Colorado and numerous places in the Western U.S. The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) mission of reducing fire and threats to life safety extends to areas impacted by wildfire. With resources including our strong Fire Adapted Communities Coalition of national safety organizations, and our Firewise Communities Program, NFPA is working to provide residents and fire responders with information and resources they need to create places that are adapted to the fire threat, and to prepare to protect life and property from wildfire.

I encourage you to visit www.fireadapted.org to learn more about what each of us can do to protect what is important and to find resources including Firewise practices and emergency evacuation tips.  NFPA is dedicated to reducing the losses from fire worldwide, and we will continue to reach out to communities to help support and provide resources to residents during this very trying time.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division Staff.

-        Jim Shannon

FW Cover
According to a recent study, “Addressing Community Wildfire Risk:  A Review and Assessment of Regulatory and Planning Tools,” released by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, collaboration, outreach and education programs are needed to achieve the greatest impact in reducing community wildfire risk.

The risk of catastrophic fire occurrence in the wildland/urban interface (WUI) is a major issue in today’s fire protection community. At a time when prolonged drought, longer and hotter summers and changing climates have contributed to an increase of wildfire threats in the WUI, communities are also faced with shrinking budgets and increasing wildfire suppression costs.

Zoning administrators, building officials, planners and fire/emergency managers have potential tools to consider when addressing their community wildfire risk, which include land regulation, building codes and standards, Community Wildfire Protection Plans, and wildfire hazard mitigation planning, according to the report. Collaboration among these officials and the tools they use are needed for a comprehensive wildfire preparedness effort.

The report also stresses that outreach and education programs, such as the Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program, strengthen the overall efforts conducted by WUI professionals.

More information and the full report are available on the Foundation’s website.

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