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September 15, 2016 Previous day Next day

This month is recognized as National Preparedness Month (NPM). Participating in this national event can help you and your family better prepare yourselves before a wildfire event. Are you still wondering what you can do to participate?  NFPA’s TakeAction Initiative has the solution.  The TakeAction initiative provides a free downloadable PDF Wildfire Risk Community Service Project Ideas, that lists 2 dozen project ideas including:

 

  • Dispose of collected debris in appropriate trash receptacles.
  • Get out your measuring tape and see how close wood piles are located to the home. If closer than 30 feet, they need to be relocated and moved at least 30’ away from structures.
  • Sweep porches and decks clearing them of leaves and pine needles.
  • Rake under decks, porches, sheds and play structures and dispose of debris.
  • Mow grasses to a height of four inches or less.
  • Collect downed tree limbs and broken branches in your community and take them to a disposal site.

Before you get started, if the property does not belong to your family it is important to get permission from the property owner before you begin your work.  And make sure that you are safe while you are completing your project by wearing proper safety gear such as long sleeves, gloves, eye protection, boots, long pants etc.  Check out our list of safety protocols before you start as well.

 

By taking steps to prepare yourself, your family, and community today you can be empowered to make better decisions during the event and be better prepared.  Don’t wait, take action today.

Firewise Communities/USA® get busy when it comes to making changes in their neighborhoods.  The Firewise Day for many Spanish Peaks.pngcommunities becomes a work day.  This is an opportunity for the whole neighborhood to get together for a common cause, rolling up their sleeves and making changes to their landscapes or homes that will increase the wildfire safety of their homes and neighborhoods. Many communities create a “Chipper Day” or “Clean Up Day” event that is open to all in the neighborhood.  These types of Firewise Days help communities engage in peer to peer mentoring so that they do not only work together but also share best practices about what types of activities will help make the biggest difference.  Many of these work events end with a community meal or carnival, a reward for their labors.  However, the biggest reward is the satisfaction of knowing that they are working towards keeping their communities safer,  keeping them Firewise.

 

Spanish Peaks at La Veta, Colorado

Spanish Peaks held a “Chipper Day” in July for Firewise Day. The residents were asked to clean up their properties, and stack brush and branches along the road in advance of the rental of the chipper. Residents were asked to stack the limbs and brush with the butt ends all facing in the same direction either toward or parallel to the road, which helps to feed the chipper faster.

On July 12, at 9 AM, 13 volunteers of all ages assembled at the park and started chipping stacks of limbs, brush, and trees. At noon, they stopped for a hot lunch prepared by 4 women in the community. After lunch, they began towing the chipper around the community, chipping the stacks along the road. They put a lot of the chips in trailers to take to the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch, to help control erosion in the area that burned the year before. They finished chipping at about 4 PM. They noted that the group was able to work faster than the year before.

Spanish Peaks tells us, “The first year we worked for 2 ½ days before completing all the piles. We timed the amount of time required for each stop, so we know approximately the time a pile would take to chip, and determined that $2.00 a minute would pay for the chipper rental and fuel. Stacking the limbs and brush with the butt ends all facing the same direction helped to chip them faster. We were through shortly after 4 PM. We are getting smarter!”

Highlands Park Property Owners Association at Breckenridge, Colorado

The Town of Breckenridge sponsored two 4 day Firewise clean-up events. During August 25-29 and September 15-19, residents were encouraged to clean up their lots, and remove dead trees and slash. Approximately 50 Highland Park Association members participated to clean the lots and areas around structures.

Highland Park Property Owners Association tells us, “The Town of Breckenridge sponsored a community-wide clean-up/removal of dead trees and slash this summer. The project raised awareness of the importance of keeping the area as clean as possible of combustible materials, and helps our residential area to be more fire prevention aware.”

                                                                                                              Spanish Peaks Chipper Day submitted by the community

After reading an article about 4,000 California firefighters battling blazes in that state this month, my mind raced to the Fire in New Jersey Pine Barrens from New Jersey State Forestry Service.pngstaggering costs created by wildfires.  I began to peruse some statistics and discovered the costs were greater that I had imagined.

 

I started with a review of statistics from the National Weather Service.  According to the National Weather Service, “From 2005 to 2014, wildfires resulted in 5.08B USD in total damages. Of that figure, 74.1M dollars came from damage to crops, and 5B dollars from property damage. That total damage cost makes wildfires the ninth most costly natural hazard in the National Weather Service's reports.”

 

However, I realized that these costs were only for property damage and did not include suppression costs.  I pulled some data from the National Interagency Fire Center about the additional costs to taxpayers for suppressing wildfires during the same period from 2005-2014 and realized that this cost added a whopping 14 B to the costs caused by wildfires. The total costs for property damage and suppression for these years was over 19 B. These costs do not take into consideration injuries and deaths of both civilians and firefighters caused by these disasters.

 

Data extracted from the National Interagency FireCenter

YEAR

FIRES

ACRES

FOREST SERVICE

DOI AGENCIES

TOTAL

2005

66,753

8,689,389

$524,900,000

$294,054,000

$818,954,000

2006

96,385

9,873,745

$1,280,419,000

$424,058,000

$1,704,477,000

2007

85,705

9,328,045

$1,149,654,000

$470,491,000

$1,620,145,000

2008

78,979

5,292,468

$1,193,073,000

$392,783,000

$1,585,856,000

2009

78,792

5,921,786

$702,111,000

$218,418,000

$920,529,000

2010

71,971

3,422,724

$578,285,000

$231,214,000

$809,499,000

2011

74,126

8,711,367

$1,055,736,000

$318,789,000

$1,374,525,000

2012

67,774

9,326,238

$1,436,614,000

$465,832,000

$1,902,446,000

2013

47,579

4,319,546

$1,341,735,000

$399,199,000

$1,740,934,000

2014

63,212

3,595,613

$1,195,955,000

$326,194,000

$1,522,149,000

Department of Interior agencies (DOI) are: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management; National Park Service; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

According to other research the economic impacts are much more far reaching and should include:

 

  • Replacement of lost facilities and associated infra-structure (cell phone towers, damaged water service, damaged phone and electrical infrastructure etc.)
  • Watershed and water quality mitigation
  • The long term effects of smoke on health/medical costs
  • Disaster relief costs
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Sensitive species and habitat restoration.
  • Lost business revenue
  • Lost tourism dollars

 

The real costs can be staggering. Thinking about these figures paints a bleak picture.  So what can we do today to lessen these costs? More in-depth studies of the economic effects in the aftermath of wildfires would better equip policy makers to have a better understanding of the true costs of these disasters and the value of implementing mitigation measures before an event.   However, this is just one part of the picture, perhaps additional studies could be conducted about how properly implemented mitigation measures can lessen these costs and damage. Some studies have shown that making Firewise® changes to the home itself and the landscape surrounding the home can make a difference in the survivability of the home.  

 

The investment in time and money to take care of the little things around the home like cleaning debris out of the gutters and off the roof, removing wood mulch and wood piles away from the 5-10 foot zone around the home replacing vents, windows etc. and cleaning up trash (those treasures we just can’t do without) from immediately around the home can make a difference in the outcome during a wildfire disaster.  This is money and time well invested implementing NFPA’s Firewise principles. You can also help your neighborhood work together as a Firewise Community continuing to make change year by year to your community.  These changes over time can increase your neighborhood’s survivability.   We can learn from the past and we can each implement solutions today that can make a difference.

                                                                                                         Wildfire image from New Jersey State Forest Service

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