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Recycle Christmas Tree 2

Christmas trees can bring the ambience of the outdoors indoors with the wonderful aroma of pine, and the beauty of lights and bulbs sparkling on the branches. You and your loved ones have enjoyed the tree as part of your holiday celebration, but now that the holidays are almost over, what do you do with the tree? That beautiful Christmas tree can pose a threat to your family’s safety if kept too long and allowed to dry out. According to the executive summary of the NFPA’s 2015 report, “National estimates of reported home structure fires*," during the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, Christmas trees were the item first ignited in an average of 210 reported home structure fires per year, resulting in an annual average of seven civilian fire deaths, 19 civilian fire injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage.

On average, one of every 31 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires. Not only should you make sure the tree is out of your home, make sure it is not posing a hazard near your home. According to the NFPA’s safety tips for Christmas trees, dried-out trees should never be left next to your home. These trees disposed of outside can become ember catchers in the event of a wildfire.

What do you do with your old tree? There are many ways to reuse and recycle your tree (once you've removed all lights, bulbs and tinsel, of course):

  • Bring the tree to a recycling center. Some non-profits and local parks sponsor recycling projects to assist with their onsite efforts. For more information about how to find or start a Christmas tree recycling center visit the National Christmas Tree Association website.
  • Have the tree mulched on site. Do not use this mulch within the first five feet of your home.
  • Mulch the tree branches and save the tree trunk in a bucket of sand for a cat scratching post.
  • Feed your Christmas tree to a hungry herd of goats. They eat the branches and leave the trunks that can be mulched or used as fence posts.
  • Next year, buy a live native tree and then plant it in your yard.

As the holiday season draws to a close, make sure that the New Year begins with practices that insure the safety of your home and loved ones. Take the time to be Firewise when it comes to the timely and safe removal of this year’s tree.

*The data in this report is derived from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey.

Looking for a useful tool to tell the story of your Firewise successes? Taking pictures can be an excellent way to promote the work of your Firewise Community, document accomplishments, and better define work that needs to be done.

What story do you want to tell?

There is more to taking a good picture than just aiming and shooting. Make sure you know who your audience is and what story you are trying to tell when you take aim. The type of story that you are trying to tell will determine what kind of pictures you take. 

You can use good pictures to document the stages of your Firewise community’s growth. Just like looking back at family photos, it is fun to see the progress that your community has made through time. Take photographs of community gatherings, meetings and clean-up or other field work you’ve accomplished. 

To take photographs for assessments, make sure your photograph documents what you are trying to say. Good photos can clearly describe both where the community needs to improve as well as what they are doing well. This helps the community understand its own strengths and weaknesses. Try to define the caption for the photograph so that it is crisp and clear and describes what you are trying to share.

Photo of fire resistive vents that were installed in the round vents under the eaves. Picture by Faith Berry.

If you are documenting project work for before-and-after pictures, make sure that you include a focal point such as a tree, pole or other background landmark that you refer back to so that they can see the progress made at that location. Pick an area where you think the work will make a noticeable difference.

Photo of the same area before and after a chipping project. Notice the same two trees used as a focal point. Photograph by Faith Berry.

One great way to tell the community’s story is to get good, natural shots of residents at work or at a gathering. Always make sure to take photographs of people as they are facing you. Make sure that you do not include photographs of people doing work without wearing proper safety equipment such as helmets, chaps, gloves, goggles, etc. This could cause the work that you are doing to appear unprofessional, or even unsafe. Make sure that contractors that you are photographing are wearing proper safety equipment.

Organizing your photo record

Not only is a photo record a great way to celebrate your success, but you may also be called upon by the media or a grantor to provide a photograph in a pinch. Keep your photographs organized in files according to event or date. Include a Word document summary in the file so that you can remember details such as names and titles of individuals, locations, dates and what was accomplished. 

Technical tips and tools

If you’re just starting out, take some practice shots with your camera or cell phone first to make sure you are comfortable with the equipment before you have to take pictures for your project. Don’t forget to take extra batteries and bring a charger.

Unless you are already a skilled photographer, consider getting an introduction to photography book. I found great tips in a few different books that helped me set up some terrific shots. You can learn a lot about such things as lighting techniques, (like making sure the sun is not directly behind what you are trying to photograph), symmetry (how the picture is balanced) and more. A good rule of thumb is to take more than one shot of what you are trying to get from many different angles. I try to take a minimum of 3 to 5 shots. Many professional photographers take many more to get just the right shot. In the age of digital photography you can simply delete photos that did not turn out well.

You don’t necessarily need fancy software to enhance your digital photos. For example, I took a basic computer skills class and learned that there are simple tools available in Microsoft Word to change effects in a picture. Some great and easy-to-use tools will appear on the top toolbar when you click on the picture on the format button. You can adjust the brightness, color and border of the picture from here very easily.

Minding your manners: Firewise photo etiquette

Taking pictures in wildland and WUI areas have some of their own special considerations. Here are some things to watch out for when you’re taking Firewise photos:

  1. First and foremost, stay aware of local conditions. Make sure that you are in a safe place and watch out for hazards such as cars, dogs and wildlife (rattlesnakes, etc.). I once was trying to take a photo for a grant report and stepped into a fire ant nest. Needless to say, I never got the shot.
  2. If you are taking pictures in a neighborhood, make sure that you tell neighbors in advance what the purpose of your photographs are. You don’t want them to call the police.
  3. Don’t take photographs of identifiers on homes and areas for Firewise Community assessments or grant reporting. Identifiers include the home address, license plate numbers of vehicles, or homeowners themselves.
  4. If you want to take a picture of a child in a community gathering, make sure that you get permission from parents or guardians.

Photographs can document great work and tell your story for your partnering fire departments, media outlets, grantors and legislators. Make sure that your pictures tell a great Firewise story.

Read previous posts in the Firewise How-To blog series.

Fire break decemberThe December 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:

  • Highlights from the 2015 wildfire season
  • An important wildfire mitigation message to all WUI residents from community members in Kittitas County, Washington
  • The 2014 (top) large loss fires report that includes a CA wildfire in the list
  • Research that explores social behavior in wildfire science

...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.

Bolivar TN 1

Seizing opportunities to connect with residents during fall fire season proved very successful when the Bolivar, TN Fire Department recently hosted two community-wide Firewise clean-up days.  Bolivar 3

Included in the multiple days of activities were neighborhood home hazard assessments in areas identified in Community Wildfire Protection Plans, assisting neighborhoods with work that would be difficult for them to complete, while also educating them on the risks and providing tips on how to reduce them.

Neighborhoods included in the outreach were Pleasant Creek, El Capitan, Shelby, Orange, Locust and McNeal.

After receiving home assessments residents could be seen in the targeted communities busily cleaning rooftops of debris and landscape-wide.

Fire Chief Lynn Price with the Bolivar Fire Department shared that, “We are proud of our efforts thus far, but we are just beginning our concentrated education efforts in the actual neighborhoods with the highest risks.”  

The Bolivar Fire Department plans to continue working in the targeted communities with homeowners removing wildfire hazards throughout the year.

While most folks are busy counting the days until Christmas or New Years, our team in the wildland fire division at NFPA have been counting down the days until the arrival of the January 11 kickoff of the 2016 Wildfire Community Preparedness Day campaign. 

In 2016, the day dedicated to nationwide wildfire risk reduction efforts is Saturday, May 7; and in the spirit of the season we're excited to announce that the number of project funding awards for 2016 has been increased to 125, almost double the 65 previously provided to recipients in 2015.   2016 Logo BlueOrange - jpg 12.3.15

And yes, you read that correctly, there will be one hundred and twenty-five $500 project funding awards distributed throughout the U.S. to implement projects on May 7. That's $62,500 dedicated to local education, awareness and mitigation efforts.

Start talking now with residents and community groups to develop a wildfire risk reduction or post-fire project that benefits your community. Find easy-to-do project ideas geared for most age groups at or customize one to meet the specific needs in your area. Donate a couple of hours or an entire day and make where you live a safer place on May 7.

Funding applications will be accepted from January 11 through February 28, 2016. Check back in a few weeks and get lots of great free resources to plan and promote your project!

We often say how the small things matter BIG when it comes to protecting your home from wildfire. Gutters on your home certainly fall into this category. Gutters perform yeoman’s duty in getting water off of your roof and away from your foundation, certainly a very important function. But when wildfires happen, they become a hazard filled with dry dead leaves, pine needles and debris that give blowing embers a foothold for ignition to your home.

Keeping gutters clear of flammable debris is not only important, it’s not something you have to do once a year and then forget about. Maintenance of your home ignition zone is an ongoing process whether it is your gutters or other parts of your property. Research-center-ember-wildfire-testing_ibhs261

And that’s not the whole story. What your gutters are made of is equally important…..metal gutters, while more expensive and sometimes requiring additional maintenance tend to fair much better under fire conditions than vinyl, which can often melt and ignite carrying fire to other parts of the structure.

NFPA, USAA, the University of California and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS), all have information and resources on a host of risk reduction measures, including gutters. IBHS has some specific information on building materials including gutters for fire resistance in their “Best Practices Guide for Wildfire”. The University of California’s “Homeowner’s Wildfire Mitigation Guide" is another great resource for gutter and building material information. NFPA’s Firewise website provides a list of principles for reducing wildfire risk for your home and USAA has information for its members in what they need to consider to protect their home.

The small things add up, but if you take them one at a time, utilize the science based practices from the sources above, you will be able to significantly reduce your risk. So go ahead, get your mind in the gutter.

(photo credit: IBHS)

Falls Creek Ranch Colo Photo Credit Sara Carver 3 - 3 residents w.tree - 12.11.15

I have to say, this was a first for me, I’ve never received a wildfire mitigation story that made me hear the sounds of Christmas, but Courtney Peterson with the Colorado State Forest Service did just that when she shared this story about the work 17 families from the Falls Creek Ranch Firewise Community recently completed.  Falls Creek Ranch Colo Photo Credit Sara Carver 4 - landscape 12.11.15

This community came together to harvest Christmas trees with the CO State Forest Service District office in Durango, CO and completed some wildfire hazard mitigation at the same time. Residents and district forestry staff removed white fir trees near the main access road to the community, which helped in reducing the community’s wildfire risk and aided in improving forest health, while providing spectacular trees for the lucky recipients. The tree harvesting group of adult participants also included six dogs, lots of kids and plenty of hot cocoa and apple cider.

I can’t think of a more appropriate story to share two-weeks before Christmas. Our warmest wishes for a great holiday to those participating families and forestry staff!

Photo credits: Sara Carver, Former Falls Creek Ranch Firewise Ambassador  

I received an interesting FEMA newsletter today warning about the potential threat to areas across the United States from the El Niño weather patterns. The newsletter also shared tips people can take to be safer in the event of an emergency. How does this rainy weather system affect communities where wildfire risks are a concern?  Torrential rain systems can cause mudslides and flooding, damaging watersheds and homes in areas that have been previously impacted by wildfire. Even small amounts of rain in areas heavily impacted by a wildfire can cause erosion problems where topsoil is washed away. In order to get an idea of the intensity of a flash flood after a wildfire, check out video from the US Army Corps of Engineers Albuquerque District's YouTube channel. It shows a flash flood that occurred after the Las Conchas Fire of 2011, demonstrating how devastating heavy rains after a wildfire can be.



According to FEMA's newsletter, “For the next several months, many areas in the United States are at an increased flood risk from El Niño as a direct result of drought and wildfires. Disasters don’t always occur when families are together in one place. Now is the time to put together a family communication plan and talk with your family about ways to contact each other during an emergency, and designate a safe meeting spot. You can also plan ahead by knowing official evacuation routes, and keeping important papers in a safe, waterproof place. Additional tips and resources on how to stay safe and prepare are available at

More information is available about El Niño atño. The tab labeled Additional Resources include links to resources from various federal agencies including NOAA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Many communities have shared with us that by learning to become Firewise Communities, they have also become more resilient when it comes to other catastrophic weather events.

Recently, Nick Harrison the Firewise State Liaison in TX and Ron Smith, a representative from one of the 70 communities in Texas that participate in the national Firewise Communities,USA® program shared an accomplishment that demonstrates what can be achieved when residents and local government work together to reduce wildfire risk. Lago Vista TX 12.10.15Here's their success story: The North Shore Firewise Organization is a group of concerned Texas citizens collaborating to reduce wildfire risks within the communities on the north shore of Lake Travis, about 30 miles northwest of Austin. Participants in the organization represent residents from Lago Vista, Jonestown, Point Venture and Waterford. 

In February 2015, City Council Member Ron Smith (and charter North Shore Firewise member) asked City Manager Melissa Byrne-Vossmer to support a Firewise Demonstration Project that would be located along a major thoroughfare. The city manager approved the request and assigned the Lago Vista Street Department to head the effort along with participation from the Travis County Fire Department.

The project was implemented in a single day during June and included twenty-three participants from the city’s street department; Travis County Emergency Service Division and four Firewise Communities. Close to 3 acres of property were mitigated that day with 350 trees being limbed and 50 additional juniper trees removed; which generated 300 cubic yards of mulch. In addition to the benefits of mitigating the fire danger, comments have been received from local residents and businesses on the attractive aesthetics of the work that was completed.

By working together collaboratively, the North Shore Firewise Organization demonstrated the efforts that can be accomplished along with the social capital generated by partnering and working with a wide-range of stakeholders. 

The City of Lago Vista, received their national Firewise Communities, USA® recognition during December 2011. Lago Vista’s population is approximately 6,000 and covers 16 square miles of a predominately oak and juniper landscape located throughout the city’s wildland/urban interface between Austin and the central Texas Hill Country.

Trying to reduce your wildfire risk around your home does not have to be complicated or overwhelming. In fact, most folks can significantly improve their homes wildfire survivability over a couple of weekends. If you have fire resistant roofing and siding, you are well on your way to getting your home prepared. Next on your list is to evaluate what the ignition potential is within 5 feet of your foundation. D space nifc

NFPA’s Firewise Principles and information contained in its “Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone” course are sources of information on what to do in this critical zone. The 0-5 feet zone is the “non-combustible” zone. You want to make sure that you have nothing flammable in this zone. Natural mulches should be replaced with decorative stone or rock. Make sure if you have a deck, that it is clear of debris underneath and remove patio furniture cushions when fire weather conditions are present. Woodpiles should be no closer than 30 feet to the structure. Leaves, debris and pine needles need to be absent from roofs, porches, decks and from the 0-5 foot zone. If wood fences connect to the home, consider a metal or non-flammable section that abuts the structure.

Nooks and crannies need special attention. Think of where leaves, debris and snow blow in and around the home, this is also where embers will land before, during and after wildfire passage. Embers landing in dry debris beds of dead leaves and pine needles will gain an ignition foothold right against your home.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS), has suggestions for reducing your homes ignition potential. More information can be found from PURE Insurance on wildfire risk reduction as well as an excellent resource from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources that can be found here.

Reducing your wildfire risk is about making choices.  With a little "sweat equity", you can save yourself, your home and even firefighters from severe wildfires.  Make the right choice, before the fire starts.  Be smart, be safe, be Firewise.

(photo credit: NIFC)

This season as we strive to give a gift of value, let us explore giving gifts that will have value beyond the day or short term.  What greater long-term value than making improvements to your Gifthome and landscape, ensuring that what you hold dear to you will be safe.

If you are making a list this year for your gift giving and checking it twice, some simple Firewise improvements that you can make while preparing your home for the season are:

  • Cleaning out gutters while you are hanging up lights.
  • Trimming or limbing up bushes and small trees before you string lights.
  • Cleaning out under the deck while you are hanging the swag.
  • Cutting branches away from the chimney before you burn the yule log. While you are at it, clean the chimney before you use it.
  • Taking care to clean that first five feet away from the home, including human treasures such as pieces of construction materials that you know you’ll use someday. The shed is a good place to store those.  Check out the Firewise Landscaping and Plants List to help you make better plant choices in this area.
  • Share the holiday cheer by volunteering to assist a neighbor who needs and wants help cleaning up.
  • Wrap up some sturdy garden tools to use for yard work.  You can take a free online course to learn about Firewise Landscaping.
  • In your Christmas emails send along links to the Firewise Tool Kit.
  • Make sure that Santa knows how to find you. Do you have a clearly posted address sign?
  • Finally, share your Firewise knowledge with neighbors and friends by hosting a Firewise Day to ring in the New Year.

Giving the gift of wildfire safety to those that you love can be the best gift of all as we embrace changes that will help us all have a “Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire” through the New Year.


When you’re decking the halls this year, make sure to keep fire safety in mind. That’s the main message behind "Project Holiday," NFPA's annual holiday fire safety campaign, which works to educate the public about the increased risk of home fires during the holiday season.


Holiday decorations, Christmas trees, candles and cooking all contribute to an increased number of home fires during December, making it one of the four leading months for U.S. home fires. Consider these facts:

Holiday cooking: On Christmas Day in 2013, there was a 58 percent increase in the number of home cooking fires than on a typical day, and a 54 percent increase on Christmas Eve.

Christmas trees: Christmas tree fires aren't common, but when they do occur, they’re much more likely to be deadly than most other fires. One of every 31 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a death each year, compared to an annual average of one death per 144 total reported home fires.

Candles: December is the peak time of year for home candle fires; the top four days for home candle fires are New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve. In December, 11 percent of home candle fires began with decorations, compared to 4 percent the rest of the year.

Holiday decorations: Between 2009 and 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 860 home fires that began with decorations (excluding Christmas trees). These fires caused an annual average of one civilian death, 41 injuries and $13.4 million in direct property damage.


Don’t let these numbers turn you all Bah Humbug! “Project Holiday” provides a wealth of simple fire safety tips, recommendations and other resources to help everyone enjoy a safe and festive holiday season. The campaign also provides tools and resources for local fire departments to promote the campaign in their communities. If you missed it, don't forget to go back and read Cathy's post about holiday lights. There's great info there about decorating AND doing some great wildfire mitigation around your home.

Make sure to check it all out!

untitled.pngShare this tip with the person in your household that's assigned the dreaded task of hanging exterior holiday lights and make them a multi-tasking hero. With minimal extra effort, hanging festive lights from the 

roofline and eaves

 can do double-duty and also be a 

wildfire risk reduction project

. I can hear you asking how's that possible - and since I always need extra points to get me on Santa's list I'm going to tell you how it can be accomplished.



Cleaning gutters and rooftops while doing wildfire risk reduction projects is often moved to the bottom of many people's lists, simply because it requires someone willing to climb a ladder. But at homes everywhere, somebody is planning their climb to the rooftop to meticulously hang holiday lights, and with just a little extra work added into making your house the shiniest on the block, that same rooftop elf can also remove dead leaves, debris and pine needles from gutters and the roof; areas that catch embers during a wildfire.



Bake your family's outdoor decorating elf their favorite cookies and while they're enjoying those delectable homemade treats, joyfully remind them that while touting their lighting skills to friends and neighbors, they’ve also earned the extra bragging right' reducing their home's wildfire risk.




Every year, hundreds of people fall from ladders while hanging decorations during the months of November and December, so before sending your loved one up the ladder spend a few minutes together reviewing these important

safety tips

from the [Consumer Product Safety Commission |]:

    • Select the right ladder for the job – one that extends at least 3’ over the roofline or working surface
    • Always place ladders on level and firm ground - use leg levelers under the ladder to level on uneven or soft ground (leg levelers can be purchased at a hardware or home improvement store)
    • Ensure the ladder can support both your weight and the load by checking the ladder’s maximum load rating
    • Make sure straight and adjustable ladders have slip-resistant feet
    • Set up straight, single or extension ladders at about a 75–degree angle. Test if you have the correct angle by standing up straight with your toes touching the feet of the ladder as it leans away from you and extend your arms in front of you, palms should touch the top of the rung that’s at shoulder level
    • Don’t use a metal ladder near power lines or electrical equipment, stick with wood or fiberglass ladders in those areas and use extra caution; no ladder should ever touch a live electrical wire
    • Check all rung locks and spreader braces on your ladder to make sure they’re set
    • Have a helper hold the bottom of the ladder for the entire time you’re on it
    • Keep ladders away from a door that can be opened
    • Allow only one person on a ladder at a time
    • Center your body between the rails of the ladder at all times, leaning too far to one side while working is a no-no and can cause you to fall
    • If you wearing a belt the buckle should never be outside of the right or left rail of the ladder
    • Don't stand on the top three rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder
    • Stay off of the ladder’s top step and bucket shelf and don’t climb or stand on the rear section of a stepladder
    • Only use a ladder for its intended purpose and follow instruction labels
    • Put ladders away immediately, never leave raised ladders unattended

Photo 1
Recently, Suzanne Wade, the Firewise/Fuels Reduction Coordinator with the Kittitas County Conservation District in Ellensburg, WA shared a great mitigation success story with me. It was one of those goose bump generating testimonials that empower us all to keep moving forward and spreading the mitigation message. I immediately asked her if she’d be a guest blogger and share that same story with all of you. Our thanks to Suzanne for sharing her experience in the post below.

On August 13, 2012, my job as Firewise and fuels reduction coordinator for the Kittitas County Conservation District (KCCD) changed dramatically. On that date, the Taylor Bridge Fire tore through the middle of our county, burning more than 22,000 acres, prompting hundreds to evacuate, and destroying 61 homes and other structures. Many landowners didn’t know where to turn for information and assistance; our state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and local firefighters were on various fires, so KCCD stepped in to answer questions and provide technical assistance.

Anna Lael, KCCD’s District Manager describes their role, “The Conservation District is able to fill in and help landowners during the high fire season when other agencies are actually fighting the fires. Landowners call and schedule visits at their homes to assess defensible space and wildfire survivability.”

Watching the fire progress, I didn’t see how any home would survive; I called a contractor we’d worked with prior to the Taylor Bridge Fire in our cost-share program where a contractor limbs branches 15 feet up, thins trees that grew too close together, and removes ladder fuels. In that conversation, the contractor agreed, he didn’t see how structures would survive such a fast and destructive fire. Fortunately, our doubts were unfounded and the six projects KCCD had provided assistance on in the fire perimeter survived due to the defensible space measures that had been taken. For one landowner that had received assistance, the two houses to both the south and north that had not participated in the cost share program burned to the ground.

Another evacuated landowner sent us her thoughts after the fire. “Clearly, we do so appreciate your foresight, initiative, and hard work to get so much land prepped just in time for the "big one."  We feel so very fortunate that our dream come true can live on, and certainly wish those who have lost theirs could have benefited similarly from your program.  We cannot thank you enough.”

Requests for defensible space assessments and technical assistance have sky-rocketed with the fires we’ve endured over the past few years. Requests increased from 3-4 per month, to 7-8 per day during a fire. Even now, three years later, requests are ten times the number they were prior to 2012. This also includes inquiries on how a community can become a recognized Firewise Community.

In addition to cost-share, the District worked with Fire District #7 to train a fuels reduction crew to assist landowners. Primarily, they provide a roving chipper that is offered to landowners who want to prune and thin their own trees and then stack the debris by their driveways for the crew to chip. KCCD offers this as an incentive for communities to become a recognized Firewise Community.   Cropped #2)

“Having had at least three volunteer firefighters working for both the Fire District and the Conservation District over the last four years has been our saving grace when wildfires broke out across eastern Washington”, said Fire District #7 Chief Russ Hobbs.

The roving chipper has become quite a popular program and KCCD has helped 17 communities become and remain recognized by the national Firewise Communities, USA® program. We had worked with only two prior to the fire.

Carolyn Berglund, an evacuated landowner in the Taylor Bridge Fire, summed up what she has advocated to her neighbors since the fire, “Landowners need to take fuels reduction and Firewise efforts seriously and educate their neighbors so that communities are able to be more resilient. By employing the principles of defensible space, you make it easier for firefighters to fight the fire and easier for a fire to go around you. It’s a sense of responsibility to the other people that live close by, and the community as a whole.”

Windsor House
Photo from the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society Website. The Nathaniel Winsor Jr. House was built in the early 1800's.

I was getting ready for the holidays by visiting a local historic site in Duxbury, Massachusetts, called the Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House, as part of a holiday tour. The grounds of this lovely historic site were meticulously manicured. As I toured the grounds the tour guides explained that they enlisted the aid of some unusual gardeners decked out in holiday attire. These gardeners were in fact jolly, fat and happy goats. They were part of a display on how goats could be used to maintain historic sites, without the damage that motorized equipment could cause.

The Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House belonged to a family of early American sea merchants.  Nathaniel Winsor Jr. carved mastheads for his father's ships

Goat gardeners at the historic home in Duxbury. Photograph by Faith Berry

and eventually inherited the family shipping business.  The home has great historic significance for Duxbury, so the community takes care to maintain the home and grounds properly. This is where these eager little gardeners come in! They are used to keep the lawn and bushes carefully maintained.  I was told that goats are gentle grazers. They graze from the top down, unlike sheep, which graze from the bottom up. The goat grazing style does not cause as much damage to the root system of plants on site.

Goats have been used by many communities to maintain vegetation in yards, especially in areas where there is steep terrain.  According to a Smithsonian article, Using goats to prevent wildfires,  goats do great yard work on steep terrain and in areas where there is poison oak.  This past summer goats were even used at in Berkeley, California at the Berkeley Lab to do vegetation management.

Some Firewise communities have used goats managed by companies that know how to keep them from over-foraging in an area.  The use of these furry little gardeners can be beneficial to maintain landscapes in areas that would otherwise be very costly for homeowners to maintain. As our Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire winds down, it was great to see yet another creative way for residents to embrace wildfire safety.

CA wildfire NFPAJ Nov15 gettyimages461495098__optIn 2014, the largest property loss in a fire in the United States did not come from a wildfire.  Though, a $29.8 million wildfire in California did result in the loss of 65 structures, including 46 single-family homes. 


Data like this is highlighted in an article in November’s NFPA Journal, which reviewed the recently released, Large-Loss Fires in the United States,” report by NFPA Research.


A “large-loss fire” is defined as causing at least $10 million in property loss.  For 2014, 25 such fires tallied approximately $654.3 million in property losses.  The Journal article, written by report author Stephen G. Badger, notes that while these 25 fires accounted for just 0.002% of all fires, they caused 5.6% of all losses.


And, the article notes that over the past 10 years, 10 wildfires topped $100 million in property loss with one exceeding $1 billion.  2014 is the first time in a while that the highest direct property damage loss did not come from a wildfire. 


Large loss fire 2014 gradient NFPAJ Nov15


Lopsided impacts like this are not foreign to wildfire.  The U.S. Forest Service’s, Rising Costs of Wildfire Operations,” August 2015 report notes that although 98% of wildfires are managed, the 1-2% mega-fires consume 30% or more of the agencies’ budget.  These fires also see homes lost and lives at risk.


I caught up with Stephen, who is a fire data assistant in NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division, and asked him about what struck him about wildfire when crafting the Large-Loss Fire report and the Journal article.  He shared his observations that, "losses can vary widely, with small-size fires doing more damage than many wildfires that burn more acreage but do not cause losses to property. Examples could be a state and federal forest fire with no structures involved. That same fire in a timber or logging area could result in millions of dollars of loss to timber that was destroyed."


He went onto explain that, "wildfires can also burn over acres of grass, brush, or marshland and cause no dollar loss where the same fire may enter an urban area, destroying many structures (homes, businesses, and outbuildings) and infrastructure."  In capturing the 2014 data, Stephen noted that, "several of the large wildfires that we report on are ‘fire complexes’, meaning there may be several small fires that burn into one large fire or burn in the same general area and are under one incident command. Tracking all these fires and reported on them can be a complicated process."


Read this and other wildfire focused articles in the current Nov/Dec 2015 edition of NFPA Journal and learn more about what you can do to make your home safer from wildfire.


Photo Credit: Getty Images, pulled from NFPA Journal, 25 Nov 15,

Chart Credit: pulled from NFPA Journal, 25 Nov 15,

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Quantitative analysis is like fly fishing


In phase one of the research paper, Wildland/Urban Interface: Fire Department Wildfire Preparedness and Readiness Capabilities, the NFPA researchers utilized a unique (to NFPA)research method of qualitative analysis. The NFPA Journal explored this research project in an article, Local Focus. As Hylton Haynes described it at his recent presentation at Backyards & Beyond® Conference in Myrtle Beach, quantitative analysis is like using a fly-fishing rod where you are fishing for one specific target species. With qualitative analysis, you are throwing out a net and gathering all the unstructured data that is out there. This research project allowed firefighters to share valuable information in a safe setting from their experience some very candid and insightful responses on how to address the wildland fire/WUI peril. There were many areas and topics of interest identified by this information gathering process that will inspire future research. One immediate result of this research study is the question set included in the 4th Needs Assessment of the US Fire Service, which was enhanced to include several additional wildland fire and wildland-urban interface questions.  This survey is currently in process, with a national report scheduled for release in the Summer of 2016!

One of many topics explored in the paper was what wildland firefighters are doing to share with residents about what their risk is in a wildland/urban interface setting. According to the research paper, “Nearly all of our interviewees (wildland fire departments) spoke to the positive effect community risk reduction efforts can have on mitigating the risks of major wildfire events and of losing homes and property should a fire occur.” The paper further states, “The vast majority of the chiefs and captains we interviewed seem steadfast in their belief in the importance of increasing community awareness of wildfire risk and community engagement in mitigation efforts.”


The departments spoke about how their communities utilize a variety of programs tailored to the community’s needs. The programs these departments and communities depend upon for guidance and materials were; NFPA’s Firewise Communities USA ® , Ready, Set, Go® , and Fire Adapted Communities® .

Some interesting statistics that have developed from the phase one report “22% (of wildland fire departments who participated in the survey) devote time to wildfire community risk reduction activities (includes prevention

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Wildland firefighters from the BLM website.

and mitigation activities), 46% to structural community risk reduction activities only, 30% do the same for both (wildfire and structural) and 2% do no community risk reduction activities. Of those who do wildfire community risk reduction, 98% do public education and 69% fuels management activities. Business outreach (34%), protection of cultural and historical sites (26%) and the protection of utilities (40%) are less commonly practiced elements of community risk reduction activities.”


According to the study, interviewees unanimously agreed that collaborative efforts between departments, residents, and other partners can play&#0160;a key role in the effectiveness of the mitigation program. Are you a part of a collaborative effort like Firewise Communities, in order to work towards creating a safer, more Fire Adapted community? The study is available to read online&#0160;and shares the voice of wildland fire departments that can help us all gain better insight about WUI needs and successes.</p>

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