NatGeo article: it’s the small steps that can help save homes from wildfire

Blog Post created by lisamariesinatra Employee on Jul 31, 2014

A recent article published on National Geographic’s “Daily News” webpage confirms what many of us in the wildfire industry have known to be true: it’s the small steps that can help save homes and communities from being destroyed by wildfire.

Author Warren Cornwall explains how homeowners fit nicely into this equation, and how they can and should take responsibility for mitigating their own property. Easy steps, he says, like putting screens over attic vents, trimming trees and getting rid of pine needles in gutters, are known to make a real difference in whether a home survives a wildfire. These steps, he writes, are backed by 10 years of research conducted by scientists who make it their mission to learn about and identify the factors that contribute to home losses in a wildfire, and what we can do to reduce that loss. It’s also the backbone of NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program.

NFPA’s Michele Steinberg, Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) senior scientist Steve Quarles and Jack Cohen, a Forest Service scientist and leading expert on wildfires and how homes ignite, were all interviewed for the article. The information they provided helps shed light on such things as the properties (and potential dangers) of mulch and wind-born embers (or firebrands), and their impact on homes during a fire, the principles that guide the Firewise program, and ultimately, some of the better ways we can adapt to living with wildfire.   

Another important step the author addresses: talking to your neighbors. According to Joe Sutler, a career firefighter in Bend, Oregon who was also interviewed for the article, his home’s survival depends partly on what his neighbors do. As Cornwall quotes him, “If a single home catches fire, it can fling embers onto nearby houses. In dense developments, the heat of a burning house can ignite the house next door, setting off a chain reaction that overwhelms firefighters.”

Due to this simple but important research fact, the Firewise program has and continues to promote this “neighbors talking to neighbors” piece of the puzzle. Read more on the Firewise website about how you can reach out to your friends and neighbors and start a dialogue about wildfire safety in your area.  

Want to learn more? Just recently (and ironically, the timing couldn’t be better with the release of this NatGeo article), Dr. Quarles participated in an NFPA/IBHS “Ask the Expert” webinar titled, “Understanding How Embers Ignite Roofs in a Wildland Fire and How to Make Your Roof More Survivable.” The webinar is now available on the Firewise “online courses and education” webpage. Llisten to Dr. Quarles talk first-hand about his research and safety recommendations for homeowners. (Quarles will again host an “Ask the Expert” webinar on August 19. The topic:  Mulch Combustibility-Choosing the Right Type for Your Wildland/Urban Interface Home. You won’t want to miss this … Register today.)

In a world where the phrase of the day is, “bigger is better,” it’s comforting to know that yes, the little things really do matter, especially when it comes to our safety. So, give the article a read and let us know what you think. What are you doing to help reduce the risk of wildfire damage to your home? In your community? We know there are lots of great stories out there. Share them with us. We’re always happy to hear from you. And we're always here to help.