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2015

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I went to Korea last month to present with my colleague from the UK, Andy Elliott of the Dorset Fire Rescue Service in England. Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit the first Firewise community in England, which had been born out of efforts by Andy and his colleagues across the UK fire service after participating in the 5th International Wildland Fire Conference in South Africa in 2011. At that event, the notion of Community Based Fire Management (CBFiM) was presented, debated, discussed, and ultimately in some ways adopted or acted upon by many participants.

Fire Adapted Communities, Firewise principles and the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program fit well in the framework of CBFiM, a term coined by Sameer Karki at the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) in Bangkok in 2000. The concept involves, in a nutshell:

  • Local-scale fire management reliant on traditional or indigenous knowledge and conducted by local people.
  • Community involvement in fire management that involves a range of local actors.
  • Volunteers from the community conduct fire management on behalf of the community across private and public lands.

CBFiM looks a bit different from one country or region to the next, but it was clear that four years later, the need and call for community-based approaches is strong and growing. Based on his data and research, Andy and his UK colleagues know that more homes are at risk in suburban areas of Britain than ever before - which means homeowners need to be engaged. In his words, the country's experience is moving from "mildfires to wildfires." Both before and after we presented, we noted how many plenary and concurrent sessions on a variety of topics seemed to keep coming back to the need for community engagement and involvement. Talks by noted scholars and researchers such as Americans Stephen Pyne and Sarah McCaffrey made the message very clear. Below are just a few of the slides that illustrate the themes:

Indonesia

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West Africa

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Australia

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While we haven't yet closed the books on 2015, NFPA's official magazine, NFPA Journal, has published a comprehensive look at the year's historic numbers around acres burned and costs incurred, as well as trends that might surprise you.

Staff writer Jesse Roman uncovered some key facts and statistics that inform far beyond the typical "worst season ever" or "most acres burned" reporting. For example, a comparison of the 2015 acres burned versus the previous 10 years' average gives some important perspective to the conversation.

NFPA members get the printed copy of NFPA Journal in their mailboxes, but you can access the online version free of charge on the website. Click here to read more about the US year in wildfire and learn more about the six big takeaways from this historic season:

  1. This year could set a record for the number of acres burned.
  2. Alaska has become an indicator of the impact of climate change on wildfires.
  3. The U.S. Forest Service is hamstrung by increasing fire suppression costs.
  4. California sees yet more record-setting wildfires.
  5. Ranchers are feeling the hurt after fires destroy rangelands in the Northwest.
  6. This year, it was fires in Washington State that generated some of the biggest headlines.

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ROMAN

I saw an interesting article about data-driven tools being used by Federal agencies called Predictive Analytics and the Battle Against Wildfires.  This article describes how Federal agencies are using data-driven analytics to mine data from a variety of sources and agency partners and collate this information for decision makers.  What they are trying to develop is a defined idea of areas that will have the greatest wildfire vulnerability.  The data that they input comes from a variety of sources including satellites, aircraft, and ground observers, along with data about weather, the condition fuels class of vegetation (what is the humidity level is in plant material), past patterns of lightning strikes and past fire history.  Using this data, they are trying to better preplan where resources will be needed for the next wildfire season.

In the past the article stated that this data analytics was not as well coordinated, “Unlike large, structured government programs such as military weapons systems, these wildfire programs were developed piecemeal over the years as agencies have contributed capabilities.” FARSITE_4_180dpi-md

Some of the data sets coordinated include, (ROMAN), the Real Time Observation Monitor and Analysis Network, the National Digital Forecast Database and (FARSITE), the Fire Area Simulator.  The article states that the most pressing need for this data is during fire season.  It is at this time that there is a need for increased server capacity. The article also discussed the importance seen by many fire departments across the nation to better be able to predict or forecast which areas in their regions may face higher risk from wildfire.One future project discussed was trying to develop a scale for wildfires similar to the Richter Scale for earthquakes to better categorize the intensity of a wildfire in an area so fire departments and residents are aware of the risk they are facing.

This data and other information available including information about the amazing difference that Firewise Communities are making are all pieces of the puzzle that will better enable us all to understand our risk and then embrace actions that can make a difference.  Learn about what piece you hold today as we all strive to have a Year of Living Less Dangerously from Wildfire.

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Map from USGS




“Wildfires may double erosion across a quarter of western US watersheds by 2050”, according to a recent article in Physics.org. The article explored how large wildfires can cause damage to watersheds, creeks, rivers and other bodies of water.  According to the article, wildfires can cause the properties of soils to alter which in turn makes them more vulnerable to erosion. A study sponsored n by the US Geological service has shown that wildfires may potentially cause soil erosion in the United States to double by the year 2015. 


According to the article, “Wildfires whipping across a landscape can burn away ground cover and vegetation, leaving soils exposed and easily erodible by precipitation. In other cases, fires can cause soil surfaces to harden. Instead of gently percolating underground, rain water and melted snow can rush across these hardened surfaces, gaining enough power to erode loose sediments.


The scientists used computer models to simulate future wildfire activity across the West between now and 2050. The models incorporated how climate change may alter the number and size of wildfires. Then, the scientists used a second set of models to estimate the amount of erosion that would result within a year of these wildfires.”


According to the article toxic items from homes and other materials burned during a wildfire event can also contaminate sediment which in turn pollutes sensitive aquatic environments located in the watersheds. This damage to the water can not only harm animals that reside here but also contaminate drinking water supplies.

 

Today’s virtual workshop was a great success, with over 50 participants learning from Lt. Tim Weaver, Rapid City Fire Department, about building trust between residents with Firewise, and agency work achieving preparedness goals with local officials though the larger Fire Adapted Communities concept.  

If you missed the event, you can view it on Google Hangout now

We know that many Firewise Communities are hosting “watch parties” that will bring together residents to watch the workshop and share in discussion.  We encourage others to follow this example and use it as a great educational tool about sharing the community's story of achievement.

 

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After reviewing close to forty applications, an NFPA panel selected ten middle school through college age students, ranging in age from 13 to 20, as recipients of a $500 TakeAction Community Service Project Funding Award. Their projects were completed between September 1 and November 15 and were valuable contributions to their communities; each reduced wildfire risk or increased preparedness. Awards can be used for recipients future educational costs, or as a donation to their favorite charitable organization.

The ten recipients hailed from seven states that included CO, HI, MO, MN, OR, TX and VA. Projects included efforts like the one completed by Sarah G., a student at CO State University in Fort Collins where she worked with the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and led a fuels reduction project at Ben Delatour Scout Ranch where the work helped protect the Elk Creek watershed from the detrimental effects of large fires, as well as protecting the Scout Ranch where boy scouts will be able to enjoy the outdoors and learn the importance of protecting our natural lands.

Award funding was provided by State Farm through NFPA's Year of Living Less Dangerously campaign.

6a00d8351b9f3453ef01b8d1770d0e970c-800wi.pngDid you know that in Indonesia, the wildland firetruck can actually be an elephant?

 

Fires in Indonesia are set often to clear land for agricultural use.  According to the NASA website, “Fires are a common occurrence in Borneo in September and October because farmers engage in "slash and burn agriculture", a technique that involves frequent burning of rainforest to clear the way for crops or grazing animals. In southern Borneo, the intent is often to make room for new plantings of oil palm and acacia pulp.  Many of the fires burned in areas with soils underlain with peat—a soil-like mixture of partly decayed plant material formed in wetlands. Peat fires tend to be difficult to extinguish, often smoldering under the surface for months.”

 

This is where the elephants come in.  The elephants patrol burned areas in national forests in the Provence of RIAU in East Sumatra.  These elephants have been trained to carry water pumps and hoses that are used to put out fires that can reoccur from smoldering peat.  These elephants are the forest fire patrol, which move through forested areas looking for wildfires which can reoccur.

Other animals have historically been used to fight fires in the past including horses in the United States from the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s.

Fire breakThe 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:

  • Details about a free virtual workshop that will focus on how residents and local agencies can build trust as they work together on wildfire preparedness activities
  • A new NFPA video that features Dr. Jack Cohen and provides recent research and shows how homes can survive a wildfire
  • An introduction to Gwen Hensley, a visual information specialist from the U.S. Forest Service who was recently awarded the 2015 Golden Smokey Bear Award
  • Information about proposed legislation to address drone use during wildfires

...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.

Wildfire cover photo NFPA Journal Nov15 Wildfirewatch ColumnThe November/December NFPA Journal is out and in its latest WildfireWatch column, I highlight the important role of social behavioral research on considerations in the wildland-urban-interface. 

For some backstory, I had the pleasure of attending the NFPA Research Foundation’s July 2015 WUI fire research planning workshop in Denver.  It brought together various research, policy, and operations professionals to identify research trends and needs in WUI understanding and standards scope.

Structural and operation considerations are always part of research but the workshop illuminated for me the importance of social behavioral research and the legitimacy it lends to preparedness messaging. 

The column explores the evolution of WUI social behavioral research since the early 2000’s and argue for the value of presenting the data to the most important audience: the resident in the WUI.

NFPA Journal November 2015 CoverWildfire is highlighted in three additional features in the Nov/Dec NFPA Journal and I encourage you to read these great pieces as well.  In the edition, NFPA’s Jesse Roman: 

1)  Reviews “The Year in Wildfire” and shares 6 big takeaways from the 2015 wildfire season; 

2)  Looks at the local focus in a groundbreaking NFPA study on how municipal fire departments are handling the wildfire burden; and 

3) Spends time with fire scientist Dr. Jack Cohen on new research into how wildfire spreads, and how the findings could produce more reliable models to anticipate wildfire behavior. 

Much of what NFPA's Firewise program recommends is to keep homes and residential landscapes from becoming "fuel" for wildfires. This includes getting rid of downed limbs, dead vegetation, woody debris, pine needles and the like. But once you've gotten all of this unwanted, flammable material away from your house, what do you do with it? 

For many communities, the solution is to make a burn pile and get rid of the fuel in a safe and controlled manner. If you're planning to burn your flammable debris, make sure you know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. For some living in urban areas, this might not be an option at all (for example, in my home state of Massachusetts, it is NEVER okay to conduct open burns in 22 cities and towns). And even if it is allowed in your area, check with your state environmental agency and/or your local fire department. Most Californians can burn with a permit starting November 9, but folks in Massachusetts have to wait until January 15. Many municipalities have additional laws or restrictions on burning that it pays to check out.

Assuming you are OK to burn and have your permit, be safe about it! Never burn on a windy day, have water ready to extinguish fire, and make sure you are nowhere near your house (or your neighbor's house) when you light your burn pile. Each state and some localities will also specify what material is OK (and not OK) to burn. Dry leaves are a big no-no. 

Check out this great video from the Nevada County Fire Safe Council in California for excellent tips on having a safe and successful burn pile. 

 

For more tips on how to have a Year of Living Less Dangerously from Wildfire, check out NFPA's Firewise website and even more wildfire resources on its homepage.

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How to ignite your community's action and interest in making a difference that is!

Tim Weaver headshotJoin us this Thursday, November 19, at 1:00pm EST for the next Firewise Virtual Workshop with Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City, South Dakota, Fire Department, as he shares how you can ignite community action and build trust in wildfire preparedness.

We are still accepting questions about engaging neighbors in preparedness or building partnership with another local agency to "Ask an Expert".  If you have one, simply email your question to LDeaton@nfpa.org.  The top submissions will be highlighted and put to Lt. Weaver for answer in the workshop.

I am happy to share that we currently have nearly 60 registrants from 22 states and the numbers are growing. 

This “Ask an Expert” workshop will see Lt. Weaver share lessons learned for both the homeowner and local agency in Firewise and Fire Adapted Community concept efforts.  He will share his experience in gaining residential trust around wildfire mitigation requests, and his agency work with local officials in developing mitigation solutions. 

Register for "How to Ignite Your Community - in Building Action and Trust for Preparedness" today!

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A free one hour webinar is being offered by the Southern Fire Exchangeon Thursday, December 3, 2015, from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm Eastern Standard Time.  The title of the webinar is: Establishing a national methodology for mixing height determination.  This webinar features presenters Matthew Fearon from the Desert Research Institute and Robyn Heffernan from the National Weather Service.This webinar will define mixing heights which is important for assessing smoke dispersion for prescribed fires and wildfires.


The webinar will also explore the use of a new innovative technology called Turbulent Kinetic Energy method (TKE) which looks at a variety of variables to determine dispersion.  The webinar will  examine another more feasibly applicable method called the Stull Method.  Besides both approaches being explored, the National Weather service will have a representative there to describe their work on a national standard for Mixing Height as a weather element in the NWS Fire Weather Program. Register today for this webinar.  A one-hour category 1 Society of American Forester's Continuing Education has been approved for this presentation.


 


 

 

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If you know a student who has a few hours to spare between now and Sunday, they could turn their free time into a wildfire risk reduction project that could earn them $500 for future educational costs, or as a donation to their favorite charity. The TakeAction campaign supported by NFPA's Year of Living Less Dangerously, encourages young adults living in areas with a wildfire risk to help their community by completing a community service project. Applicants must be between the ages of 13 and 22 and need to submit an application by 11:59 EST, on Sunday, November 15, 2015.

Eligible projects span a wide-range of time investments and some can easily be done in a single afternoon. Projects must benefit the people, neighborhood or ecosystem where the student currently resides and must have been completed between September 1 - November 15, 2015. 

Encourage the students in your life to invest their time in helping make where they live a safer place. As a bonus, most projects can also be used to fulfill school, club or a civic group’s community service requirements.

Twenty $500 funding awards will be awarded. Funding for the funding awards was provided by State Farm.

How to ignite your community's action and interest in making a difference that is!

Join us next Thursday, November 19, at 1:00pm EST for the Firewise Virtual Workshop with Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City, South Dakota, Fire Department, as he shares how you can ignite community action and build trust in wildfire preparedness.

This “Ask an Expert” workshop will see Lt. Weaver share lessons learned for both the homeowner and local agency in Firewise and Fire Adapted Community concept efforts.  He will share his experience in gaining residential trust around wildfire mitigation requests, and his agency work with local officials in developing mitigation solutions.  

For some backstory, this 3 minute video explores Rapid City's mitigation work, grant development, and Firewise adoption around a highlighted property. 

 

This workshop is your chance to "Ask an Expert".  If you have a question about engaging neighbors in preparedness or building partnership with another local agency, simply email your question to LDeaton@nfpa.org.  The top submissions will be highlighted and put to Lt. Weaver for answer in the workshop.

Register here for "How to Ignite Your Community - in Building Action and Trust for Preparedness"

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Every four years, the International Wildland Fire Conference takes place at a different spot on the globe. Sponsored by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, several international wildfire and forestry groups, as well as the USDA Forest Service and similar entities and agencies in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Spain, the 2015 conference was hosted and organized by the Korean Forest Service and the Province of Gangwon. I had the great opportunity to attend the 2011 conference in South Africa, and to be able to present and participate in the 2015 event in Pyeongchang.

From the nation's capital in Seoul, travelers from around the world were transported 3-4 hours by bus to Pyeongchang and its alpine resort environment that will host the next Winter Olympics. Organizing committee members met participants at the main airports, ensuring we were safely on our way, and kindly posing for my photo (above) by saying not "cheese," but "kimchi!"  Alpensia

Upon arrival at the Alpensia Resort, the natural beauty of Korea's countryside was on display, and the national pride in hosting such a well-attended global gathering was evident. The welcome on the first day included an invigorating and humorous talk by the Gangwon provincial governor, who reminded participants that there is a very large difference between Pyeongchang and Pyeongyang. We were repeatedly exhorted to enjoy our time in Korea and to be sure to return for another prestigious international event there in February 2018.

As the week unfolded, I had the opportunity to learn, to network and to observe the values that Korea holds dear around the natural environment, cultural and historic resources, and the concepts of control of wildfire. Stay tuned for the next few blog posts about the common challenges we share around the world, and the unique nature of some wildfire problems among different countries and cultures.

While attending the 2015 Backyards and Beyond Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I had the opportunity to accompany the “Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone” class into the field to do several risk assessments in a neighborhood near Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Forestry Commission’s Drake Carroll had stepped up to organize the field trip which took us to a Firewise neighborhood that had been at risk from the recent Highway 31 fire.  Instructors Pat Durland and Jack Cohen lead the nearly 30 students to three homes, each in a different state of risk from wildfire for the students to assess and also, talk with the homeowners about their findings.

With each home presented a different set of conditions for the students to assess and address based on what they had been learning in the classroom for two days. One home was pretty good in terms of wildfire risk and gave students the opportunity to see how that homeowner could then model for others and perhaps engage in neighbor to neighbor interaction on a positive level to reduce risk beyond one or two homes, a basic tenet of Firewise.

Another home was sort of middle of the road, where the students needed to key in on more subtle factors that a homeowner could easily address, especially in that all important 0-5 feet from the foundation.

HIZ Instructor Pat Durland explains wildfire risk to homeowners.

HIZ Instructor Pat Durland explains wildfire risk to homeowners. Photo credit: Jody Freitas, NFPA

The third home offered students much more of a challenge not just in what needed to be done around the home to reduce risk, which was significant, but also then listen to the instructors as they worked with the homeowner on possible solutions and concerns. Instructor Pat Durland often says that the assessment is usually the easy part, the social interaction with the homeowner and getting them to buy in and become engaged in addressing the things they can change around their home and seeking help on the ones they can’t is the tough part. 

So, completing a quality, standardized home assessment is key, but working with that homeowner to take action to reduce the threat to themselves, their home and responding firefighters is where the rubber really meets the road.

Can your home survive a wildfire? Dr. Jack Cohen thinks so. He demonstrates how Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire in a new NFPA video featuring recent findings from IBHS Research Center experiments with home ignitions from embers. Dr. Cohen's extensive research into why some homes burn and some survive in extreme wildfires is highlighted as well.

 

Grab a cup of coffee (or your beverage of choice) and learn more about what you can do around your home to give it a much better chance to resist ignitions from embers and flames. You'll see dramatic footage from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) Research Center's ember experiments on homes. You'll watch Jack evaluate a home for its ignition potential. And you'll hear about a couple who applied all the knowledge derived from home ignition research to their new home in Colorado, and their success in surviving an extreme wildfire.

 

As Jack says, "If your home doesn't ignite, it doesn't burn." What can you do to give your home a fighting chance against wildfire ignition? Watch this video and find out!

  Woodland Park Youth raking

Students between the ages of 13 and 22 who complete a wildland fire community service project and submit an application by Sunday, November 15, could be the recipient of one of twenty opportunities to receive $500 for future educational costs, or as a donation to their favorite charitable organization.

Participation is easy – use the project ideas list, or develop one of your own that best meets your needs; complete and submit the short application form. Project options can be accomplished in as little as a few hours, or a long as an entire day or weekend. 

Help the students in your life turn their school, club or civic group’s community service requirements into something that increases wildfire preparedness in your community!

Funding for the awards was provided by State Farm through NFPA’s Year of Living Less Dangerously campaign.

The US seasonal drought outlook map produced by NOAA is a useful tool for foresters, wildland firefighters and communities as they prepare to embrace wildfire preparedness activities before the spring of 2016 begins. According to the website, “The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook is intended as a decision support tool for wildland fire managers, providing an assessment of current weather and fuels conditions and how these will evolve in the next four months. The objective is to assist fire managers in making proactive decisions that will improve protection of life, property and natural resources, increase fire fighter safety and effectiveness, and reduce firefighting costs.” They suggested that individuals needing more information contact their local Geographic Area Predictive Services unit.

  US Drought Outlook 1

New areas identified where drought conditions are likely to develop include Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, the south eastern area of Idaho and the northern parts of Michigan and Wisconsin where devastating wildfires (like the Peshtigo Fire) occurred in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This seasonal drought outlook has been affected by rainfall events in the Carolina’s, El Nino conditions and tropical storm events such as the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, that dumped rain in parts of the Great Plains and according to the report the drought that has impacted California, Western Nevada and the Eastern portions of Washington and Oregon will continue.

Wisconsin, one of the states predicted to have a developing condition of drought and concern for wildfire occurrence by the NOAA prediction has online information available to home owners who are interested in reducing their risk to wildfire. In an article, “Planning for Wildfire is a Community Effort” by Amy Luebeke WUI Specialist for West Central Wisconsin. Some of the benefits listed for becoming a recognized Firewise community include:

  • Creates defensible space which prevents fires from advancing and endangering buildings and lives
  • Wildfires are suppressed faster and remain smaller because firefighters are able to concentrate their efforts on fighting wildfires rather than devoting often limited resources to protecting buildings
  • Improves relations with local fire staff and other stakeholders
  • Offers peace of mind, knowing that your neighborhood is doing what it can to protect itself

This article also provides a seasonal checklist of activities homeowners can accomplish at different times of the year to improve the survivability of their homes in the event of a wildfire. Their simple and easy to follow fall and winter list provides guidance to homeowners to enable them to seasonally embrace changes that will make a difference during these predicted drought conditions. 

The list shares:

Fall

  • Rake and compost yard and garden debris
  • Consider composting leaf piles instead of burning
  • Replace wood mulch with decorative rocks

Winter

  • After your firewood runs out, move future piles at least 30 feet from any structure
  • Wait until the ground is completely snow-covered to burn leaf and debris piles
  • Thin and prune conifer trees

We can all embrace simple change such as these mentioned above that will help us all Live a Year Less Dangerously from Wildfire (YLLDW).

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How to ignite your community's action and interest in making a difference that is!

Tim Weaver headshotJoin us on Thursday, November 19, at 1:00pm EST for the next Firewise Virtual Workshop with Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City, South Dakota, Fire Department, as he shares how you can ignite community action and build trust in wildfire preparedness.

 

This “Ask an Expert” workshop will see Lt. Weaver share lessons learned for both the homeowner and local agency in Firewise and Fire Adapted Community concept efforts.  He will share his experience in gaining residential trust around wildfire mitigation requests, and his agency work with local officials in developing mitigation solutions.  

 

If you have a question about engaging neighbors in preparedness or building partnership with another local agency, this is your chance to "Ask an Expert".  Simply email your question to LDeaton@nfpa.org.  The top submissions will be highlighted and put to Lt. Weaver for answer in the workshop.

 

Registration for "How to Ignite Your Community - in Building Action and Trust for Preparedness" is now open.

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