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2016

 

 

The NOAA site has compiled data from 1996 to 2016 to show the trends of wildfire losses.  According to the data sets presented on the NOAA site about severe weather conditions including wildfires, the losses are staggering.  NOAA’s working definition of fire weather is, “A large destructive fire that spreads over woodland or brush.”

 

Since 1996, wildfires have caused 13.4 billion dollars in total damage, 195 fatalities, and 2,100 injuries.  Of the 23 total severe weather categories for which NOAA collects data, wildfire losses are ranked as seventh.  If you divide it by year, the total loss for each year is a staggering 648 million dollars.  Historically, the most destructive month for wildfires is the month of October.  On the other hand, the month with the highest rate of fatalities was June, with 51 deaths occurring since 1996.  The most disconcerting statistic was that the highest rate of fatalities occurs in the age group 20-29. California was the state with the highest death rate due to wildfires.

 

Many of the very destructive wildfire events they reported on were human caused.  The year with the highest number of wildfire events was 2011.  As we enter a new year, we look to new tools for wildfire response and new research about how homes ignite.  Data collected from past experience and new research, new tools and resources are being developed by the NFPA and others to help reduce the risk of loss due to wildfires.

 

The tables are from the NOAA website.

National Fire Protection Association© (NFPA ) wants to remind interested participants; communities, youth groups, scout 1.jpgtroops, church groups, fire districts and others to save the date!  May 6, 2017 will be National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day©.  NFPA will provide an opportunity to apply for a $500 grant starting in January to be used for a National 2.jpgWildfire Community Preparedness Day Project.  By participating, you also have the opportunity to map your project on the NFPA website and help it shine nationwide.

 

Since 2014 NFPA has been partnering with State Farm to provide communities with seed money to grow their wildfire preparedness projects. These projects include youth-oriented work, fire prevention projects, community clean up days, planting Firewise gardens, chipping days and more.

 

Communities have come together and accomplished incredible things with their 3.jpg$500 awards.   What could you and your community accomplish? It is time to check out what has been accomplished in the past, and make your plan for next year.  The grant application period will open this year on January 9th and close on March 3rd.  We at the NFPA want to thank all of those who have made a difference in their communities last year and are looking forward to new and innovative solutions that groups come up with to address wildfire risk in 2017.

Have you wanted to host a community clean-up day and are short of cash to accomplish the work?  Learn how you and your community can apply for a $500 grant to work on a project that can make your community safer from loss due to wildfire.  State Farm and the National Fire Protection Association are teaming up for the fourth year in a row to provide grant funding for project work on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, May 6th, 2017.  The webinar will provide information about how to apply for the grant, some safety tips, and some information about the free assets and resources available to your community to help you promote your event.

 

Register today for this free 45-minute webinar on January 16th 2017 at 3:00 pm  EST, 2:00 pm CST,1:00 pm MST and noon PST to learn about how you can apply for this grant funding to help your community be more resilient from loss due to wildfire.

The December issue of Fire BreakNFPA Wildfire Division's newsletter, is now available for viewing. Here's what you'll find in this month's issue:

 

   • A look at the nation’s biggest large-loss fires; at the top of the list, a couple of wildfires in California
   • Information about the upcoming May 2017 Preparedness Day event
   • A recap of NFPA’s visit to Chile in an effort to learn about global preparedness efforts, climate change, and how a country’s culture frames its response to wildfire

 

...and much more! We want to continue to share all of this great information with you, so don't miss an issue and subscribe today. It's free! Just add your email address to our newsletter list.

 

 

 

Have you wondered what to get a child or friend for the perfect holiday gift?  Some holiday gifts break or are used right away or even worse are exchanged for something else.  If you don’t want to spend hours in a store right before the holidays and want to give a gift that will help your friend or a child be safer and better prepared for a wildfire disaster, create your own emergency go kit with directions provided by NFPA’s TakeAction initiative.

 

The tip sheet gives guidance on a variety of must have items that anyone could put in a backpack and then decorate.  These simple and useful gifts can not only provide a sense of security but also be used as an interactive learning experience for a parent or guardian and a child to explain preparedness planning in a safe environment helping children and youth understand what can happen if before there is a wildfire and make family safety plans before an event occurs.  Get your tip sheet and put together an emergency go bag today.

 

 

Competitive grant funding application proposals designed to support and carry out the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Plan are due the close of Business day January 17th, 2017.  Projects from the Midwest and North Eastern states can apply for this grant funding.  According to their website, “Proposals will be accepted that clearly identify the reduction of wildfire risk and/or improve wildfire response in coordination with their respective State's Forest Action Plan and meet one or more of the nine Northeast Regional Action Plan management options.”

 

You can go online to obtain an application for this competitive funding program.  Other documentation requirements for this grant include project budget proposals, list of partners and grant guidance can be found on the US Forest Service website for the North Eastern area of the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures from US Forest Service

The Fire Adapted Learning Network, recently published an interesting article, Veterans work on Wildfire Mitigation: Thinning Stands, Burning Acres…Changing Lives.  The article tells the story written by Rapid City Fire Department Lieutenant Tim Weaver about how the Rapid City Fire Department developed a program that was successful in mitigating 917 acres of land in and around 296 structures in their community.  Lieutenant Weaver shared how this project was started with funding from the US Bureau of Land Management’s Community Assistance Grant funding.

 

The project not only helps promote wildfire safety in the community but also provides job training and assistance to returning veterans.  The story told about how Tim connected with the crew members that he hired was touching.  Tim had worked with the NFPA to create a video about how this program is a success because it involves the collaborative effort of the fire department, veterans, and residents all working together to create safer communities. Learn more about how you can help your community become safer from wildfire.


It’s that time of year for you to nominate a person or organization for the Smokey Bear award.  After sharing the stories of over 120 Firewise Communities on-line I thought about how many incredible people and community groups are doing such outstanding work out there to help their communities become safer from loss due to wildfire. 

 

According to the Smokey Bear Website,” These special awards are reserved for people or organizations that provide sustained, outstanding service, with significant program impact, in the wildfire prevention arena.  Honorees demonstrate innovation, creativity, commitment and passion for wildfire prevention.”  Information on the website describes how and who to submit your nominations to no later than the end of the business day Monday, December 12th, 2017.  




As I review the year of blogs that I had posted about how Firewise can make a difference in many communities across the United States, I realized just how much these communities accomplish often times with no or very little outside funding provided.  Many community members donate time, talent and their own money to create more resilient communities. These communities fare better during a wildfire and recover more quickly after a wildfire event.  When I called residents of Firewise Communities a year and a half ago, so many were happy to tell their stories and were also quick to offer assistance if other communities needed their help.  In fact, many were mentoring other communities in their states who were new at learning what this Firewise Community Program was all about.  I was humbled and touched by their thank you's to the NFPA for its support of their selfless efforts.

 

I also have had the opportunity to meet some of these community volunteers through the years.  What they accomplish with so little is incredibly amazing.  The pure ingenuity and can-do attitude exemplified in their efforts are inspiring.  After returning from some visits, I was motivated myself to rake up leaves and trim away dead branches in my own yard.  The enthusiasm of these communities is contagious.  The encouragement that they give to each other inspires success.

 

Some of the many no-cost solutions to this complex wildfire problem that these communities were actively promoting and implementing include clean up days, chipping days, landscape redesign projects, youth helping seniors with yard and home maintenance, social media educational and informational projects including websites, videos, and this thing called tweeting.  Over the years Firewise Communities have contributed over $234,000,000 in value to the creation of communities that are safer from wildfire.  The value of supporting these efforts will hopefully be recognized and more valued in the future.  We all the NFPA are so thankful and honored to be able work with these communities and we look forward to participating in efforts to collaborate with many more in the New Year.

 

All of these photos of Firewise activities were submitted by Falls Creek Ranch Firewise Community in Durango, Colorado.

Amidst the ashes of the "Chimney Tops 2" and "Cobbly Nob" wildfires in Tennessee, with 14 confirmed dead, 176 injured, and 2,460 structures destroyed or damaged, comes the dispiriting news that two juveniles have been charged with setting the blazes.

 

The two, currently not named or described due to their age, were charged on Wednesday, December 7, with aggravated arson. Some media outlets are referring to the accused as "teens".  Other charges are possible as the two face a hearing by this Friday on their bail status and determination if they are to be charged as adults.  

 

A tip line was created by Tennessee and federal authorities to gain information, though it has not been shared yet if a tip lead to the arrest of these two youths.

 

Wildfire can be destructive, regardless of origin, but it strikes a chord when they are set with malice. It holds extra resonance when the accused are children. We do not know yet the motivations of the accused, or what specific evidence lead to their apprehension, but we do know that arson related wildfires are unfortunately not uncommon.

 

In the current edition of NFPA Journal, I wrote the WildfireWatch column about the August arrest of Damin Pashilk on 17 counts of arson. He is accused of setting the August 13 Clayton Fire in Lake County, California that consumed over 300 structures. He is also suspected in a dozen other fires in the area dating back to the summer of 2015. What motivates wildfire arsonists and their impacts are the focus of the column.

 

The column also explores NFPA resources in wildfire arson investigation and youth fire setter outreach.

 

Chapter 28 of NFPA 921, Fire and Explosion Investigations, details wildfire investigation cause and origin methodology, helping investigators determine if foul play was involved. The technical committee for NFPA 921 is considering expanding the chapter for the 2020 edition.

 

NFPA Public Education also has a young fire setter safety tip sheet to help fire educators and parents alike keep a child's curiosity with fire from becoming a conflagration.  

 

As the region recovers, you can help. Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Severville, Tennessee, have set up the Mountain Tough website to coordinate assistance to those who need help, and to receive support from those that want to help. I encourage you to visit the site and learn more.

 

Photo Credit: Fitzgibbons, Candice. Two Juveniles Charged with Arson in Deadly Tennessee Wildfire. Sevier News Messenger, 7 December 2016. Pulled 8 December 2016. http://www.seviernewsmessenger.com/2016/12/07/arson-arrests-tennessee-wildfire/ 


 

In 2015, the nation’s largest fire in terms of direct property loss was the Valley Fire that occurred in California. Three days after that fire began, the next-biggest large-loss fire of the year, the Butte Fire, also broke out in California.


Both of these fires ranked among the most costly in the state’s history, according to NFPA’s “Fire Loss in the United States During 2015” report, published in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal. Combined, the fires destroyed thousands of homes and other structures, were blamed for at least six deaths, and resulted in a loss of almost $2 billion dollars. These fires rank as the second- and fourth-largest wildfire losses in the state in the past 10 years. With the Valley and Butte Fires, 2015 was the ninth year out of the past 10 that a wildfire topped the list of the year’s biggest large-loss fires.


NFPA reports annually on large-loss fires and explosions that occurred in the U.S. the year before, defined as an event that results in property damage of at least $10 million. Get a breakdown and/or read the full report, including information and statistics on large-loss wildfires, in the latest issue of the Journal.

 

Photograph: Valley Fire/CA; Reuters images

Over 2016, NFPA’s Wildland and Rural Fire Protection Standards Committee held its “second draft review” of public comments to ensure the standards remain relevant in their field.

 

As explained by NFPA, the standards development process encourages public participation in the development of its standards. All NFPA standards are revised and updated every three to five years, in revision cycles that begin twice each year.

 

This public participation to the standards began in 2015 for the 2017 revision cycle of NFPA 1144: Standard for Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire, and NFPA 1143: Wildland Fire Management.

 

The committee’s work culminated in a review meeting in Nashville, TN, over September 29, 2016. Revisions and clarifications were made to the standards and will be presented to NFPA’s Standards Council in 2017.

 

I spoke with the committee staff Liaison, Tom McGowan, who shared highlights of the committee’s deliberations and new revisions for each standard below.

 

NFPA 1144 – Standard for Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire

 

• Clarified definitions including defensible space, fire resistive, ignition-resistant material, immediate landscaped area, noncombustible material, slope, structure ignition zone, water supply, wildland/urban interface and intermix.

 

• Map elements to also include hydrants, cisterns, and water sources

 

• Structural assessment will include an evaluation of the site for conflagration hazards.

 

• Significant revisions to construction design and materials of the structure and components supported by ASTM testing standards and specific compliance elements found in chapter 5:

 Roof design and materials
 Vents for attics, subfloors, and walls
 All projections including balconies, carports, decks, patio covers, enclosed roofs and floors
 Exterior vertical walls
 Exterior openings


NFPA 1143 - Wildland Fire Management

 

• Revised terminology from Wildland Fire Control to Wildland Fire Management to be more representative of the document’s intent.

 

• Aligned training and qualifications with NFPA or National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)

 

• Aligned incident management chapter to National Incident Management System (NIMS)

 

• Clarified the terminology and redefined fire suppression subsections including size-up, fire engagement and management, and mop-up and demobilization.

 

• Revised responsibilities of Public Information Officer (PIO) to comply with NIMS.

 

• Revised responsibilities of Safety Officer to participate in tactics and planning meetings as outlined in NIMS.

 

• Clarified required documentation for Finance and Administration.

 

• Updated NWCG publications reference material.


The revised editions for 2017-2019 will become available in mid-2017. We encourage you to learn more about NFPA’s various wildland fire standards and to utilize them in your local risk reduction activities.

 

I share my thanks to the members of NFPA’s Wildland and Rural Fire Protection Standards Committee for their volunteer work over the past two years as well.

 

Photo Credit: (second) NWCG photo library, April Deming, NPS 2014_09_09-19_36_23_966-CDT

What do Firewise communities and a good cup of coffee have in common? Two Firewise Community stories from two different states, share a common theme, about how engaging in Firewise activities can help to not only increase awareness of wildfire safety activities that individual property owners can engage in but also encourage residents to take action to reduce their risk of loss due to wildfire.  These ongoing efforts encourage a sense of community where neighbors begin to help each other and look out for each other.  As shared with us this sense of community is not something that can be quantified but like good coffee, it is measured by being enthusiastically savored.

 

Mt. Reuben at Glendale, Oregon 

Mt Reuben held a Firewise workday on Firewise Day. Eight community members and one Douglas Forest Protective
Association (DFPA) employee worked together to help one landowner clear overgrown brush and tree limbs along his driveway. The Mt. Reuben Firewise Committee is committed to having at least one community workday quarterly to improve the fire resistance and survivability of the community. Individual community members have been working to improve their individual properties. But when someone needs assistance, the community gets together to provide assistance.

 

Mt. Reuben says, “Firewise Day included a lot of work, and a wonderful experience. The work we are doing to become safer after the Douglas Complex forest fire is critical to our neighborhood. But the increased sense of community is not something that can be quantified. Like good coffee, it is measured by being enthusiastically savored.”

 

Ryderwood, Washington

Ryderwood conducts a “Firewise Expo” each year, when the Firewise Board, the local volunteer fire chief and firefighters meet with the community to discuss the importance of defensible space, reducing fuels, and preparing for wildfire. They serve free coffee and cookies, answer questions, hand out Firewise literature and trash bags. In the Fall, the community also holds an annual clean-up day when the neighbors work together to clear brush, trim trees and rake leaves around buildings. The group pays for a chipper service to dispose of slash and branches. Debris that cannot be chipped is hauled away. When the work is done, the group enjoys a potluck lunch together.  A dumpster is located in the city park during the year, available to residents for yard debris waste disposal.

 

Ryderwood shared with us, “Our annual Firewise Expos and clean-up have brought our residents to a new awareness of what they can do to help mitigate the danger of wildfire destroying our little town. Each year at our Expo, I hear more insightful questions, and the citizens are able to meet with their firefighters to establish a feeling of partnership in defense of our town. We find more and more that people are taking precautions, and are aware of the fuel load that is on their property. Five years ago, when we started Firewise, I could drive down alleyways, and see stacks of building material, firewood, tall grass and weeds. Now that‘s the exception, rather than the rule. Our folks have become regular dynamos at raking around their homes, planting fire-resistant plants, and taking on their elderly neighbor’s maintenance. People who normally do not interact with others come out for Firewise clean-up and visit our Expo. Some new people who have moved to town have met their neighbors, and formed friendships at the Expo and the clean-up.”

Some Firewise© Communities have learned to collaboratively work with other agency partners to develop some unique solutions to the wildfire risk that they face.  By working with unique partners such as road crews, school districts, legislators, realtors, insurance partners, foresters, fire service departments, land managing agencies and in this case the local Resource Conservation District, communities can engage partners with a variety of expertise and resources they don’t have access to, so they can achieve greater success in their wildfire mitigation efforts.  If your community is looking to grow your wildfire prevention efforts, explore opportunities to partner with an organization that you have not worked with in the past to develop out of the box solutions like this one and check out NFPA's Firewise resources to help with your wildfire prevention efforts. 

Hidden Lakes at Shoshone, Idaho

Hidden Lakes celebrated Firewise Day by coordinating with the Mid-Snake Resource Conservation & Development Council’s Schools Firewise Greenhouse Program to hand out fire-resistant indigenous plants to homeowners. Hidden Lakes Firewise Committee created a commercial about becoming a Firewise Communities/USA community and distributed it to the local media, On Firewise Day, a few homeowners received home assessments, and the subdivision placed a banner on the gate that read “No Fireworks”. 

 

Hidden Lakes says, “Hidden Lakes became a Firewise Communities/USA community in 2010. In 2012, they had a brush fire in the subdivision and had to evacuate their homes. Some damage was done and they received some insurance money through the homeowners association. With that money, they developed a sprinkler system, and have the ability to fill a water tender or engine with their irrigation system for fire protection.”

 

Photo from the Twin Falls County Firewise Community and the video commercial submitted by Hidden Lakes Firewise Community.

Today’s New York Times has a heart-felt op-ed about the massive wildfire loss in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The author, Jason Howard, a teacher of writing and Appalachian studies at a Kentucky college, shares his memories of family visits to Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains growing up. He also laments the lack of national media attention to the impacts of the various fires in the Southeast and ponders the difference if these were million dollar homes in Malibu and not the residents of Appalachia.

 

I often use this space to remind readers and residents alike that, “wildfires are not just a western states issue”. The recent fires across the Southeast have put that into focus. Current loss estimates in Sevier County, TN, are over 700 homes destroyed, with half in Gatlinburg alone. Over 53 people have been treated in hospital. There are seven confirmed fatalities from the fire and several others currently reported as missing.

 

A part of me will always be haunted by reports of “missing” in such events. On 9-11, I worked for the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) in Washington, D.C., and received news from our national president, who at the time was the head of the New York Police Department’s Detective’s Endowment Association. The email, dated 13 September, shared the names of 38 detectives listed as missing, last known location, World Trade Center. I still have the printed email to remember the fallen, and hope that all the missing in Sevier County reconnect with their loved ones, unharmed.

 

The cause of the “Chimney Tops 2” wildfire is currently believed to be human-caused, fueled by dry conditions and strong winds.

 

Howard’s reflection in the op-ed about how Appalachia is viewed in common culture, on social media, and how these fires are being covered on national news cannot be ignored. In fairness, it is easier to give the “round the clock coverage” of fires when they are within helicopter flight distances from the Los Angeles media market then in Eastern Tennessee. If for nothing else, there aren’t as many media helicopters and places to refuel them rapidly. How Appalachia has historically been viewed though, and the support they will need in the coming months and years, is not in question.

 

I have family in Southwestern Virginia. My Dad’s side comes from Clifton Forge, in Allegheny County. Once the steam locomotive maintenance yards for the C&O Rail Road, it now struggles with the rest of “coal county” to keep its youth and identity. My years with Firewise took me on many visits to Appalachian communities and our great state partners. Previous work with the National Ready, Set, Go! Program took me across the rest of the South and illustrated to me the great and common threat of wildfire that we all face.

 

The geography and fuel type may be different, but the loss of homes, and lives, and the shattered dreams of families now facing the ultimate tragedy are the same wherever wildfire meets structures at risk.

 

Let’s all keep these fires in Appalachia and across the South on our minds in the days to come.

 

Photo Credit: Brian Blanco-Getty Images. Howard, Jason, Appalachia Burning, Op-Ed, NYTimes, 30 November 2016.  Pulled 1 December 2016.  

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