With wildfire season upon us, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, led a discussion with federal agencies, fire departments and other key stakeholders at the White House on May 18 regarding the increasing danger to communities in the wildland/urban interface (WUI). NFPA's Vice President for Outreach & Advocacy Lorraine Carli was there and joined the discussion.
During the meeting, Secretary Jewell highlighted the continued need for collaboration to enhance community resilience against wildfire risks and strengthen federal firefighter safety and preparedness, according to a press release from the Department of the Interior that was posted on Bend, Oregon's KTVZ News website. To that end, Secretary Jewell pointed to the Firewise Communities Program as playing an important role in helping residents take the steps needed to reduce their risk of injury and damage to their homes from wildfire.
"It's imperative that home and business owners and communities, especially those in wildland-urban interface areas, take this seriously and accept personal responsibility for simple actions that will reduce wildfire exposure, protect property and save lives. Homeowners can visit Firewise.org and Ready, Set, Go for actions they can take to reduce their risk," said Secretary Jewell.
Carli spoke about the need to increase the number of Firewise communities given that there are more than 70,000 communities in the wildland/urban interface. She also talked about the role codes can play in the design, construction and landscape criteria to make homes safer from wildfire. "With the growing threat and prolonged wildfire season, it is critical that individuals and communities play a more active part in building and maintaining properties that can withstand wildfires," said Carli.
Headwaters Economics reports that since 1990, 60 percent of new homes across the country have been built in the WUI, where houses, structures and people reside adjacent to or within wildlands and are therefore at risk of structure loss, injury and death from wildfire.
The release goes on to say that according to the 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment, the western U.S. will continue to see a greater number of large wildfires and fires that are longer in duration; a result of higher temperatures and an early spring snowmelt.
In the meeting Secretary Jewell pointed to two actions that were announced yesterday to increase WUI resilience and mitigation measures. The first is a Presidential Executive Order titled, Wildland-Urban Interface Federal Risk Mitigation, which will "mitigate wildfire risk to federal buildings located in the WUI, reduce risks to people, and help minimize property loss to wildfire. Second, federal, state, local, tribal and non-government leaders committed today to a multi-scale, collaborative approach to address the challenges posed by wildfire in the WUI; advancing community resilience in the WUI; managing adjacent landscapes wisely; and continuing to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of wildland fire response."
Secretary Jewell will visit the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho next week.
Read the full article and press release for more on Secretary Jewell's roundtable discussion and to learn about the federal government's plan to address the wildfire issue. Additional information about the Firewise program can be found at www.firewise.org.