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The right conditions have ignited wildfires in the midwest that took a terrible human and environmental toll.  Large wildfires are a part of America’s history, its present and its future.  The same time the great Chicago October 8, 1871 fire took a terrible toll and was the center of the attention of the press and American public, a far more devastating wildfire was raging in a place called Peshtigo, Wisconsin. This fire according to historic records consumed 1,875 square miles, for a point of reference this is an area about twice the size of the state of Rhode Island.  Twelve communities were destroyed and the loss of life has never been accurately tallied.  It is estimated that between 1,200 and 2,500 people perished in this fire that was so hot in areas sand melted into glass.


On October 8, 1871 another fire in Michigan called the Great Michigan Fire destroyed the communities of White Rock and Port Huron and part of the area known as the ‘thumb region” in Michigan.  Some of the contributing factors to these large fires were uninterrupted drought in the Midwest and strong dry winds in the month of October.  Four days later Windsor, Ontario Canada suffered from a similar wildfire event.


Ten years later in 1881, The Great Thumb fire again devastated the thumb area in Michigan killing 282 people and burnt over one million acres.  The fire also destroyed over 2,000 structures and left 14,000 people in need of assistance.


On September 1, 1894 The Great Hinckley Fire in Minnesota,  destroyed 200,000 acres and saw a loss of human life estimated to be around 418 people. This fire was due in part to logging practices, a two month drought, high temperatures and a thermal inversion that trapped gasses from the fire close to the ground.  In the yards of the Eastern Minnesota Railroad steel wheels of train cars fused to the rails like they had been welded together.


Other Historic fires of note include the Baudette Fire of 1910 in Baudette, Minnesota, The Great Fire of 1910 in Washington, Idaho and Montana, and the 1918 Cloquette Fire in Carleton County, Minnesota.  Many of these fires were caused by similar weather conditions such as drought and high winds.


The first Picture of the Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin is found on the US National Parks website.  the second picture of the Hinkley Fire is found on the Wickapedia website.


What we can learn from these fires and fires from our more recent past is that we can make changes to our homes and the landscape surrounding our homes using firewise principals in order to protect our investments, communities, forests and those we care about.


An article on a Los Angeles television website mentioned an innovative program being rolled out by the[ City of Los Angeles |].  The city is distributing one thousand 45-50 gallon repurposed soda syrup barrels for the purpose of collecting rainwater during the rainy season in this drought stricken Southern !|border=0|src=|alt=Rain Barrel Picture|style=margin: 0px 0px 5px 5px;|title=Rain Barrel Picture|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef01b8d094ddac970c img-responsive!California area.  The barrels were donated by the Coca Cola Company to “Keep Los Angeles Beautiful”.   The barrels will be distributed to residents of Los Angeles who participate in a seminar for harvesting rain water.  These seminars are currently full.  They will teach residents how to install the rain barrel and other water harvesting techniques. 

The water collected by these methods can be used to irrigate the vegetation in the yard and garden during times when it is hot and dry.  With 4 years of past drought conditions in some western communities this could make all the difference, maintaining healthy firewise landscape around the home.  Installing rain barrels to gutter systems of western drought stricken homes may provide an excellent alternative to providing enough water along with utilizing firewise xeriscape plantings to maintain a nice green zone within the first two Firewise Zones.

[For more information about how you can make your landscape firewise visit the NFPA's Firewise Communities USA website. |]!|border=0|src=|alt=Fwzone|style=margin: 0px 5px 5px 0px;|title=Fwzone!

!|src=|alt=|style=margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px currentColor; width: 80px; display: block; max-width: 100%;!Free rain barrels offered by city of Los Angeles to combat drought

If you haven't had a chance yet to view our newest Sparky wildfire videos, I hope you get the chance to check them out soon. We're very excited about them since it's the first time NFPA's spokesdog, Sparky the Fire Dog®, has helped us spread the word about the importance of wildfire safety. And we're glad he did!

As we mentioned, NFPA produced three short videos for young kids that highlights ways families can work together to reduce their wildfire risk at home. Last week, we posted a blog about the first video in the series, "Sparky's Wildfire Safety Home Projects for Kids and Families." 

In the second video, Sparky shares some simple steps that kids can do with their parents and friends to help keep their neighborhood safer from wildfire. After you've watched it, let us know what you think. I think you'll agree, it's great to have Sparky helping us with safety messaging for our young kids. Like with most lessons, understanding issues and knowing what to do earlier in life helps us better prepare and carve out, a brighter future as we grow older. 

Watch our second video, "Sparky's Neighborhood Wildfire Safety Tips for Families" below. Or watch all three together.These short videos are a great conversation starter. Have one today with your youngsters and plan a wildfire safety project together. The third video in our series, “Sparky and NFPA’s Wildfire Safety Checklist” highlights some great activities you can get started on right away.

For more information and additional resources regarding youth and wildfire safety, visit our wildfire "youth and families" page on the NFPA website or our Kids Corner on the Firewise site.


In my new role as Division Manager with NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations, I'm delighted to welcome two new staff to our Denver and Quincy offices. Tom Welle joins the Denver office as a senior project manager and supervisor. Faith Berry joins the Quincy office as an associate project manager. Both Tom and Faith will contribute to the Division's mission of reducing risks to life and property from wildfire through advocacy, outreach, education, research and codes and standards.

Tom Welle6673-800pxlsTom joins NFPA from a career in public service and wildland firefighting. Most recently, he spent more than a decade with Douglas County, Colorado, as a ranger and land management specialist. He has also instructed technical firefighting classes and volunteers with the Colorado Civil Wing Air Patrol. Faith Berry6618cr800pxls

Faith is familiar to readers of Fire Break as one of NFPA's six Firewise Regional Advisors, contracted with NFPA from 2011 to 2013. Faith has extensive experience in working with communities on fire and land management issues, including work as a firefighter, park ranger, and Fire Safe Council coordinator. 

I look forward to working with our expanded team on all of NFPA's wildland fire safety projects and programs. 

I'm really happy to announce three new children's videos from NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations Division.

The videos, “Sparky’s Wildfire Safety Home Projects for Kids and Parents,” “Sparky’s Neighborhood Wildfire Safety Tips for Families” and “Sparky and NFPA’s Wildfire Safety Checklist” feature NFPA’s spokesdog, Sparky the Fire Dog® who teaches young children the importance of wildfire safety.

Each video provides a fun and easy way parents and children can work together to help reduce the risk of wildfire damage to their homes and around their neighborhoods.


The videos complement other youth-related wildfire information including interactive games, quizzes and artwork, and teaching materials. And don't forget, you can share these videos and other great resources with family and friends! 

For more information and to watch all three videos, visit NFPA's wildfire "information for youth and families" web page.


Are you a leader, an innovator or a pioneer? The new Wildfire Mitigation Award has been created just for you! Please nominate yourself, your organization or a worthy colleague for any of three categories of this prestigious award sponsored by NFPA, the National Association of State Foresters, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The three award designations include the Fire Adapted Community Fire Service Leadership Award, the Wildfire Mitigation Innovation Award, and the Community Wildfire Preparedness Pioneer Award. Fire departments, community organizations, forestry agencies and other such groups are welcome to nominate a wide variety of activities and programs for these awards, showing impact at the local, regional or national level.

The awards will be presented to winners at the IAFC WUI Conference in Reno, Nevada, in March.On behalf of the awards committee, I hope to see many nominations and a full slate of award winners come spring.

NovThe November issue of Fire Break, NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division newsletter, is now available for viewing. Here’s what you’ll find in this month’s issue:

  • A discussion about the benefits of planning before tackling WUI fires
  • An recap on the WFOD’s recent visit to England where staff learned about Firewise efforts being undertaken across the U.K.
  • A link to the 2015 Backyards & Beyond conference “call for presentations” web page and deadline information
  • A link to our free fall Firewise “How To” newsletter
  • A cool infographic highlighting brush, grass and forest fire statistics …

...and much more. We want to continue to share all of this great information with you so don’t miss an issue! So subscribe today. It’s free! Just click here to add your e-mail address to our newsletter list.


In early August of this year, lightning ignited a wildfire approximately 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg, WA. The fire, fueled by grass, brush and timber, destroyed 19 structures and over 8,800 acres of land. In the fall issue of the Firewise How-To newsletter, Melinda Mays shares her story of how a little foresight and preparedness prevented her family’s cabins from being destroyed by this fire.

Melinda and her husband Tyler’s families each respectively owned property in Kittitas County, which is close to the Ellensburg area. Over the past four years, vegetation around Tyler’s side of the family’s cabin had been routinely thinned by the cost-share program run by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). And so during this year’s Snag Canyon Fire, although the fire did burn through sections of the thinned land, it stayed mostly on the ground and eventually burned out. Thanks to these preparedness efforts, what could have resulted in a loss of 80 acres of harvestable timber, was instead left untouched.

Melinda’s family, however, owned property on the opposite side of the canyon, where there were no NRCS clean-up efforts yet. She was aware of the dangers of the fire and knew she would likely lose her land and cabin if she did nothing. So she took matters into her own hands and, with the help of her family, piloted clean-up efforts which saved her house.

Read more about Melinda Mays and the steps she took in the fall’s Firewise How-To newsletter

New research by UCal Berkley on future increases in lightning strikes related to rising global temperatures caused by climate change has been in today’s news on major outlets, including BBC News and National Geographic.
NIFC Lightning-caused fires and acres (2001-2013)
The research examines the relationship between temperature, moisture content, and lightning frequency, finding that, “for every two lightning strikes in 2000, there will be three lightning strikes in 2100.” 

Lightning is an important part of natural wildfire ecology and had played its part since time began.  A possible 50% increase has influence though in the Southwest, Mountain West and Northwest, where a majority of the over 10,000 lightning caused fires occur in the nation.  The National Interagency Fire Center's (NIFC) infographic on major lightning caused fires illustrates this well (at right). 

While 90% of wildfires are human caused, the frequency of lightning strikes and a future of climate change provides strong reminder of the value of mitigation and preparedness for wildfire.  NFPA released detailed lightning caused fire research in 2013 relfecting across all fire service response, wildfire and structural. 

As consolidation, that stormy night sky with rolling clouds in the future will be even more impressive as well.

FF injuries
Firefighters work in varied and complex environments that increase their risk of on-the-job death and injury. NFPA estimates that 65,880 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2013. An estimated 29,760 (45.2%) of the all firefighter injuries occurred during fireground operations.

Each year, NFPA studies firefighter deaths and injuries to provide national statistics on their frequency, extent and characteristics. A better understanding of how these fatalities, nonfatal injuries and illnesses occur can ultimately help identify corrective actions, and in turn could help minimize the inherent risks.

NFPA's latest report, U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2013, includes among its results:

* An estimate of the total number of 2013 firefighter injuries

* Estimates of the number of injuries by type of duty

* An estimate of the number of exposures to infectious diseases

* Trends in firefighter injuries and rates ...

And much more.

Read the full report on NFPA's reports and statistics webpage, and get related information including NFPA's analysis of volunteer firefighter injuries from 2009 - 2011.

This past July, Jim Pauley began his career with NFPA as the association's seventh president. As he took the reins, Mr. Pauley immediately acknowledged how the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program embodies the organization's mission of "reducing the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on quality of life by providing and advocating for consensus codes and standards, research, training and education."

The Firewise program is one of NFPA's many prevention and public safety programs, and Mr. Pauley speaks openly about the accomplishments made by the more than 1,100 participating Firewise sites across the U.S.

In a recent video featured in the fall issue of the Firewise "How-To Newsletter," Mr. Pauley extends his thanks and appreciation to participating Firewise community residents for their commitment to reducing wildfire risk in their neighborhoods and across the nation.


The November/December NFPA Journal is out and in its latest WildfireWatch column, I reflect on how prevention programs measure their success. Wildfire cover photo NFPA Journal Nov14 WildfireWatch column 

For some backstory, NFPA’s LinkedIn page discussion board for wildland fire management, Firewise, and Fire Adapted Communities hosted a great discussion over August and September wrestling with the question of how one can measure and show the real outcomes of prevention.  A lot of on-the-ground examples and experiences were shared by those in prevention programs, state agencies, and others.  If you do not follow this message board, check it out

This question is not lost on Firewise either.  A great lesson I’m often reminded of is how a diversity of communities tackle their own education around wildland fire to achieve their own success and true buy-in for prevention.   

Large Loss
Every year, NFPA reports on large-loss fires and explosions that occurred in the United States the year before. Such fires and explosions are defined as any event that results in property damage of at least $10 million. 

Last year, 21 fires in the United States resulted in losses of $10 million or more each. In seven of the past 10 years, wildland fires have produced the largest direct property loss fires in the United States, and five of those have resulted in more than $400 million in damage. This includes 2013, when the Black Forest Fire in Colorado resulted in $420.5 million in damage, the highest loss in terms of direct property loss of any fire that occurred in the country, according to NFPA's "Large-Loss Fires in the United States in 2013" report.

The Black Forest Fire was only one of the large loss fires of 2013. Learn more about the damaged caused by the Black Forest Fire and read the full report.

Find other wildfire statistics and information on NFPA's "wildfire reports, case studies and guide page."

Rolf Jensen Dollar GraphicDo you have a great idea for a community-wide fire and life safety campaign or program but need funding to get the project launched? If so, you’ll want to consider applying for the Rolf H. Jensen Memorial Public Education Grant. Funded by the RJA Group, the $5,000 grant is open to any fire department–career or volunteer–located in the United States or Canada.

In addition to the $5,000, the winning department will receive a commemorative plaque and the department's name inscribed on the winners’ plaque displayed at NFPA headquarters. Many recipients find that the grant helps to generate positive media coverage for the fire department and raises the profile of the department in the community.

The application is available on the NFPA website. You have until February 6, 2015, to apply.

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