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2015

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Today is June 30, the second anniversary of the deaths of 19 firefighters in a place called Yarnell Hill near Prescott, Arizona. The Granite Mountain Hotshot crew was overrun by wildfire while they were on duty attempting to contain the fire and prevent damages to homes in nearby communities. An anniversary article this weekend quotes a local resident whose home was destroyed: "I still feel a lot of shame and guilt because 19 firefighters died trying to save my town; I'm not sure what to do with that."

Firefighter fatalities, especially multiple deaths in a single incident, shock and dismay us, but unfortunately occur with regularity. In 10 of the past 15 years, there has been at least one wildland fire that has claimed the lives of two or more firefighters, resulting in 93 deaths over that period. When, as the Yarnell Hill resident realized, we make the connection between firefighter safety and the safety of our homes and communities, we may feel guilt, shame and confusion as she did. Yet there is something each of us can do to live less dangerously from wildfire - even those who willingly put themselves in harm's way to protect the life and property of others.

For firefighters and their leaders, safe practices are built into the incident command system, NWCG training,and NFPA codes and standards. Use of sound safety standards, continuous training, and good leadership can all help firefighters to be safer on the fire ground as well as in going to and returning from a call.  As individuals, firefighters can do many things to reduce their likelihood of being injured or killed when on duty, including taking care of their physical health (37 firefighters died on average each year over the past 15 years from sudden cardiac death while on duty).

With regard to fire ground deaths, reports from such devastating events as the Dude Fire in Arizona in 1990, the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado in 1994, and the 1966 Loop Fire near Los Angeles recount tragic losses that involved multiple victims and captured headlines. The official reports and anniversary blogs outline lessons that every firefighter should learn and act upon.

And what about the rest of us? If we live in an area prone to wildfires, there are many things we can do to be safer and to help firefighters operate more safely. To protect structures during a wildfire event, homeowners can take preventive steps to reduce the likelihood of ignition by clearing away flammable debris and vegetation, cleaning up decks, porches, gutters and roofs, and keeping large fuel packets away from the home, such as woodpiles. To even make it possible for firefighters to defend homes, property owners need to give their houses care and attention to be as ignition-resistant as possible. 

For the firefighters reading this blog, view NFPA's video on firefighter safety in the wildland/urban interface for more important ways you can keep yourself and your crew safe while doing your job. 

 

Top photo: Wildland firefighter statue outside the memorial service for the Granite Mountain Hotshots in Prescott, July 9, 2013, Photo by Bill Gabbert, post at WildfireToday.com

Fire BreakThe June 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:

  • An update on NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond wildland fire conference in October in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • An announcement of the second phase of the Year of Living Less Dangerously from Wildfire campaign - ACT
  • Information about using landscaping equipment (lawn mowers, chain saws, etc.) responsibly to reduce grass fires
  • News that focuses on two insurance companies and their work to support wildfire safety

...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.

According to a recent report, tragically at least 12 structures have been lost due to a fast moving fire in the Sleepy Hollow area of Washington State.  The weather has been hot (in the 100's) and dry with extremely low humidity and gusty winds that contributed to the intensity of the wildfire.  According to a K5 news report, At Least 12 Homes Lost in Wenatchee Fire, "State fire assistance was mobilized Sunday night to fight a fast moving brush fire in Wenatchee. All of north Wenatchee from Maple Street north to the river was evacuated Sunday night.  At least a dozen homes were lost.”  According to reports a fire also started in a cardboard recycling plant.

Washington Fire
Photo by Diane Lewis/ KING 5 News

The Chelan Emergency Management has updated information about evacuations on their Facebook page.

The fire has grown to over 1,700 acres.  The fire is reported to be burning within the city limits as of Sunday evening.  According to the Fox 13 report, "The sheriff’s office said an evacuation center that was originally set up at the 7th Day Adventist School has been moved to Eastmont High School at 955 3rd Street NE in East Wenatchee. The fairgrounds were open for livestock."

There has been concern by Washington State officials about the wildfire potential.  According to a CNN news report, "Last week Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation, saying the state was under extreme wildfire risk. 'The fire danger now is unlike any we've seen in a long time if ever,' he said. 'We need to be prepared for the possibility of an unprecedented fire season."

Are you prepared?  Have you taken steps to prepare your home and property before a wildfire event? The Firewise Website offers educational opportunities, free materials and information to enable you to act with knowledge about good Firewise steps that you can take that can make a difference.

FWCUSAMap

Since the inception of NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program in 2002, residents of wildfire-prone neighborhoods have been asking the question, “What will becoming Firewise do to my insurance premium?” Until recently, the answer was, “Nothing.” Starting last year, however, the answer is much more positive. That’s because in May 2014, the California Insurance Commissioner approved a rate filing request by USAA to reward its members and encourage more residents in wildfire risk areas to take safety steps by providing a discount on the homeowner’s insurance premium for USAA members who live in recognized Firewise Communities.

USAA carefully analyzed Firewise and its growing voluntary recognition program. As more and more neighborhoods used the Firewise process to earn recognition and commit to wildfire safety action, NFPA documented local investment and developed boundary maps of communities in California for USAA’s analysis. USAA reviewed loss history for its members within and outside of California Firewise Communities/USA sites and found a favorable difference in loss experience for members in recognized communities. USAA conducted the same analysis for Colorado and Texas this year, with the same kind of favorable results, demonstrating that properties in participating communities have a safety “edge” that others do not.  USAA is also pursuing this discount for its members living in other states with significant wildfire risks.

Learn much more about USAA’s commitment to wildfire risk reduction and its rewards to members who participate in the Firewise Communities/USA recognition program here. For more about how insurers are supporting wildfire safety actions, check out this Wildfire Watch article in the NFPA Journal.  


Due to the extreme conditions in some areas such as low humidity in the vegetation, extended periods of drought, high temperatures and high winds, extreme caution should be paramount in everyday activities out of doors.  Driving a car is one of the activities we all enjoy during the summer season, especially as we travel for summer vacation time.  Make sure that your road trip is not the cause of a wildfire.  The Arizona Department of Transportation shared some tips: Fire Car

  • Avoid driving or parking your vehicle in tall grass. (Or any tall dry vegetation)
  • Never throw a burning cigarette out of a vehicle.
  • When pulling a trailer, attach safety chains securely; loose chains can drag on the pavement and cause sparks, igniting roadside fires.
  • Look behind you before driving away from fire-sensitive locations, such as areas with tall grass or campsites, to check for signs of a developing fire.
  • Observe “Red Flag” fire-weather warnings. These warnings are issued when weather conditions are conducive to the easy start and rapid spread of wildfires.
  • Always use a spark arrestor on internal-combustion engines.

You can also:

  • Follow all public-use restrictions and access closures – It is important to check with local agencies about any closures before venturing off road.
  • Be prepared – Carry a shovel and a fire extinguisher in your vehicle and OHV.
  • Call 911 immediately if you see a roadside fire and give an accurate description of the size and location of the fire including mile marker information, the side of the road (are you traveling east, west etc.), the last exit you passed or nearest landmark.
    Img_0297
    Image of car fire in Boise from the Bureau of Land Management

Car Fires themselves can be a cause of wildfires.  A June 14th 2015 article in the Boise Weekly, Car Fire Sparks Wildfire Near Jump Creek, shared that; "Firefighters say a car fire—the third in one week—sparked a wildfire that has scorched more than 330 acres, eight miles south of Marsing."  Another article dated June 19th 2015 on the KCRA.com website, Roadside Truck Fire Sparks Wildfire Near Oakhurst, talked about a pickup truck that caused a fire near Oakhurst, California that burnt hundreds of acres. 

Many times simple maintenance items overlooked can cause your car to catch fire.  The NFPA has some interesting statistics on car fires:

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 152,300 automobile fires per year in 2006-2010. These fires caused an average of 209 civilian deaths, 764 civilian injuries, and $536 million in direct property damage.

Facts and Figures
  • Automobile fires were involved in 10% of reported U.S. fires, 6% of U.S. fire deaths.
  • On average, 17 automobile fires were reported per hour. These fires killed an average of four people every week.
  • Mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in roughly two-thirds of the automobile fires.
  • Collisions and overturns were factors in only 4% of highway vehicle fires, but these incidents accounted for three of every five (60%) automobile fire deaths.
  • Only 2% of automobile fires began in fuel tanks or fuel lines, but these incidents caused 15% of the automobile fire death.

You can take simple steps to prevent a car fire: Carsafety


• Have your car serviced regularly by a professionally
trained mechanic. If you spot leaks, your car is not
running properly, get it checked. A well-maintained
car is less likely to have a fire.
• If you must transport gasoline, transport only a small
amount in a certified gas can that is sealed. Keep a
window open for ventilation.
• Gas cans and propane cylinders should never be
transported in the passenger compartment.
• Never park a car where flammables, such as grass,
are touching the catalytic converter.
• Drive safely to avoid an accident.

For more information about car fire safety download the NFPA's car fire safety pdf.  Enjoy your road trip wherever your travel plans take you and have a safe and memorable time.

There are a lot of simple steps communities can take to make sure that water supplies are easily accessible to fire departments in the event of a wildfire.  Communities and fire departments can act to work together to improve the availability of water in the event of a wildfire.

Hydrant
Photograph taken by Faith Berry

 

An important step is to insure the proper maintenance of the hydrants located within the community.  This includes the testing of the pressure available at the hydrants and maintenance around the hydrants.  The hydrants should be tested with a meter for the water pressure either by the water or fire district professionals to determine the pressure available.  Maintaining an adequate area around the hydrant itself can be accomplished by the homeowner easily.  It is important that fire departments can find the hydrants easily so cutting weeds around hydrants, and making sure that dirt and debris is cleared away from the hydrant at least 3 feet away will insure easy access.  I visited one community Lake Alminor Country Club in California that built a cinder block “fence” behind and alongside hydrants located on a steep hill to prevent, dirt, mud and rock from accumulating around hydrants. 

Another way to insure that fire departments can easily find a hydrant is by placing a blue reflective dot in the center of the road.  This makes it easy for fire departments to find hydrants when it is dark or very smoky in the event of a wildfire.

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From PDF about Helotes Fire Department Blue Dot Program

 

Small water departments should also investigate having an alternate power supply in case of a power outage.  Some water districts have professionally installed backup generators in case the power goes out during a wildfire or other disaster.  When researching generators that are the best fit for your needs, explore propane generators, they can operate for longer periods without refueling.  Sometimes gasoline is not available when there is no power as gas pumps require power to operate.

The NFPA also has developed standard 1142: Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Fire Fighting, which identifies minimum standards to assist rural and suburban fire departments in developing sufficient water supplies where no in-ground hydrant system (or an inadequate one) exists. It provides methods for determining water supply requirements based on occupancy and construction classifications. This Standard also provides information regarding apparatus construction for water tankers.

For more helpful information about improving access for fire departments to water and into the community itself, a good resource is the Firewise Virtual workshop, “Improving Access for Wildland Firefighters”

Octoberposter

We can take many simple steps now as we act to have a Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire.

Flagstaff6
NFPA Conference & Expo
attendees heard from Paul Summerfelt this morning about a unique and wildly successful campaign to get Flagstaff, Arizona, residents to support a municipal bond for watershed protection and wildfire mitigation.

Chief Summerfelt, the Wildland Fire Management Officer for the Flagstaff Fire Department, described the process of developing a bond question for voter approval that essentially extended and repurposed an existing municipal bond that was about to expire. Flagstaff's long history of wildfires, the local awareness of risk, and the value that citizens place on the forest surroundings all had a part in helping to convince voters that funding thinning and fire management on federal lands surrounding the city would be a good idea. Chief Summerfelt also noted that the issue of protecting watersheds goes to the heart of everyone in the community, since water is precious in the West and affects everyone, not just those who might live next to the forest.

Amazingly to many, 74% of city voters gave the nod to continued taxes - to the tune of a $10 million dollar bond - to support efforts to mitigate wildfire risks, reduce flooding and protect the watershed. To date, Flagstaff has met numerous milestones, treated 1,000 acres, and attracted more than $2 million in additional funding from other entities. This effort has gained recognition and reward through the Wildfire Mitigation Innovation Award and a recent grant rewarding innovation for disaster preparation

If you missed the session, download the NFPA C&E mobile app to view the slides, or visit www.flagstaffwatershedprotection.org to learn more about this exciting project as it progresses.

Advances in technology provide benefits to efforts like the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program by helping deliver the program’s message and add value to participants.

By expanding its use of GIS (Geographic Information system), the Firewise program and USAA were able to map the boundaries of specific Firewise Communities to provide insurance benefits to policyholders in those locations.

GIS maps offer a valuable asset to Firewise Communities for better understanding their risk through analysis of mitigation work, review of a fire’s potential and identification of possible evacuation routes. Boundary mapping expands the information provided by regular GPS technology by illustrating the footprint of the entire community and what potential risks that community may face.

The goal is to complete mapping for every recognized Firewise community.

To read more on what GIS technology has offered, check out the Spring Firewise How-To Newsletter.

IMG_3946
Kicking off the NFPA Conference & Expo education session agenda, were Allison Carlock with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA and Tom Welle with NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations Division with their presentation on "America's PrepareAthon! Moving Millions to Prepare."

America's PrepareAthon is a grassroots, community campaign to inspire action and a shared responsibility for safety and emergency preparedness through group discussions, drills and exercises. Two days each year are designated for action: April 30 and September 30. To help communities with their campaigns, FEMA produces many free resources that are fully customizable, related to six hazards; wildfires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, winter storms and tornados. A great example of one of these is the animation video below.

 

Also detailed in the session was Wildfire Preparedness Day, a national campaign by NFPA that FEMA helps to support in honor of America's PrepareAthon - helping people ready for wildfires. A recent survey by FEMA (full results to be shared soon) found that only 37% of people in wildfire prone areas feel it is helpful to prepare for wildfire. Much education is to be done, and these types of grassroots, community campaigns will help. A list of ideas for preparation projects, communication and evacuation tips was created to help people realize that a lot can be done very easily that will help reduce risk. Find these resources and more at Wildfire Preparedness Day's website

USAA

One of the many major achievements of 2014 was the partnership between the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program and USAA to recognize community activity with policy savings.

In May 2015, USAA was approved by the California Department of Insurance to give insurance discounts to California homeowners living in recognized Firewise Communities.

USAA believes that community-level action is important and provides this discount to members in participating Firewise Communities to reward actions taken at the community level, rather than singling out individual properties.

For more details on this story, check out the Spring Firewise How-To Newsletter.

YLLDW Banner

As we act to enjoy the Year of Living less Dangerously from Wildfire, many Firewise Communities utilize grant funds to accomplish community projects.  In a previous blog we explored grant funding options and opportunities.  It is important to weigh in on how much time you are willing to spend to write, manage and make financial reports about the funding that you want to obtain.

In yet another blog we described how to get your "ducks in a row", with information about your community.  Many grant funders including Federal funders want to see that the community is already successfully engaged in wildfire mitigation projects on their own.  There is a lot that any community can accomplished without funding such as clean up days, hazard assessments, and educational days such as inviting agency partners to speak.  You need to keep a list of your accomplishments and have a written needs assessment that your community has had buy in on.  It is also important to prioritize projects that need to be accomplished together. Money

When you apply for the grant follow all directions carefully and include all required attachments.  Some grants require that you use a specific type of paper or font.  They want to make sure that you will follow guidelines/directions when you do get funding.  Often they will require a copy of your 501(c) 3 designation and perhaps a financial audit.  This is where it is important that you have tracked successes, such as copies of newspaper articles, links to television stories etc. about your community.  These awards and acknowledgements of your successes can make your community shine and stand above other grant applicants.

Once you get grant funding there are steps that need to be taken to maintain fiscal responsibility.  Remember a grant is not a gift but a trust.  You are entrusted with money that should be wisely spent to benefit the community as a whole.  Some steps to manage the money properly are:

1.  Make sure that your organization has set up a banking account with a reputable bank.  Many grants require separate accounts for the grant money so there is no comingling of grant funds with other money from the organization.

2. Have a requirement of at least two signatures for checks over a certain amount.  Make sure there is also a requirement for board approval for purchases over a certain amount.

3.  Send out a press release or newsletter to inform residents about the work being done to garner support.

4. Develop a request for proposal (RFP) following federal or local standards depending upon the funding that you have received so that you get bids from reputable contractors for work to be completed. Make sure you have a professionally written RFP.

5.  Make sure that you solicit at least three bids for work to be completed. 

6. Check the contractor's license for the type of work they will be doing.  Often you can check the license on line.

7. Make sure the contractor has valid insurance and if required in your state a bond. It is a good idea to have a designated member of the community check on the contractor during work to make sure they are following guidelines or hire a project manager to oversee work.

8. If buying large equipment remember that you cannot sell it if its value is over a certain amount. It must be donated to another non profit if purchased with grant funding.

9. If buying large equipment check at least three vendors for the best deal, sometimes they will give you a better price if they know that you are shopping around.

10. If purchasing equipment make sure that you understand and strictly follow the maintenance schedule.  Some equipment requires that you change oil and hydraulic fluid within a few hours after the first use.  You want to make sure that you do not void your warranty. 

11.  If doing work on private property make sure owners sign a right of entry form and that they have homeowner's insurance.

12.  Carry at least an insurance policy to protect members of the board during project work.

13.  Save receipts and keep a running ledger with the date and type of purchase.

14. If the grant is especially large, hire an outside auditor or CPA to help you with grant reporting, financial reports and IRS reporting. Paper mess

This is not an all inclusive list but some suggested guidelines.  When managing large grants check to see if professional services such as an accountant/CPA and project manager costs can be added to the grant application for ease of implementing the grant and insuring that the work completed meets the required guidelines.  Grants can enable communities to accomplish great things.  It is good to start small and then grow with your community's experience and knowledge.  Following guidelines when implementing grant funded work can insure that your actions are safe and successful.

A newly designed firefighting jet has completed phase 1 testing by the US Forest Service.  According to the fireplanes.org website in a May 2nd article, BE-200 USFS Testing Update:  "Last week, the U.S. Forest Service, International Emergency Services Inc. of Santa Maria CA, and the Beriev Aircraft Company  (which has been building amphibious aircraft for 95 years) teamed up to test the new,  jet powered, firefighting BE 200 – a 3000 gallon Large Air Tanker at the factory in Taganrog, Russia.  Beriev covered actual costs for conducting the long-planned tests.”

 

In a spirit of collaboration Russian and US technical teams tested the BE-200 equipped with US instrumentation using a scientific method to test the effectiveness of the jet in fire suppression efforts.

Part of the 10-day testing included static flow tests with the 90,000-pound aircraft on a ramp and three days of flight testing.  The aircraft passed preliminary testing and will begin Phase 2 testing using US Forest Service standard retardant over 3,000 data points.

We also can play an important role to protect our properties from wildfire in advance by taking action to maintain our homes and properties in a Firewise manner so that we can have a Year of Living Less Dangerously from Wildfire.

HIZ

In support of new research on how homes ignite and how to prevent disasters, NFPA’s Home Ignition Zone workshop (HIZ) is designed to better explain how fire professionals and community residents can work collaboratively in the face of the common threat of fire.

HIZ evolved from initial research done by Research Physical Fire Scientist Jack D. Cohen which showed the risks to a structure from 30 to 300 feet from the home. Since then, researchers have found new ways of stressing the importance of residents working together and understanding how to act in fire-risk situations.

This new research adds value to those communities who take part in the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program by reinforcing what residents can do to protect their homes and help their neighbors.

Check out the Spring Firewise How-To Newsletter to read the full story on this research and how to protect your home and property from wildfire. 

Post thinning

Photo Credit: Ali Ulwelling, MT Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation

An article in a recent issue of the Daily Inter Lake paper in Flathead County, MT outlined the area’s current potential for wildfires and how stakeholders are actively working with residents to create awareness of the tools they can implement to help reduce the risk at their properties.

In the article, Ali Ulwelling, a fire prevention specialist for Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says, “If you just thin the property vegetation changes and with that you see more wildlife and diversity with shrub layers coming up that create habitat for birds.”  Unthinned

Ulwelling and Bill Swope, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter and the lead forester with the Flathead Economic Policy Center along with other state officials visit landowners in the valley, providing free expertise and consultations on how to effectively manage forest health and cut the likelihood of a fire hitting structures; avoiding unnecessary costs and firefighting resources. 

ThinnedSwope said. “It isn’t always easy to convince landowners to pick up the tab for major fire-prevention projects — which can run up to $2,500 per acre.” His organization hooks them up with matching grants and other funding assistance to cut down on the costs. Plus, lumber and pulp wood sold to timber companies after thinning activities can help offset the cost of treatment.

For more information on the program contact Ali Ulwelling. She can be reached  at 751-2270 or the Flathead Economic Policy Center at 892-8155.

We often talk about how the little things around your home can be a big deal when it comes to wildfire risk.  Ignoring them can mean big losses, dealing with them can pay off in big risk reduction.  These little things include vents.  Vents in your home are openings that can allow embers from wildfires to enter the structure and ignite combustibles in the attic or crawl spaces of the home.  Vents in your eaves, vents in your siding, dryer vents and vents in your roof and gables are all a BIG deal.

Dr. Steve Quarles, Ph.D., is a research scientist with the Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS), and has done a significant amount of work on embers in wildfires and the vulnerability of vents Wildfire-Demo_IBHS-05in structures.  In cooperation with the Savannah River National Laboratory, Dr. Quarles uses a large ember generator to test various types of vents and their vulnerability.  This You Tube video shows that even with the recommended 1/8” mesh screening that embers still penetrate.

IBHS suggests checking with your local Fire and/or Building Officials to learn about what new commercial products are allowed in your area to help protect your vents.  You can also learn about all the wildfire hazards to your home through IBHS’ “Wildfire Home Assessment & Checklist”, all based on scientific research that they have done.  And don’t forget to check out NFPA’s Firewise program.  We have a wealth of information to help you reduce your wildfire risk.  Wildfire2

Don't wait until there is smoke in the air.  It’s your home.  You own the risk around your home.  Act now to live this year less dangerously from wildfire.

photo credit: top-IBHS; bottom -NFPA Firewise photo library

Evacuations have been called for around the town of Willow 80 miles north of Anchorage as a fast moving fire grew to 6,500 acres in just hours.  According to information on the Alaska Wildland Fire Website, the fire grew from 1,100 acres to 6,500 acres with expanding evacuations called for in a matter of hours.

Picture of the Sockeye Fire from Alaska State Troopers Facebook
Picture of Sockeye Fire from the Alaska State Troopers Facebook Account

 According to information on the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center site the cost of this fire is estimated to be $421,632.00 a day with 111 people already committed to fighting this fire.  According to their June 14th report, "Evacuation notices were completed from milepost 63 to milepost 78 of the Parks Highway and the highway was closed for most of the day due to the amount of fire apparatus in the area as well as the overall fire behavior. There were 25 primary structures lost as well as 10-20 secondary structures lost North of Kashwitna Lake. Five hotshot crews have been ordered from the Lower 48 and a Type 2 Team has also been ordered. The current size of the fire is approximately 6500 acres."

According to a report from Channel 2 KTUU in Anchorage the smoke is visible in Anchorage.  There are also periodic closures along the Parks Highway with pilot cars guiding local traffic through when allowable.

Updated-evacuation-map-narrow-jpgThe evacuation area is moving south with the fire.  Though Willow is somewhat of a remote area, many residents called "mushers" own sled dogs that are used for transportation in the winter and in sled dog racing competitions.   Willow is home to "mushers"  who compete in the famous Iditarod Race.

One of the project ideas on the Firewise Website is to make evacuation kits for your pets before a wildfire event. The kit should include:

1. Dog bowls (one for water and food)

2. A warm blanket

3. Dog food that your pet is currently eating (having something different or new to your pet could result in an upset stomach)

4. Copies of vet and vaccination records

5. Leash and harness

6. A special toy

7. A small amount of the current medication your pet is on.

Our thoughts are with the people in the Willow, Alaska area.  There is a lot we can do to prepare in the advance of wildfire to protect our properties, those we care about and our pets using Firewise Principals.

Willow AK
Picture from Willow Dog Musher's Association Facebook Page

On June 16th from 1 to 2 pm Eastern Standard Time, the Southern Fire Exchange will be hosting a free webinar about LANDFIRE biophysical setting (BpS) review for land managers.  The Lakes States Fire Consortium and ecologist Randy Swaty of the Nature Conservancy's LANDFIRE team for this webinar about models and descriptions influencing LANDFIRE spatial datasets, the BpS review and update process (with maps and models from the Lake States region), and how other regions can contribute to the update.

 

There is no registration require to participate in this important project but you will need to login as a guest. Because input from expert land managers and their review of maps and models is critical to the upgrade process, they are setting up a BpS review website which should go live next month.  For more information about LANDFIRE and setting up free webinars in your region contact the Southern Fire Exchange at contactus@southernfireexchange.org

June's reputation as a month for weddings and honeymoons is changing, at least in Colorado, where it is now a reminder of fires, floods and other less benign events. The Colorado Springs Gazette has initiated a special assignment for the month of June on "Fires, Floods and the Future."

Reporter Ryan Maye Handy covers natural disaster and water issues for the paper, and is leading this special assignment. Learn more about the goals and scope of this coverage in this short video. GazetteVideo

Some key articles in this coverage so far include:

"Frequency of natural disasters in Pikes Peak Region means new normal for communities"

"Insurance deadline looms for victims of 2013 Black Forest fire"

"Waldo Canyon, Black Forest fire victims see dissimilar outcomes"

Firewise Photo Library Wildfire Image pulled 12June15 Wildfire5Earlier this week, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, US Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell briefed the press on 2015 wildfire projections and agency action.  Funding issues around response to catastrophic fires and persistent drought in the west and northwest framed their comments

Both Secretary Vilsack and Jewell highlighted Firewise as a valuable preparedness tool.  They both spoke to the importance of building homeowner awareness and the role residents can take in improving firefighter safety in the wildland urban interface. 

As the 2015 fire season unfolds, learn what you can do to make your home and greater community safer from wildfire.

Photo Credit: The Firewise Photo Library

El Paso County graphic 2 - 6.12.15

Graphic Credit:  Gazette.com

For residents in El Paso County, Colorado, the month of June will always be a point of reflection after two historically record breaking wildfire events impacted the county in 2012 and 2013; just fifteen miles apart from each other. The Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 347 homes and burned 18,247 acres in June 2012; and the Black Forest Fire destroyed 488 homes and burned 14,280 acres in June 2013. Each fire took the lives of two residents; the similarities of the two events have not been replicated in the rebuilding and recovery process.    El Paso County graphic - 6.12.15

As the Mountain Shadows and Black Forest communities continue down their paths of recovery, the Gazette newspaper has chronicled their dissimilar journey in an excellent series: Disasters: Recovery, Reflection. The series profiles the very different rebuilding and recovery lessons learned from the two fires. The distinctly differently outcomes of these two fires is evident in the progress and pain still being felt in both communities where disaster struck less than a year apart.

The people and their problems vary greatly in the western and northern parts of the county where the lessons learned have not been the same; even though they’re just a short distance apart.

Prior to moving to the Denver metro area six years ago, I lived in El Paso County for twenty-eight years and during that time I lived and owned several homes close to where both fires happened. The stories of what happened to the communities I cherish provide important lessons for everyone living in an area with a wildfire risk.

  FAC video panel - 6.12.15

Recently, a group of wildland fire mitigation practitioners met as a panel to discuss how fire adapted communities are created at a cable TV station in Aspen, CO. The result was an almost hour-long video that highlights the path to becoming more fire adapted.

The panel included: Ron Biggers, Deputy Fire Marshal for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department; Molly Mowery, with the Watershed Center and FAC Learning Network; Pam Wilson, the Executive Director of Firewise of SW CO; Courtney Peterson, the Wildfire Mitigation Education Coordinator and State Firewise Liaison with the CO State Forest Service and Bill Kight, USFS Public Affairs Officer, White River National Forest.

The group provides insightful information on the stakeholders, tools, resources and qualities that motivate and develop Fire Adapted Communities. The video is an excellent way to learn how to grow and develop actions that lead to becoming more fire adapted.


Cumberland Lakes 10 yr  Award

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a statewide Firewise Communities/USA meeting in Tennessee where several communities were recognized for their multi-year efforts and participation in the program. Meeting residents committed to reducing their wildfire risk and hearing their success stories is always a high point of any week; and the folks I met in TN were definitely some of the most committed I’ve had the honor of meeting. This was a very dedicated group immersed in making their communities safer in future wildfires.

  Cobbly Nob 5-yr Banner 5.29.15   Communities receiving recognition included: Cumberland Lakes (Monterey, TN) for their 10-year participation in the Firewise program; and both Cobbly Knob (Pittman Center, TN) and Shagbark (Sevierville, TN) Shagbark 5-yr Banner 5.29.15  for their five-years of participation. All three communities have added innovative and important components into their long list of significant accomplishments. In addition to the benchmark recognition for the three communities, Bob Swisher from the Norris Shore Firewise community in Sharps Chapel received a plaque for his eight-years of tireless service as their Firewise chairperson. His accomplishments include the mentoring of two neighboring communities which led them Bob Swisher Award 5.29.15 to also becoming nationally recognized sites. As part of closing this chapter of his volunteer work, Bob has been busily training his successor to ensure the community's work continues when he vacates his role in the coming months. 

Along with the three communities receiving recognition the TN State Firewise Liaison, Leon Konz, received a ten-year award presented by Leon and John    John Kirksey, the Fire Unit Leader for the TN Dept of Agriculture – Division of Forestry.

Other attendees included residents from eleven additional communities; firefighters; the community risk reduction educator from the state fire marshal’s office and many district forestry personnel from the TN Division of Forestry. Congratulations to all!

Leisuretowne

The community of Lesiuretowne, NJ, has gone above and beyond as a Firewise community. Not only spreading the word about wildfire risk and safety in their own area, but they have dedicated themselves to creating a fire-adapted region in hopes that their efforts will ‘pay it forward’ by encouraging neighboring communities to become Firewise.

By implementing effective Firewise tools and resources, and working collaboratively with their state and local Fire Departments and Fire service agency volunteers, Lesiuretowne was able to identify their fire threat and create a number of projects including the removal of dead and diseased trees and home evaluations.

These efforts has cultivated a 99-percent participation rate for residents thus far and over 400 homes have had complete evaluations. But this is just the beginning.  

To read more about Leisuretowne’s efforts and successes, check out the full story in the Spring Firewise How-To Newsletter.

June paradigm challengeProject Paradigm, in partnership with the American Red Cross, runs The Paradigm Challenge; an annual competition developed to inspire youth to affect positive change in the world. Each month we see a new contest, with great prizes, that helps accomplish this goal. June’s contest,Firefighter Spotlight, has been kicked off and you are invited to participate! 

Firefighters on are the front line when it comes to keeping us safe. This month, youth are being asked to use their creative talents to highlight what firefighters mean to them and their community with an original entry. Everyone else, you are being asked to vote for your favorite! Here's how to enter:

CREATE. Draw, design, sculpt (or whatever else you can dream up) an original entry that represents a firefighter.

SHARE. Upload a photo of your original entry with a message about what firefighters mean to you and your community. Then share with your friends and family to rack up votes. #FirefighterSpotlight

WIN! The 10 entries with the most votes by the end of the month will receive cash prizes of up to $1000.

The ten entries with the most votes will receive cash prizes of up to $1,000.  

Find more information on the Project Paradigm website

While the warm weather reminds us it's summer, some of us here at NFPA are already setting our sights on an exciting fall season, including our Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This year's conference, which runs October 22 - 24, promises to be a special one. Will you be joining us? Then register today and take advantage of early bird pricing! Deadline is September 18.

As a participant, you'll have the chance to attend many of the nearly 50 education sessions that touch on topics important to you such as community safety approaches and strategies, the latest wildfire mitigation tools, wildfire planning and suppression, and current social and ecological research affecting those living in wildfire prone areas. 

 

And the conference is not only a great place to learn all you can about wildfire mitigation and safety, you'll have a fun time doing it, too. Share lessons learned with your peers, meet community leaders, homeowners, researchers, insurance professionals and many others who, like you, care about wildfire issues and are working hard to make a positive difference in their communities and where they work. Any way you slice it, the Backyards & Beyond conference is the premier wildfire safety event that you don't want to miss!

As you prepare to register, consider the following:

* Download the conference brochure, which highlights sessions special presentations. It's a great way to get all of our event information in one place.

* Take a look at the 2013 conference held in Salt Lake City including session presentations that are available to download. In the weeks ahead, keep an eye out for videos and blog posts we'll highlight from the 2013 event that we know will get you in the spirit and encourage you to attend this year.

* Watch our latest video below that features Michele Steinberg, wildland fire division manager, who provides an overview of the great sessions you can attend and guests you'll meet! 

 

Finally, take a minute to review the Backyards & Beyond webpage to get the latest information on this year's event. Stay tuned to our Fire Break blog over the next few weeks and months as we highlight key sessions and speakers, and talk about the great many things you can do while you're in Myrtle Beach. Got questions? Reach out to our Wildland Fire Operations Division staff who are always happy to help.

What are you waiting for? Register today! We look forward to seeing you South Carolina!

  Mentoring - 6.9.15

As an annual renewal requirement of the Firewise Communities/USA® program, community participants must complete the delivery of a Firewise event each year. Events are typically developed using the community’s action plan (created by each board during the initial application process) to address issues identified in their plan and get the program’s community-oriented concepts implemented.

Successful events span a wide range of projects with the board determining which type of event best meets their community’s wildfire preparedness needs. Frequent types of events includes a weekend slash drop-off site with chipping done by resident volunteers; an educational outreach activity; clean-up of a commonly owned property; vegetation thinning along an evacuation route, or neighbors working together to help an elderly or disabled neighbor(s) complete a fuels reduction project at their residence. 

Year after year, the more than 1,175 communities participating in the program complete projects that reduce their risk and improve awareness and readiness for wildfires. After many years of program participation, communities often seek out suggestions on how they can broaden the scope of their events; one of those often unexplored opportunities is mentoring neighboring communities that are not engaged in mitigation activities.

Mentoring adjacent communities and encouraging them to take the steps to become a recognized Firewise site broadens the potential benefits for all participants; while positively impacting the survivability across a larger scale of properties, which ultimately enhances the safety of area residents and firefighters. Working collaboratively across property boundaries increases mitigation’s effectiveness and can have a strong impact on a future fire’s behavior. Consider developing a relationship and collaborating on projects with bordering neighborhoods during 2015 - and work together to reduce your cumulative risk.  Start the conversation today and begin the mentoring process this year!

NIFC has published their June to July predictions for the fire outlook for the season.  It is important to note that these determinations are based on current drought conditions and fluctuations in temperatures.  Besides the fire outlook, there is interesting information on climate from NOAA as well as information about fuel conditions and fire season timing maps. July outlook

The predictive services shares how the timing of the greening up of areas along with a dry and warm season has contributed to increased wildfire potential in Alaska, parts of the Rocky Mountains and areas of California.

In the Northwest, there is considerable concern about an elevated fire risk this year due to the lack of snowpack. According to the report, “Due to the months of warm and relatively dry weather, snowpack across the region remains unusually low and continues to decline as temperatures rise. Most reporting basins around the region have less than 25% of normal snow water equivalent as of late May with many basins in Oregon reporting no snow. Climate outlooks from NOAA suggest June through September will be warmer than usual across the Pacific Northwest and drier west of the Cascades.”

Colby-fire-Main-619x414
Photo of California National Guard fighting Colby Fire By Terry Miller

These indicators help to define risk. However, we must be prepared for our risk from wildfire wherever we live.  There are many simple activities that we can do that make our homes, neighborhoods and communities safer and much more resilient in the event of a wildfire by being Firewise.

The 2014 Carlton Complex Fire in Central Washington has been called the worst wildfire in Washington state history with more than 300 homes destroyed and a quarter-million acres burned. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the toll on nature was just as devastating, affecting thousands of animals and birds, including a bear cub whose paws were badly burnedCinder

Named "Cinder", the cub was nursed by a local resident and then brought to a California Wildlife Center that specializes in treating burns. Later the cub was moved to the Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation Center. After months of treatment and care there, Cinder, along with a fellow bear cub she befriended at the Center, was released back into the forest, happy to be returning to her native home.

As the area continues to heal from the negative effects of such a horrible fire, it's nice to hear a story that focuses on the positive. A reminder to us all that there is hope for a brighter future during this very trying time.

Watch Cinder's story on CBS News This Morning.

Photo courtesy of: KIRO 7 News/Seattle

B&B Conf Banner 2McCuskerB

Two great educational opportunities are on offer just ahead of NFPA's Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Educational Conference. On October 20-21, 2015, learners have the opportunity to choose a seminar on GIS and wildfire planning, or the newly revised NFPA seminar on assessing wildfire risks to structures.

ESRI's Jennifer Schottke and longtime GIS wildfire guru Mike Price of Entrada/San Juan will lead Prepare, Mitigate and Respond with GIS seminar. They'll demonstrate how to develop elements of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) including conducting a community risk assessment and establishing community hazard reduction priorities using a modern geographic information system (GIS). The class will cover the basic workflows needed to begin analyzing the level and location of the most serious wildfire risks in a community. Students will create map products and learn the basic principles of analyzing these data to determine priorities for mitigation, as well as how to publish the results of this analysis online to share with the public and key stakeholders. 

NFPA's newly revised Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone will expose students to the latest scientific findings about how homes ignite and what can be done to minimize exposure to wildfire flames and embers. For students who want further credentials, a Certificate of Educational Achievement is offered as an exam option after the course is complete. Longtime instructor and wildfire safety expert Pat Durland of Stone Creek Fire LLC will lead the seminar along with Jack Cohen, Ph.D., fire research scientist at the USDA Forest Service Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana. 

Check our seminar page as well as our registration area to learn more. 

Dollar Sign inhouse designYour value to your community just became more valuable. 

Each year, active and prospective Firewise Communities are asked to calculate their annual per capita investment to reflect community education and preparedness work.  The Independent Sector, a trusted industry non-profit, calculates the nationally recognized hourly value of volunteer work. 

This spring, they announced the new hourly rate of $23.07

Firewise uses this national rate for its community investment criteria.  A minimum of $2 per capita may seem like a big goal for a small community.  But, most Firewise neighborhoods have no trouble meeting or exceeding that amount of investment each year

This is how:

Firewise Photo Library Firewise Day image pulled 1June15 FWComDay3In addition to any contracted or purchased investment, the value of resident volunteer work at events and around their own property can help a community achieve their goal. 

12 volunteers x 4 hours of work = 48 hours.

48 hours x the national rate of $23.07 = $1,107.36 of volunteer work.

A community of 550 residents requires just $1,100 investment annually and will make their annual goal on volunteer efforts alone!

Learn more about Firewise Day activities and share your community’s story on the renewal pages of Firewise.org.

Photo Credit: The Firewise Photo Library

During the month of May in 1987, one of the largest and most damaging wildfires on record globally, The Black Dragon Fire (Heilongjiang) in China reduced about 1/5th of Chinese coniferous forests by more than 3 million acres in the Heilongjiang Province to ash and burnt stumps and claimed at least 200 lives.  The fire started on May 6th on a hot dry day impacted by high winds in the Black Dragon River area of China. On the Russian side another 3 wildfires may have impacted up to 15 million acres. In Russia the river is called the Amur River.

There is no record of a fire of this magnitude in the recorded history of 24 dynasties in China.  There was concern that the magnitude of the fire transformed continental climatic conditions contributing to the desertification of Northwest China.  According to recorded eye witness accounts of the fire in The Great Black Dragon Fire: A Chinese Inferno by Harrison E. Salisbury, the fire was like “a red sea wave. It sounded like an artillery barrage. It was the sound of terror. A tornado of fire.”  One young forester he quoted said; “Well, I guess you could say it sounded like the roar of a dragon.”  The cause of the fire was improper brush cutting by a newly hired inexperienced worker, though any spark would have started the fire with the lack of rain, heat and high winds in this area which had frequently experienced fires, though not of this magnitude.

Image Black Dragon Fire
Image from the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Website from GFMC archives

A colleague of mine at NFPA, Wenting Wang, told me that as a child lessons learned from the fire were taught to her in school in China. She said, “However, the Chinese government had learnt a lesson from the fire. The new completed system was set up to recover the forest.  Increased land has been fenced off for forestation. The population in forest and timber area has been decentralized and reduced substantially after the fire. A big progress has been made in reforesting formerly cultivated land. The NFPP (Natural Forest Protective Project) was started in 1998. After the effort of 20 years, the ecosystem has been restored. “   She also told me that a memorial museum was built in 1988 to show the process of the fire and the progress people have been made after the fire. 

Map of Black Dragon Fire
Image from Haiku Deck

We can all learn a lesson from this fire and others, to take care doing the right thing the right way and implementing Firewise principles to protect our properties and communities.  Wildfires can occur anywhere in the United States.  A colleague shared an article about the wildfire potential in Massachusetts and lessons learned from the Miles Standish State Forest  Fire 61 years ago this week.  We can take action that makes a difference. 

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