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Aspen LakeThe small town of Sisters sits in the middle of the state of Oregon, surrounded by the Cascade Mountains. In the past decade, the population has doubled to over 2,000 residents, making fire safety more important than ever.

On August 5, 2012, a lightning storm passed over the area igniting at least 17 separate fires. Captain Matt Cyrus of the Cloverdale Fire Protection District was first on the scene at his family property, where one of the fires was burning.

The fire was not causing as much damage as it could have because Cyrus and his family had prepared for such a potential disaster. Shortly after acquiring the family property over 15 years ago, Cyrus partnered with the Oregon Department of Forestry and Deschutes County to treat 500 acres of land that provided a significant buffer of protection to his land and nearby subdivisions from the high risk of wildfire. Funding was also provided by FEMA’s Pre Disaster Mitigation grant program. When his family later developed the nearby Aspen Lakes community, they incorporated Firewise principles into its design as well.

Read more about the fire and the Aspen Lakes Firewise Community!


The Big Blowup of 1910

Posted by hyltonhaynes Employee Oct 31, 2012

This past week Cheryl Blake and I attended the Society of American Foresters National Convention in Spokane Washington.  The convention was kicked off by the US Forest Service Honor Guard with ceremony in remembrance of the 78 firefighters who lost their lives fighting the ‘Big Blowup’ Fires of 1910.  The Honor Guard did a wonderful job presenting the United States of America flag to a local museum that is in the process of putting a display together to commemorate this significant event in American history.  As I stood there repeating  the Pledge of Allegiance, I was very proud to be an American and a member of the Society of American Foresters.

Image 1:  The U.S. Forest Service Honor Guard in full regalia at the recent Society of American Foresters National Convention.

Following on the theme of the earlier proceedings Stephen Pyne, Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability, and Regents Professor at the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University gave a thought provoking presentation about the social, political and ecological legacies of the Great Fire of 1910. Stephen has authored several wildfire books including 'Year of the Fires - the Story of the Great Fires of 1910'.


YouTube™ video: Stephen Pyne discussing his upcoming book project, the influence of the Great Fire of 1910 on US wildland fire policy and other related topics (Run time approx. 25 minutes). our latest “Firewise Around The Home” online quiz to find out! Brush up on your safety tips and learn how to reduce your home’s risk of wildfire damage. When you finish, let us know how you did!

And check out our new Firewise toolkit, which provides a great checklist of simple wildfire mitigation activities you can start on right now.

For more information about Firewise, check out our website at


On Friday, October 26, Pasadena Glen, one of the oldest homeowner associations in California, completed their Firewise Assessment.  Residents of the community recognize the historic significance of their community and are working hard to make Firewise improvements to protect their community from another wildfire event. 

Pasadena Glen is one of the beauty spots of the San Gabriel Mountains.  It is in a steep and shaded canyon just north of Eaton Canyon Golf Course at the edge of the Angeles National Forest in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. A seasonal stream meanders through the community.  Famed naturalist John Burroughs spent several winters there.Pasadenatopo

The community was severely affected by the 1993 Altadena Fire.  Twenty eight homes were lost.  Twenty new homes have been built that meet good Firewise building standards.  The other thirty five homes in the community are original homes that were built in the early 1920s.  Many of these homes have been updated with dual pane windows, fire resistive roofs and vents.

Pasadena Glen is located in a gorge at the base of three canyons.  During wind events the velocity of the winds are intensified in the steep canyons.  We completed the assessment on a day that wasa red flag warning day for all of Southern California.  We paid close attention to hazards in the community that could be modified, such as leaves on the roof, as well as modifications made to homes such as boxed eaves, dual paned windows, fire resistive building materials and good Firewise landscaping choices that they had already made.

Residents of Pasadena Glen and their local authority having jurisdiction, the Los Angeles County Fire Authority, are working hard together to make their community much safer during a wildfire event.  Your community can also become a nationally recognized Firewise Community by taking some steps in the right direction.  Remember it is not a matter of IF a wildfire event will occur but WHEN.Mala_arthur

How can you be a part of a nationally recognized Firewise Community? Here are six simple steps:

  1. Form a Firewise Board
  2. Complete an assessment with someone who has completed NFPA's Home Ignition Zone Course, collaboratively with your local fire jurisdiction.
  3. Present the assessment to the board for approval.  The board will then create an action plan to lessen the risk of wildfire to their community.
  4. Host aFirewise Day!  Have fun!
  5. Invest a value of $2.00 per resident on Firewise activities to make your community safer and educate residents about what they can do to make their homes safer! This can be accomplished through volunteer hours invested in your community!
  6. Finally, complete the online application with these documents as attachments and send the application to your state liaison or to the Firewise Communities National Office. 

It is a straightforward and easy process to become a recognized community and help protect your home and the lives of those you care about!  For more information about how your neighborhood can become a recognized Firewise Communities/USA site, visit the Firewise website at

Images: Topographic map of the Pasadena Glen area (top right); Mala Arthur, president, Pasadena Glen Firesafe Council and Firewise Board at the waterfall located in the northern area of the community (bottom right).

Santa Ana winds have begun blowing in across the region, toppling trees, knocking out power, and raising concerns about the potential for wildfires. As a result, the National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings for areas from Ventura to San Diego counties through the weekend.

While these warnings signal extreme wildfire conditions that can happen at any time and in any place, homeowners can actually take charge and take immediate action to help safeguard their homes and property from the possible risk of damage from fires in their area. Did you know that the simple mitigation steps you do around your home now can make a big difference in keeping you and your family safer?

Tasks like clearing leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks prevents embers from landing on and igniting your home. Keeping your lawn hydrated and well-maintained also reduces fire intensity.These and other wildfire safety tips can be found in our Firewise tips checklist for homeowners. Download it today!

For additional resources and information about wildfire safety, we encourage you to check out the Firewise website or contact NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations Division.

Don't wait until it's too late. Now's the time to take action against the threat of wildfire. Learn your role and work together with your neighbors to create a safe environment for you and your families.

Colorado Springs
Four months after the Waldo Canyon Fire, which damaged 346 homes and claimed two lives, the City of Colorado Springs released an initial after-action report that focuses on the city’s emergency operations during the fire, and lessons learned. The purpose of the report, according to Bret Waters, Emergency Operations Manager for Colorado Springs, is to assess how the city acted under extreme expectations, to teach its officials to be prepared for the unexpected.

Read the complete report.

Read more about the Waldo Canyon Fire and find out what members of the Fire Adapted Communities coalition discovered during their recent visit to the area, by visiting our blog site. You can also download a copy of “Moving Toward a Fire Adapted Community,” an article reprinted from the September/October 2012 issue of NFPA Journal® that shares the coalition’s discoveries, and explains how coalition member organizations, including the Firewise Communities Program, are supporting residents in created fire adapted communities across the country.

Five years ago at this time, San Diego County was under siege by a large and destructive wildfire – the Witch Creek/Guejito Fire complex would ultimately destroy more than 1,600 structures in October and November of 2007. I accompanied a video crew from Boston to obtain footage of damaged and undamaged homes, and to document what I could to try to make sense of the events that had led to such destruction.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also had staff on scene from their fire research division focusing on wildland/urban interface fire. NIST researcher Alex Maranghides was initiating the first steps of intensive post-fire investigation and analysis in a specific portion of a subdivision that would lead to an important report on these fires and further study by NIST and its partners.

Our team caught up with Alex on scene in the subdivision, a community characterized by wide, paved roads, large homes, and a great deal of home destruction. We spent more than an hour on one lot,IMG_1256 fascinated by the green lawn on one side of the completely destroyed home, and the green, undisturbed brushy vegetation on the upslope to the home. We observed the blasted trees that showed the worst burning on the house-facing sides. Very large embers lay in the well-kept grass (my foot shows the scale). If it wasn't the grass or brush that caused this home to burn, what was it?IMG_1245

Other houses. The huge chunks of burned material that had flown through the air were once part of someone else's roof, or siding, or even insulation from an attic. When they landed in the green, watered lawn, they self-extinguished – no fuel for the fire there. When they landed in gutters or a deck or piled up next to the garage wall…another story. Once the house ignited, it burned for hours. In a fire as big and broad as this complex, there was no way for fire fighters to defend each home. The simultaneous exposure of dozens of homes to wildfire (NIST's study calculates 22 houses per hour were burning at the height of the event in this subdivision) meant that traditional fire defense simply could not work.

I had a million questions for Alex, but I also felt like I was suddenly inside a virtual textbook of "how homes ignite." I'd been learning about this phenomenon since 1998 through Firewise workshops, through watching Jack Cohen's DVD (Wildfire! Preventing Home Ignitions) and by sitting through training sessions to learn how to assess homes for wildfire hazards. I asked Alex if he thought the home had had a wood shake roof. Moments later, he quietly pointed out the evidence to me.IMG_1281

If you'd told me just a week before this fire that I would be obsessively taking pictures of staples, I might have thought you were a little strange. But to see the clear evidence of the roof staples that had held wood shingles in place…maybe I'M a little strange but it took my breath away. The abstract principles and photos of past events suddenly came to life for me.

We spent more time that day filming parts of what would become a public service announcement, finding a completely destroyed home next to one that was saved by employing Firewise principles. The scene in this upscale neighborhood was eerily quiet, with only our crew, CAL FIRE staff, and the occasional landscape maintenance vehicle or police car passing by.  The next day, we visited a more modest community where residents were on scene, beginning the heartrending work of salvage and coping with loss.

Photos: Burned fire evacuation plan found at homesite, Rancho Bernardo, California (top); destroyed home with green vegetation visible on the adjacent slope (top right); firebrand/ember from burned home (center right); roof staples for wood shakes at scene of destroyed home (bottom right). All photos by Michele Steinberg, November 2007.


Q. How do you eat an elephant?  A. One bite at a time. 

A silly riddle, but applicable to us who live in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI is pronounced woo-eee, and said with feeling).  Eating an elephant is a big job and best not done alone.  We each have our individual elephants to eat by mitigating our properties in our quest to become Firewise.  I can attest it is a long, arduous and often painful task that never seems to end.  And, just about the time I think I’m done, it’s time to start over again. 

I’ve had the privilege (and pleasure) of working with other communities over the years who recognized they had a wildfire problem and became Firewise Communities.  Let me share with you what I’ve learned:

First, “the Organized Bird Gets the Worm.”  So, get organized.  In this time of tight budgets and limited funding, it is no longer the early bird that gets the worm; it’s the organized bird.  EarlybirdTeam up with your local natural resource managers and fire department to assess your wildfire risks, followed by developing a plan of actionable items your community can accomplish.  This does several things for your community: 1) it lets others know your community has acknowledged its wildfire exposure and is ready to begin the journey on the path to becoming Firewise; 2) it allows local resources to economize on their limited time by the community taking on more of the role for education and community project planning; and 3) being organized empowers the community as a much stronger voice when requesting grant funding and getting the attention of abutting public land managers.

Second, “Eating an Elephant Takes a Village.”  OK, your pet elephant just died in the front yard. (Mine was pink!)  Once the grieving is over, how do we get it into the soup pot?  In our case, the elephant is the huge volume of fuel we need to remove from around our homes and communities.  The trees and brush we’ve cut are now a huge pile of slash in the front yard.  This is where thinking like a village comes into play.  Organizing chipping days, negotiating discount rates with mitigation contractors, or developing your own community based solutions to slash disposal are how we’re going to get this elephant in the pot.  Learn how over 800 other “villages” are eating their elephants as Firewise Communities by visiting

Finally, “Show Me the Grant Money (maybe).”  The most common complaint I hear is, “We can’t do anything about the fire danger unless we get a grant.”  Not true.  It will just take longer to reduce the wildfire hazard.  But, it can and is being done across the nation as organized communities develop local solutions to solving their fuel (elephant) issues.  Also be aware, grantors are starting to ask: “Where’s your plan, are you organized, and what are you already doing?  What partnerships have you formed?”  Competition is fierce out there, so get going, and don’t give up.

In order to make our task of being Firewise easier, we must first, recognize that only one person can truly affect what happens on your property:you.  Then you can begin your quest for knowledge to learn how you can reduce your risks of wildfire loses.  You are not alone.  You and your neighbors are going through the same experiences.  Resolve to begin working together to solve both yours and your neighborhood’s wildfire risks.  The easiest way is to become a Firewise Community.  Learn about becoming a Firewise Community at

--Keith Worley

Note:  No elephants, birds or worms were harmed in the writing of this blog.

Public domain clip art courtesy

OctoberThe October 2012 issue of Fire Break, NFPA’s wildland fire newsletter, is now available for viewing. In this issue, you’ll find:

  • Information about the Firewise program’s latest community milestone!
  • Reports that explain how certain areas around the country, including the west and northeast, will continue to experience high wildfire risk, and why
  • A link to an FAC article reprint from the September/October issue of Journal, chronicling the coalition’s visit to Colorado after the Waldo Canyon Fire
  • A link to the recent free FAC webinar that explains more about the national effort and how NFPA and Firewise play a role in the initiative
  • Information about Aron Anderson, the newest member to join our wildfire division’s team 

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.


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As we approach the end of October many of you are hard at work documenting your wildfire safety mitigation activities for 2012, conducting your Firewise Day events and sending your forms in to your state liaison’s office  before the December 31 deadline.


But here’s something you may not have thought of. Submit the photos you took during your Firewise Day event to our 2014 Firewise calendar contest . It’s easy and fun to do!

Here’s how it works…as you and your neighbors participate in your event, snap a few photographs of everyone pitching in and helping out. Whether it’s during a “chipper day” or a local fair or landscaping maintenance project, photos are a great way to celebrate your hard work and inspire other residents and communities to get involved. Entrants may submit up to 10 unique and original photos so unleash your inner creative shutterbug and show us your best shot! NFPA will choose the top 15 winning entries to be showcased in our 2014 Firewise calendar. Winners also receive an Amazon gift card.


Got questions? Take a look at our official rules then submit your photos, complete with information about the event including the date, where it was held and who was involved. But don’t wait too long. The deadline for submission is November 2! </p>

We hope to hear from you soon! And thanks to everyone who already submitted their photos for consideration. Keep up the great work!

Five years ago this week, I attended a wonderful conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. The first "Human Dimensions of Wildfire" conference sponsored by the International Association of Wildland Fire was attended by about 100 of the nation's wildfire researchers, students, and practitioners who focused on the social aspects and dynamics of wildfire in our world. Little did I know that I was about to learn a series of real-life lessons about people and fire.

I flew to Denver on October 22 and drove up to Fort Collins. As we were setting up exhibits and getting ready for the first reception, news about fires in San Diego County, California, began to ripple through the meeting rooms. Researchers, professors and students from southern California were on cell phones and laptops trying to find out what was happening at home. Anxiety mounted as several of them realized their homes were threatened or their neighborhood was under an evacuation order.

My first reflection on what came to be called the Witch Creek Fire (aka the Witch fire or the Witch Creek and Guejito fire complex) was to observe and to share the feeling of utter helplessness when away from home, the inability to be able to reach loved ones, the worry that one's best preparedness efforts would go for naught. How many of us think about the possibility that we won't be able to do ANYTHING when emergency strikes at home - because we can't get back home?  As my colleagues struggled with this event, some deciding to cut their visit short, others to stay and wait to see what happened at home, I wondered what I would do if faced with a similar situation.

As the event unfolded, I remember feeling a sense of unreality and disbelief that the same general area that suffered so badly in the Cedar Fire complex of 2003 was being revisited by this nightmare only four years later. I reflected on what I'd been taught about the phenomenon of wildfire, its history and its ecology: Where fire has been, fire will come again. But, so soon in the same place?

I returned home to Boston on October 26. On November 1, I was back on a plane, but this time to San Diego. I was about to observe what a post-fire scenario looked like, up close and personal. I accompanied a video team, assisted by CAL FIRE and local fire agencies, to document damage and to capture footage that would help us demonstrate Firewise principles and messages. Of many lessons, I remember learning:

  • Home construction, design and landscaping really do have an enormous impact on home survivability in a wildfire
  • One's income level and lifestyle do not necessarily predict likelihood of home loss - but they most certainly affect the ability to recover from that loss
  • Stringent enforcement of regulations for building and landscaping make a positive difference
  • Those whose homes survive also suffer - whether it's survivor guilt, health effects from smoke, post-traumatic stress, or loss of community
  • Those who fight the fire also suffer, both physically and emotionally

As part of this post-fire visit, I took nearly 300 photographs. I'll share a few of those and more about my reflections on this event with you over this week.

Photo of destroyed homes in Ramona, California, by Michele Steinberg, NFPA

The last leg of our 10-day Firewise Alaska journey Hylton Haynes and I were driving on the well known Alaska Canada Highway better known as the Alcan Highway towards the towns of Tok and Delta Junction.  Prior to commencing on our trip the Wasilla locals warned us about the possibility of encountering moose on this stretch. Being visitors we were of course less worried about the hazard and more keen to see a moose.  Fortunately near the end of our 235 mile drive from Wasilla to Tok we were privileged enough to  see one big robust male moose crossing the highway. The moment was too brief for a photo, but memorable nonetheless.
Image 1: Scenic view of a glacier located in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park & Preserve on the east side of the AK-1 Highway midway between Tok and Wasilla.

Visiting Firewise sparkplugs in the towns of Tok and Delta Junction we were amazed by the amount of spruce trees and their size.  These trees have narrow canopies, somewhat short in height (less than 50' tall) with a trunk not much larger than my hand and dominate the landscape with a reported density of 5,000 to 10,000 trees per acre.  Let's just say it give new meaning to the saying like 'hair on a dog's back'. 

Image 2: [A] Locator map - Tok, AK; [B] Self giving a Firewise presentation to community leaders in Tok; [C] Hylton standing on the Alcan Highway heading northwest towards Delta Junction just outside of Tok.  Notice the dense black and white spruce forests to the left and right of the highway; [D] Halfway to Tok from Wasilla

The local officials say when there is a wildfire, which range into the hundreds of thousands of acres per fire, the fire is so intense it causes total tree stand replacement, and takes generations for the spruce to return to their original climax forest status.  The good that comes from these fires is the type of tree that returns after the fire, which is a more fire resistive species such as birch and aspen.  The village of Tanacross just outside of Tok, not only has had recent wildfires but also a severe windstorm which has put much of the timber to the ground.

Image 3: Native Alaskan town of Tanacross, 12 miles northwest of Tok. [A] Severe windstorm damage that in turn poses a huge wildfire hazard after the event; [B] A view on one of the streets in Tanacross, the mountain range backdrop is simply stunning; [C] A windstorm damaged forest located to the west of the town that experienced a wildfire recently, fortunately no structures were lost; [D] Community clean-up of the windstorm event, fortunately the residual material can be used for home heating

This is an area of the countryside where the town population is about 1,000 people and there is no local tax and it gets so cold in the winter that City Hall closes when it gets to below minus 40 degree mercury mark!  The majority feel if the town services need something the residents will do their best to make sure it happens.  Whether it be a new fire tuck, snow to be plowed or a road to be resurfaced the residents accomplish this largely through donations.  So you can see that many of these homeowners depend on each other to endure this rugged country.  Wildfires, floods and winter storms seem to be the challenges these towns face every year.

The town of Tok has an independent power system which uses petroleum to fuel the generators at a high cost each year to the local residents.  Their goal is to do something similar to what the town of Delta Junction accomplished a few years back, which was to use the natural and abundant spruce wood biomass to fuel the town generator power grid.  Officials from Tok believe once they complete this project it could cut their energy cost in half.

“Two Birds with One Stone”, they said, by creating fuel breaks in the forest and removing trees around homes and access roads reduces the threat of wildfire to the residents, enhances firefighter safety and supplies fuel for the generator and fire places.  Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP) and Firewise Communities/USA® are also a hot topic in Tok and Delta Junction.  Neither town has a recognized Firewise Community yet, but the planning has begun.  Many residents use Firewise principals by creating defensible space on their one, two, five or 10 acre lot.  Residents either burn their debris on site or take advantage of one of the Alaska Division of Forestry debris collection sites. But for many rural Alaskan’s, developing a Firewise Community on such large lots is more challenging than their suburban counterparts located in the lower 48.  Finding the “carrot” the “catalyst” to engage the concept to become a nationally recognized Firewise Community/USA® site for these 'rural' or as some would say “wilderness” homeowners is the key.  The Division of Forestry officials who are strong advocates for Firewise principles want to entertain more wildfire prevention and mitigation training within their community with home assessments to follow.  The hope is  that with some additioanl professional training like the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) workshop these rural communites will become more accepting of their wildfire risk mitigation responsibilities.   

Mike Tsvenge, the Delta Junction City Manager said he wants to start small, locate one of his small higher density neighborhoods to use as a model Firewise Community.  We asked, so what will be your carrot to get these people involved? He thought about that for a minute and then said, “You know our residents like good roads, so maybe the neighborhood reward will be a newly resurfaced road when they become recognized as a Firewise Community.” 

Image 4: [A] Alaska Division of Forestry managed burn pit located in Delta Junction.  A very effective tool not only for fuel mitigation, but also brush disposal because the disposal of brush is done in a controlled environment by fire boss experts versus homeowners trying to do it in their backyards; [B] Fire break on the outskirts of town; [C] Hylton, self and Mike Tvenge meeting to discuss Firewise Communities/USA opportunities in the city of Delta Junction

Hylton and I were excited about the amount of Firewise spirit and enthusiasm in these remote communities, and hope when we do return, we will find that these neighborhoods will have achieved not only defensible space but also have several recognized Firewise Communities/USA.  Out of all of our travels through Alaska, we feel the that both Tok and Delta Junction present the greatest opportunity for future Firewise Community/USA® sites.  The wildfire risk, remoteness, limited resources and minimal governance warrants the community based volunteer solution that the Firewise program affords them.  These community members already depend on each other and by participating in the Firewise Communities/USA® program they will reinforce relationships and collectively reduce their overall wildfire risk profile. 

A special thanks goes out to the the Alaska Division of Forestry representatives - Peter Talus (Tok Acting Fire Management Officer), Jeff Hermanns (Tok Area Forester) and Al Edgren (Delta Area Forester) who made our visit to this part of the Alaska a most enjoyable and interesting experience.

On Saturday October 8th, Gary Marshall and I visited the town of Big Lake located in the Mat-Su Borough in south central Alaska.  Our first stop was the Big Lake Volunteer Fire Department.  During the course of our visit we met up with Bea Adler (Emergency Management Program Manager), Michieal Abe and Michelle Torres (Mitigation Specialists) for the Mat-Su Borough; Tom Grieling (Alaska Division of Forestry Prevention Officer) and Cathi Kramer (Horseshoe Lake Firewise Communities/USA® President).  During the course of the visit we looked at wildland fire risk maps and learned about the 1996 Miller’s Reach fire that destroyed more than 400 homes including Cathi’s.  Since the tragic event, the Horseshoe Lake community has taken extraordinary actions to reduce their wildland fire risk
exposure.  Interestingly enough it was the 10 year anniversary of this tragic event in 2006 that the Horseshoe Lake neighborhood became a recognized Firewise Communities/USA® site.

Image 1: The Horseshoe Lake Firewise team standing next to the donated Fire Danger sign and and 'Firewsie garden wall'.

One of the first things the neigbor hood addressed after the fire was to install a second ingress/egress road into the neighborhood.  This important task was critical in improving the evacuation capability of the community.  For more on wildfire evacuation readiness please check out the Ready, Set, Go! website.  Having only one way in and out during the 1996 Miller's Reach event caused some severe emergency response and evacuation issues.  The installation of this second access road has significantly reduced Horseshoe Lake's vulnerability in the event of wildfire event.

Image 2:  Cathi discussing the importance of the second access road and how this has reduced their vulnerability in the event of a wildfire. 

Michieal went on to describe the Mat-Su Borough Firewise program that includes free home risk assessments and a spruce tree removal cost-share program.  The cost-share program has a budgetary cap and financial resources are appropriated on a first come first serve basis. This program provides eligible homeowner’s up to $900 for tree removal services provided by local qualified contractors.  Only high risk beetle killed white spruce and all black spruce qualify for program. The more fire resistant hardwood species like birch, cottonwood, willow and alder do not qualify.  The program is supported by a grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Some of the other neat things this Firewise community has done to prepare for a wildfire event is establish several fire huts (equipment caches) at strategic locations within the community.  Some of the homes within the community are only accessible by water and do not have any road access, because of this the fire hut resource provides additional water resource capacity in the event of a wildfire or house fire and is a great solution when accessibility is of concern.  One of the interesting equipment pieces in this cache is an ice auger.  This tool allows for ready access to the lakes water supply when it is frozen over - an important concern when living in Alaska. 

Another novel fundraising approach that was employed in the summer 2009 was the ‘garden wall project’.  The idea started with the donation of a “Fire Danger Today” sign from the Alaska Division of Forestry.  Several community members got together to plan the installation and came up with the idea of a terraced demonstration garden.  The project was completed over several weekends.  In and effort to fund the project brick tiles were sold to be placed on the wall.  Originally 25 tiles were sold ($50 a tile) with room for additional tiles which now total more than 50 tiles.  This fundraising initiative helped fund the fire hut and several chipping day projects. 

 Image 3: (A) Volunteer tools; (B) Risk assessment maps; (C) Fire huts; (D) Fuel mitigation/defensible space project. Notice only the hardwoods remain, most of the spruce has been removed.

The ‘garden wall project’ has proven to be a focal point within the community, with Cathi using this central location to distribute Firewise activities matching funds recording sheets.  Cathi has found these recording sheets most helpful for program administration within her neighborhood.  Visit volunteer tools to upload some of these useful tracking forms.

Image 4: (A) Michiael's Mat Su Burough Emergency Service's wildland fire mitigation truck; (B) Firewise lucheon at Cathi's house; (C) Fire Adapted Communities presentation (self) to Mat-Su Burough community memebrs; (D) Cathi's 2009 Firewise leadership award; (E) Horseshoe Lake Firewise 2006 recognition plaque

The Horseshoe Lake Firewise neighborhood has done an outstanding job in meeting their immediate wildfire challenge.  Since 2006, this group effort between state, local and community members has resulted in an exemplary example of our Firewise Communities/USA recognition program.  All the folks involved need to be commended for their efforts.


Alaska - she is big!

Posted by hyltonhaynes Employee Oct 15, 2012

On my travels through Alaska I have begun to get an appreciation on just how big this state is.  When visiting with the local Alaskans the one thing that struck me is how often I saw the state map hanging up in restaurants, homes and businesses.  The only other time I have experienced this type of state pride is when I visited Texas and witnessed the all Lone Star state flags on display.

In Alaska, land is divided up into boroughs and not counties, but don't be fooled.  According to the locals I met in Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough where the Horseshoe Lake Firewise Communities/USA® is located, the Mat-Su borough is bigger than the state of West Virginia.  At 591,000 square miles, Alaska is as wide as the lower 48 states and bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined, hence the local native peoples (Aleut) word for Alaska is Alyeska meaning 'the Great Land' and justifiably so.

Image 1: A map of Alaska superimposed on the lower 48 states.

Brrrr! It has been cold this week in the California mountains and it was time to get the fireplace going. Before I started a fire to cozy up the cabin, I made sure that things were in Firewise order. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2010, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 57,100 reported U.S. home structure fires. Given these sobering statistics, it's important to ensure your home and your fireplace are cold-weather ready.Fireplace

You can find out a lot about fireplace and chimney safety by reviewing the latest edition of NFPA 211: Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances. Your local Authority having Jurisdiction may have also established guidelines for you to follow in your area so it would be wise to check with them as well.

Look for more great information, reports, safety tips and resources regarding home heating on NFPA's consumer safety pages.

Here are the 9 steps I took in order to maintain a Firewise fireplace in my cabin:

  1. I trimmed back limbs from the chimney at least 10 feet. 
  2. I followed the local fire recommendations directing when it is allowed that I have a fire depending on the weather, humidity and wind conditions.
  3. I checked to make sure that the chimney cap was not damage and was cleaned out.
  4. I had the chimney cleaned by a licensed chimney sweep and made sure that animal and bird nests were removed. 
  5. I made sure that the draft was working properly. 
  6. I checked the ember screen on the front of my fireplace. 
  7. I removed anything flammable from the front of the fireplace and installed a 3-foot area in front of the fireplace that is rock. You might want to use fire resistant mats that can be purchased to put over carpeted areas in front of the fireplace. 
  8. I got my fire extinguisher serviced. 
  9. I purchased a small galvanized can with a locking lid to keep old ash and hot coals in when I clean out the fireplace.  This is kept outside -- not on the porch, but in an area that is free of grass and weeds.

As the fire crackled in the fireplace and I sipped a nice hot cocoa, I relaxed knowing that I had prepared my fireplace for a safe cold weather season!  For more helpful information about how your home can be Firewise go to

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has named Aron Anderson planner of its Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) initiative. Anderson will assist NFPA in providing technical support of web content, conducting research, and developing and providing technical training to FAC coalition member organizations. AronAnderson Picture 1

“Aron’s broad experience as an emergency management professional and his skills in web development and design, research, planning and training is a valuable asset to FAC and will complement our outreach efforts,” says NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division manager Dave Nuss. “As a key member of the Division, Aron’s knowledge and expertise will help us greatly in furthering our wildfire safety mission.”

Aron will join Dave, Molly and Cathy in NFPA’s Denver, Colorado field office.

Read the press release.

And welcome, Aron to NFPA!

It was with great pleasure that I attended the recent Living With Wildfire (University of Nevada) conference in Reno, Nevada.  Firewise Communities office staff ensured that one of ourFirewise Communities books was donated as a door prize.  Firewise Communities was acknowleged in the program as a donor.  There were also Firewise materials available at a table in the expo area for attendees.NWUI-logo-2012-300x297

Jake Tibbitts with the Nevada Dept of Natural Resources in Eureka County oversees the two recognized Firewise Communities/USA sites in Nevada.  He presented inforamtion at the conference about the compatibility of Firewise Communities and Firesafe Councils. He also shared some of their sucess stories with the audience.  The Nevada State ForesterPete Anderson also presented at the conference. 

If you would like more information about how your community or a neighboring community can become a nationally recognized Firewise Community check out our website  For information about Fire Adapted Communities go to

4_FirewiseLogoColor_NFPA_process_CS3.8-10The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise Communities Program today reached a milestone in announcing the 800th community to earn recognition as a Firewise Communities/USA® site. Vansant Mobile Home Park #2 in Cullman County, Alabama, is the latest neighborhood to take action to improve residents’ safety from threats posed by brush, grass and forest fires. And it’s the first to showcase the efforts of a state forestry staffer whose commitment included her own investment in mitigation work on her property.

Coleen Vansant, Alabama’s liaison to the national Firewise program and a public information manager with the Alabama Forestry Commission, inherited the mobile home park from her father. This small residential community in north-central Alabama abuts timber company land, and vegetation had begun to encroach on its boundaries. Vansant recalled the creative solution she found to getting the mitigation work done – and helping a resident stay in his home.

“I had a resident who was behind on his rent,” said Vansant. “He wanted to work off his debt, and I knew we had a potential fire problem if the area around these properties was allowed to accumulate more fuel in the form of vegetation. He did a great job of clearing out the dead material and trimming back live plants so that they wouldn’t pose a hazard to homes in the park.”

In addition to Vansant Mobile Home Park #2, more than 65 new Firewise communities have been added in the past year nationwide. You can find a complete list of Firewise recognized communities and their success stories on our website.

Interested in getting your community involved? Do you have questions about the program? A Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program checklist is available to download and takes homeowners step-by-step through the recognition process. A separate online Firewise tips checklist also provides simple yet effective steps homeowners can take around their home now to help minimize damage and loss from the future threat of wildfire.

Need additional information? Visit the Firewise website at or contact NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division for answers to all your wildfire safety questions.

Cheryl Blake and I worked at a booth in the Expo Hall at the recent American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) conference in Phoenix.Cactusatbooth2

It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with individuals who design landscapes for communities and public facilities.  We provided materials about Firewise landscaping including a booklet and DVD entitled "Safer From The Start" and a pamphlet about Firewise landscaping. If you would like to order these great educational pieces, check out the Firewise Communities website catalog.

    We had some nice donations of a cactus and flowers from the University of Arizona folks to make our space much more appealing during the show.  One of the plants, a golden barrel cactus, would make a nice Firewise addition to any Arizona or other dry Southwest landscape.  It is high in moisture, low in resin, creates little duff (leaves, needles, etc.), is very low maintenance and is water wise!

For more information about Firewise native and non-native plant selection check out your nearest cooperative extension office and follow these basic principles.  The US Department of Agriculture has an interactive map that will help you locate your nearest cooperative extension office at

Giving kids the opportunity to express themselves through art often produces images that are powerful and reflective.  And that’s exactly what the Napa, CA Firewise program recently received when they worked with the local Boys & Girls Club’s summer camp and after school programs, to create artwork for
their 2013 calendar. Using the theme Wildfire Hurts Everyone, the young artists created artwork that will adorn the pages of the calendar. The winning entries are from kids ages 7 to 11. 

FirewiseLogo.RGB copyDarren Drake, Napa Firewise President and Napa City Fire Marshal says, “The artwork is undeniably honest and was a great way to engage the participants with an important take-home message that wildfire is a real and present danger. The pieces are highly creative and very sobering.”

Napa Firewise kicked off their fire prevention week activities with the announcement of the winners. The twelve winning artists will be recognized at an awards presentation at the Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley. Each will receive a cash award of $100.

Fire Marshal Drake added, “The more awareness we share about our risks with all ages, the better prepared we will be when the inevitable happens!”

Napa Firewise is a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing the residents of Napa County with the knowledge and support they need to prepare for a wildfire. Visit Napa Firewise at

And stay tuned ... starting in January 2013, each month we'll post the winning submission from the calendar and highlight the winner!

-         Cathy Prudhomme

Hylton Haynes and I now on day four in our visit to the last frontier state leaving Homer Alaska and traveling up the Kenai Peninsula East about 50 miles to the Soldotna area to visit with one of the two Firewise® Communities in Alaska.  The Cohoe Firewise Communities/USA® site is in the middle of a spruce forest with beetle killed trees, high grass and 100 homes intermixed on land parcels that range from one to 80 acres.  The number of fire incidents is relatively low in this area when compared to dryer areas in the “Lower 48”, however the potential for large fires is rather great with some historical fires being greater than 60,000 acres.  Our visit to this very rural site made it evident that this is a WUI area and for years the Cohoe Community have taken action on the ground to reduce their risk from wildfire.

Cutting the tall grass making fuel breaks, pruning the lower hanging branches of trees, moving wood piles 30 feet away from the home, installing noncombustible fencing and using fire resistive roofing has reduced their wildfire risk exposure.  These are all common mitigation actions we see in many Firewise Communities, so what intrigued me about this Firewise Community?

It was, what they do for their annual Firewise day.  Every year the Cohoe Firewise Community meets at the area Department of Transportation gravel pit which serves as the Cohoe Firewise Community debris disposal site.  This recognized Firewise Communities/USA site hosts an innovative Halloween program for their children called 'Trunk-or-Treat'.  No, not 'Trick-or-Treat', but 'Trunk-or-Treat', like the trunk of your car!  As it was explained to me, the Cohoe Community is in a remote part of the state which is a rural area where children do not have the opportunity to walk from home to home trick-or-treating like you do in the city.  Instead, the parents drive their children to the Firewise debris collection site in Halloween decorated cars where children can meet with other goblins to go from vehicle to vehicle to get their treats from the trunks of cars.  But that is not all that is being passed around at this meeting place.  The Cohoe Firewise Community sparkplugs hand out Firewise educational materials to the adults.

This event is coming up soon and the Cohoe “Trunk-or-Treat” program fulfills the Firewise Day which is all that is left to fulfill the Firewise renewal paperwork for Cohoe this year.  Just another innovative way to motivate residents to get involved with the Firewise Communities/USA Program!

LandsEnd Hotel
Image 1: Lands End Hotel, Homer, AK

On Wednesday this past week, Gary Marshall and I presented at the Division of Forestry Fall Fire Review at the interestingly located Lands End Hotel in Homer, Alaska.  Arlene Weber-Sword, the state Firewise liaison introduced Gary and me to more than 60 state forestry officials who were attending the meeting from all over Alaska. 

I kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the Fire Adapted Communities initiative and how Firewise fits within and relates to this formative coalition.  Gary went on to give a very interesting Firewise Communities/USA® presentation where he drew on his professional experiences as a former Fire Marshal for the city of Bend, Oregon.  I also had the opportunity to share a little bit about the recent WUI regulatory study that was completed by the Fire Protection Research Foundation this past year.  

Through the rest of the day we participated and learned about the operational and reporting fire activities of this past fire season and learned about some of the new aviation technologies they are hoping to deploy this next season.  Interestingly the past fire season in Alaska was an atypical year, in the sense that the majority of the fires occurred in the month of June versus May when traditionally most of the fires occur.  The season was considered a mild year with less than 300,000 acres on lands that the state has jurisdiction burned.

!|src=|alt=DSC04467|style=margin: 0px 5px 5px 0px;|title=DSC04467|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef017c324f6d28970b!For the next&#0160;8 days, Gary Marshall (Northwest Firewise Advisor) and I will be visiting with state forestry, fire departments and community leaders to discuss the Firewise Communities/USA® recognition program and Fire Adapted Communities™ initiative.


Our first stop is Homer where we will be meeting and presenting material to over 60 forestry and fire professionals at the[ Alaska Division of Forestry  |]Fall Fire Review. &#0160;Through the course of the next week, either Gary or I will be updating you on our adventure and sharing fire prevention and mitigation stories from the great state of Alaska.</p>

Wildfires are becoming more familiar during the barbershop-talk lately.  For some areas, fire is still on the horizon and dense smoke in the air that may, and often does have an effect on the local businesses, especially the local community industry that is tourist driven. As wildfires get larger and more expensive to fight, the side effects can also tip the local store budget towards the red.Pole-Creek-smoke

Currently, the Pole Creek Fire a few miles outside Sisters, Oregon, has burned over 25,000 acres and officials say it may burn until winter as the fire creeps into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area.    A recent story from the Sisters local newspaper said a survey was conducted during the persistent smoky conditions that have plagued the town of a couple of thousand since early September.

The author of the survey said it is “completely across the board” and “everybody is getting affected.” Really, I ask, with over 800 firefighters camped out just a few miles down the road?  She said food services, including restaurants, report a 40-to-50% drop in business. Grocery stores are seeing less traffic as locals leave town to escape the smoke.  The town’s motels are seeing cancellations up to five weeks out with more expected.

I have to say, even for the smaller communities, this loss of business means big money!  Do you think it could result in temporary lay-offs of staff, cutting special services, taking out a loan to cover overhead costs? Could it even put a small retailer out of business all together?  This is an economic issue that many never think about. Well, I should say those who never experienced a large wildfire.Pole-Creek-sisters

So who could be one of those stakeholders on a Firewise Board or creating a Fire Adapted Community? Definitely the business community and the Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start by asking a business leader to be a part of your Board to assist you to achieve your goal.  By reaching out to the businesses they can help by offering their expertise and services by identifying community risks, promoting forms of WUI mitigation, reaching out to multiple audiences to reduce wildfire risks around the town, and maybe even support in the development of WUI safety standards or local ordinances to replace flammable roof coverings on all structures.

  Remember that business owners and managers are often the leaders and lawmakers of communities and cities and they represent a part of your community that you personally engage with every day, which could even be that barbershop!

  --Gary Marshall

I attended a Regional Area Safety Task Force (RAST) Conference this summer in southern California.  One of the presenters was Stephen L. Quarles, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at IBHS, a Fire Adapted Communities coalition member.  He gave an informative presentation about looking at developing green building concepts that would also be Firewise.  For more information about Firewise building see

We decided to redo the porch on our 1928 cabin.  The old wood porch was in bad condition.  We looked at recycled plastic composite decking materials at our local hardware store.  Some of these materials have been developed for fire resistance and are rated class A.  We checked for class A materials and followed the reccomendations for proper installation.  Now we have a deck that is not only used recycled materials (is green), but also meets CAL FIRE recommendations for fire safety.  We also make sure that we keep the area under and around the porch maintained and clean.  My cat Mia loves the outcome!

--Faith Berry

According to the National Interagency Fire Center  (NIFC) the average structure loss in the United States since 1999 caused by wildfire is estimated at 2,598 structures per year.  A little more than half of these losses being primary residences.  These numbers are based information provided on the NIFC ICS-209 incident reports, and may not reflect actual national losses.  There are other information sources complimentary to the NIFC data and include the US Fire Adminstration Fire Estimates summaries which present data based on the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NIFRS).  If one were to combine these two different information sources together it would be safe to say that on average more than 2,600 structures are lost every year due to wildfires. 

Image 1:  Wildfire structure loss data by category from 1999- 2011.  Source: Fire and Aviation Management Web Applications (FAMWEB). 

It is interesting to note the cyclic pattern of the losses in image 1.  This could in part be attributed to the El Niño/La Niña–Southern Oscillation weather pattern effect which causes some years to be drier and others wetter.  The drier years being when you would expect more structure losses due the increased fire activity and severity. structure losses

Image 2: Total structure losses per year from 1999-2011.  Source: Fire and Aviation Management Web Applications (FAMWEB).  

The trend line in image 2 is moving in a postive direction. This implies that the structure losses are increasing overtime and risk exposure to this natural hazard is not going away anytime soon.

Please check out the Firewise® toolkit on how you and your neighborhoods can reduce their wildfire risk exposure in the event of this growing problem.

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