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2017

As many wildfire prevention specialists will tell you (with tongue in cheek), wildfires start from three main causes: men, women and children. Statistics on wildfire ignitions in the US have varied with regard to lightning vs. human-caused, with some documents showing a more or less even split from those two main causes.  New research, however, on two decades' worth of fire data, paints a different picture. University of Colorado Boulder researchers have determined that 84% of wildfires from 1992 to 2012 were started by human beings.

 

According to the article in CU Boulder Todaythis significant proportion of wildfire starts caused by people is both cause for concern and hope.  “Not all fire is bad, but humans are intentionally and unintentionally adding ignitions to the landscape in areas and seasons when natural ignitions are sparse,” said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho and a co-author of the paper. “We can’t easily control how dry fuels get, or lightning, but we do have some control over human started ignitions.” 


Check out a short video summarizing the research findings here.

Did you know that the NFPA has some very interesting statistics based upon Fire Losses in the United States?  For example, one outside fire was reported in the United States every 52 seconds.

 

Of all of the wildfires that have burned in the United States most according to the latest proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; “Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States”, have been caused by humans.  According to the proceedings, 84% of the wildfires have been caused by humans.  The proceedings also indicate that during the 21 year period, the human-caused fire season is 3 times longer than the lightning-caused fire season.  The paper pointed out the importance of;

  • Raising awareness of this trend of human-caused wildfire management
  • More management of forests in areas where the risk for a human-caused wildfire is high.
  • Taking steps to reduce the risk of loss due to wildfire

 

NFPA offers a variety of free resources and opportunities for your community to reduce its risk of loss;

 

Visit NFPA’s Firewise web page to learn more about how you can be a part of the solution to this growing problem.

Should wildfire safety advocates be excited that we made the short list of an insurance publication's advice to businesses on top risks to watch in 2017? I think so, and here's why: for decades, the problem of structures burning down during wildfires simply has not been on insurers' list of things to worry about. Year after year, hail and wind top lists in the US and globally as catastrophic losses in terms of claims payout from property insurers. Those of us in the wildfire biz know that home destruction from wildfire is a growing problem and will continue due to past development practices, lack of application of design and construction standards, and climate and environmental conditions that make large, intense wildfires a relatively common occurrence. For business owners, a major, destructive wildfire threatens more than just buildings - the domino effect of evacuations, home destruction, closed roads and more can hamper the ability for employees to get to work and for customers to do business as usual. 

 

According to an article aimed at businesses by Duncan Ellis in Property Casualty 360, an e-publication serving the insurance industry, those in charge of buying property insurance to cover their exposures should be concerned about emerging risks, topped by the threat of wildfire. The feature includes an image of destruction from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where indeed businesses including resorts and rental properties were destroyed, damaged or compromised. The article included the infographic below and provides some sensible tips for business owners and employees to ensure safety and business continuity.

 

Watching the flood and potential dam breach situation unfold in California over the past two months has been breathtaking, scary and frankly, ironic. Less than four months ago, I met California Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci at a meeting in Santiago, Chile, where he presented on the five-year-and-counting severe drought conditions in California and the significant impacts on wildfire conditions and potential. Just six weeks after our November trip, Mark was posting warnings and updates in his Twitter feed about the pending weather system that hit parts of California with flooding rains as early as Christmas, and seems to have barely let up. 

 

Governor Brown declared a state of emergency for more than 40 counties on January 23. However, one of the most harrowing situations unfolded a few weeks later as it became apparent that the emergency spillway on the Oroville Dam was failing. A reported 200,00 residents in areas below the dam, including Chico and Yuba, were forced to evacuate. Many of the communities in the area both downstream and upstream of the dam are also prone to wildfire and many are involved in Firewise and their local Fire Safe Councils. Faith Berry in our Wildfire Division heard from Brenda Rightmyer, director of the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council, with whom she had worked closely in the years when she was an NFPA Firewise Advisor in California. We were happy that Brenda and her neighbors in the Concow/Yankee Hill community were safe in their upstream location, and very excited to hear that their wildfire preparedness work was paying off in helping their families, friends, and folks in harm's way to be safe from the flooding. 

 

Brenda wrote to us, "With the Oroville Dam situation, Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council was sharing copies of the community evacuation plan that has a wealth of information in it, not just for wildland fire preparation and evacuation. The Concow/Yankee Hill community evacuation plan...[includes] information like creating a household safety plan and preparing a "go bag". This is universal information for anyone needing to prepare and leave on a moment's notice. We were passing along this information to family and friends of our community to them. Also, on our Facebook page, we promoted the Butte County Sheriff's 'Stay Informed' program for mass notifications."

 

This active and engaged community jumped into action to help people with sound and practical information that may even have saved some lives and prevented some injuries. We are so proud to share their story, and hope you'll take a look at their evacuation guide, attached. Check out www.wildfireprepday.org for great ideas for preparedness projects and activities you can do with your neighbors on May 6 or any time. 

 

Photos courtesy Brenda Rightmyer, Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council director

 

Don’t delay, apply today! Friday, March 3 is the deadline to apply for a $500 project award for wildfire risk reduction.

 

NFPA and State Farm Insurance are offering these small grants to 150 U.S. communities, fire departments, youth groups, church groups and others to support Wildfire Community Preparedness Day projects on May 6.

 

Submit your application before midnight Eastern Time, Friday, March 3 for a chance to win this award for your community. Visit www.wildfireprepday.org to apply and for free resources to help you with the application process including a free webinar.

 

AR Forestry Commission

Last week, Tom Welle and I traveled from NFPA’s Wildfire Division field office in Denver to the Arkansas Forestry Commission office in Little Rock, Arkansas on a Firewise USA state visit, to learn more about why their state’s program has been so strongly embraced by stakeholders since 2003. Arkansas has led the 42 states participating in the program, with the most Firewise sites for many consecutive years, and we wanted that behind the curtain look at their formula for success.

 

During our two days there we had the privilege of meeting with both resident and fire department leaders and it didn’t take long to realize that a big part of their formula is strong relationships and trust - along with a very solid sense of

community that goes into generating risk reduction results. 

 

The folks we met had us marveling time and time again, at their level of commitment and desire to make where they live a safer place for when wildfires happen. From state liaison Travis Haile and PIO Sheila Doughty, our hosts, to State Forester Joe Fox and the AR Forestry Commission staff – you all were amazing and gave us a renewed appreciation for the work you do in your great state.

 

Individual Firewise site and fire department leaders that we met with included Camp Albert Pike in Caddo Gap, Hot Springs Village, Bald Knob Fire Department, Holland Fire Department and the Vilonia Fire Department.

Arkansas currently has 166 active Firewise sites and over the past year they have invested more than $5.3 million dollars in risk reduction activities.

 

We also learned, Arkansans are known for their biscuits and chocolate gravy - and I’ll be back one day soon to give that the official Prudhomme taste test!

 

Bald Knob Fire DepartmentHolland Fire DepartmentAR Forestry CommissionVilonia Fire Department

Fire departments, apply today for an opportunity to be awarded funding for a project to lessen the risk of loss for your community in the event of a wildfire. NFPA, with financial support from State Farm, is offering funding opportunities to fire departments and other organizations across the nation to complete mitigation projects in their communities and work with their communities to understand their wildfire risk.

 

Does your department struggle for funding to provide prevention education and assistance to your community?  Participating in NFPA’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day projects can help residents take action to reduce their risk of loss.  By helping your communities to prepare before a wildfire event occurs, you are helping them be safer and ultimately more resilient. Apply today for your opportunity to be awarded $500 for a project in your community that can make a difference.

John Mackie with the Christchurch, New Zealand, Civil Defense provides a 5 minute video update to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News about the wildfires and current efforts of over 400 firefighters and air resources working to extinguish the flames.

 

Two separate wildfires joined earlier in the week and burned into urban Christchurch from rural areas.

 

Fanned by warm northwesterly winds and dry conditions, over 1,000 have been evacuated thus far and 11 homes have been lost.

 

It is hoped that rain expected on Saturday (our Friday here in the U.S.) will provide fire crews an advantage over the fire.

 

Sadly, a helicopter pilot fighting the fire died on Tuesday 14 February. Corporal David Steven Askin was a New Zealand Army Afghanistan war veteran and had received one of the country’s top military honors for bravery. Although wounded by grenade and rife fire, he saved guests during the 2011 siege of the luxury Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul. 

 

Photo Credit: ABC News (Australia), Christchurch: More than 1,000 people evacuated as New Zealand bushfire rages into fourth day.  UPDATED FRI FEB 17 01:02:41 EST 2017.  Pulled 16Feb17 (MST).  

Involve youth in your community in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activities by applying today for a funding opportunity for a wildfire preparedness activity no later than March, 3rd with funding provided by State Farm.  Getting young people in a neighborhood, organization or community involved in activities to promote wildfire preparedness can help them gain a sense of being a valued part of the community.  According to a fact sheet completed by the University of Nevada, Reno and their Cooperative Extension Service, youth volunteers can contribute great value not only immediately with the work completed but also with long-range value in their personal development as contributing members to society.

 

Developing and implementing Wildfire Community Preparedness Day projects for youth can be rewarding if you follow some guidelines:

 

  • Make sure that you have not only a hold harmless permission form signed by the youth involved but also by their parents and guardians.
  • If you are working on someone else’s property, make sure that you check the property over for potential hazards.  Also, have a signed hold harmless form from the homeowner whose property you are working on.
  • Make sure that you have explained how to properly use tools and that garden tools are in good, safe condition and check out NFPA’s safety tip sheet suggestions.  Check for broken handles and dull blades.  There are labor law guidelines that prohibit youth from using a variety of power tools.  Make sure that you know what tools they are allowed to use at their age, as well as the amount of time they are allowed to complete volunteer work.
  • Ensure that all participants are properly attired with work boots, long sleeves, and long pants.  Provide work gloves and goggles if needed.
  • Ensure that you provide plenty of water.
  • Space youth workers at least 10 feet apart in all directions, while they are working.
  • Give lots of encouragement and throw in some positive feedback at the end for a practically perfect day.  

 

The NFPA also provides additional educational resources for youth about wildfire to help reinforce the importance of the activity they have completed.  So get off of the sofa and help your neighborhood’s youth make a difference in the wildfire safety of their community at the same time as they are getting some fresh air and exercise and apply for your opportunity to be awarded funding!

February Fire Break NewsletterThe February 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 first of its kind report that takes a look at WUI fire departments’ wildfire preparedness and readiness capabilities
  • A recent NASA study that points to a connection between increased wildfires and drought
  • The latest Wildfire column in Journal that highlights how local collaboration and conversations can help inform new ways of understanding and find solutions to the wildfire challenge across the globe

 

...and 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.

"To lose two generations is a wound that never heals,” shared Joan Davey, whose son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren died in the “Black Saturday” bushfires that raced through the Australian state of Victoria on February 7, 2009.

 

On the anniversary of these fires, the Australian Broadcasting Service (ABC) is running a series of articles that share the stories of loss, recovery, and future planning from what became the worst bushfire in Australian history.

 

When the fires finally subsided, 173 people had lost their lives, with over 5,000 more sustaining injuries. The fires destroyed 2029 homes and scorched over 1737 square miles of developed and agricultural lands.

In part-one of what will be an eight-part series, ABC’s Joan Cowan shares how Joan and Leon Davey cope with the loss of their son Rob, daughter-in-law Natasha, and grandchildren Jorja and Alexis. Video interviews with both Joan and Leon in the article provide a strong prospective on what such a loss means to a family.

 

Part-two explores concerns around current weather data, persistent drought, and the public’s perception to fire ecology on the land and prescribed burning. Related to this, the upcoming March edition of WildfireWatch column in the NFPA Journal will focus on this same issue of fire ecology and our forests in relation to the recent wildfires that brought tragedy to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

 

Part-three visits with barrister Jack Rush, who played a leading role in the Royal Commission that investigated the “Black Saturday” fires and shares the lessons learned.

 

The series will continue over the next few days on the ABC website and you can easily find links to the eight-part series, as they are released, at the bottom of each article.

 

Events like these remind us that wildfire is a global issue and one that shares both common lessons and actions for residents, wherever they live.

 

Photo Credit: Cowan, Jane. Australian Broadcasting Service (ABC). Life after Black Saturday: 'To lose two generations is a wound that never heals'. UPDATED WED FEB 08 12:49:45 EST 2017. Pulled 10 February 2017.  

Many communities have been very successful completing wildfire preparedness projects with the funding they received in the past for a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activity.  We have heard stories about fuel mitigation work that was completed, educational outreach events hosted, training opportunities provided for youth, and assistance provided to local seniors to help them maintain their landscape, and more. There is a total of 150 funding awards provided by NFPA with generous support from State Farm.

 

 

NFPA has provided a recorded webinar with tips to help you apply for the funds:

The online application is simple and easy to complete. 

The funding provided is open to any youth group, club, Firewise Community, Fire Safe Council, FAC working group, scout troop, fire department, and more.  

The organization does not have to be a non-profit organization to apply for and receive funding.

 

Apply today, because the application period for the funding to help your community with a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day Project closes March 3rd

TX A & M Forest Service and Buffalo Gap
Strong growth in the Firewise USA wildfire risk reduction program continues as the program hits 1,402 active recognized sites throughout 42 states. The program’s participants are residents that live in areas with a wildfire risk work where they work at their individual properties and also collaboratively with neighbors to complete wildfire risk reduction projects.

 

The Firewise program is administered by the National Fire Protection Association along with a designated forestry liaison in participating states, using a framework that provides residents with a roadmap to organize and implement actions based in scientific research that increase a home’s chances of survival during a wildfire.

 

Today's participating sites represent 1,539,045 residents with a self-reported investment of more than $40 million in risk reduction activities during the past twelve months.

 

Each participating community must complete a set of criteria to become a recognized site, and then annually they perform a subset of that to retain their active status.

 

Connect with our team to learn how you and your neighbors can become a recognized Firewise USA site and start making where you live a safer place.

According to news reports, the National Weather Service’s storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma; weather conditions in Oklahoma and parts of Texas contribute to “Red Flag” warnings in the area.  NOAA weather maps indicate a high risk for these areas in the near future.  Gusty winds (that can further dry out vegetation), drought, and warmer temperatures have created conditions that can contribute to wildfire intensity.

 

The Oklahoma State Forestry has released a "Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory".  Part of the concern listed in the advisory notice is that fire spotting has occurred over a larger distance than usual. It is important for homeowners to make sure that they have completed simple tasks that can reduce their wildfire risk like raking up debris from around the house and removing leaves and pine needles from the gutters. The notice also shared the importance of residents to heed evacuation notices early.  

 

It is important to make plans together with those you love to reduce your risk of loss.  NFPA has provided many free resources including a Firewise Toolkit and pet and family preparedness information to help you.

The right conditions, including extended drought, dry, hot weather, and high winds can create high wildfire risk anywhere.  The Michigan State University website described some horrific wildfires that occurred in the Michigan and Wisconsin areas.  After learning about the wildfires last year in Fort McMurray in Canada and the Gatlinburg fires in Tennessee that both caused substantial loss, I realized now more than ever that the potential for a mega wildfire can occur anywhere.

The historic wildfires mentioned on the Michigan State site included;

 

  1.       The Peshtigo fire that devastated an area of 2,400 square miles in 1871 on the Wisconsin-Michigan state line and claimed 1,300-1,500 lives.
  2.       The Thumb fire in Michigan 10 years later that claimed 282 lives.
  3.       The Mack fire of 1980 in Michigan that claimed the life of one firefighter and destroyed 44 homes.
  4.       The 2006 Hughes Fire that incurred suppression costs of almost million dollars.

These fires caused terrible losses in an area of the country that many people don’t think of when they think of a wildfire risk. The site has some PSA’s that highlight how working together as a Firewise Community can lessen the risk of loss due to a wildfire. The site highlighted a Firewise community in Michigan, AuSable River Community Estates, that is still a Firewise community today! Duane Pinkleman the chair of the Firewise Community, shares in the PSA how it is only “common sense” and is not an expensive thing to do, to use Firewise principles to protect your home. 

 

Download the Firewise toolkit today and learn how you can protect your home. You can take steps starting today to make wildfire preparedness changes in your community happen! 

As over 100 separate wildfires burn in central and southern Chile, I am reminded of the places and people NFPA met during two separate Wildfire Division trips to the country in 2016. Please join with me in keeping both the residents and those working the fire lines in your thoughts and prayers.

 

These fires stared in early January, fueled by drought conditions and strong winds. The vast majority are suspected as arson caused.

 

Reporting today by United Press International (UPI) shares that 11 fatalities have been reported, with 6 of those as firefighters and local emergency responders. The wildfires have scorched over 593,000 acres of land, with approximately 2000 homes destroyed and thousands left to seek shelter.

 

NPR's “The Two-Way” highlighted $740,000 USD in support today from the United States Embassy in Chile for personal protective equipment. Previous support from the US Embassy has gone to resident relief needs.

 

The BBC also has a series of areal and ground videos of the fires and their wake.

NFPA will continue to work with its partners in Chile and provide support.

 

Photo Credit: BBC, Chile wildfires: Drone footage reveals devastation - BBC News  pulled 2 February 2017

I am pleased to share NFPA Wildfire Division Manager, Michele Steinberg's, update from Spain where a new Firewise partnership is reflecting the importance of fire resistant landscapes and resilient communities.

 

This week, Michele is presenting at the IAWF conference in Barcelona and working with NFPA’s new partner, the Pau Costa Foundation, on wildfire community outreach.  

 

Michele’s remarks are below.

 

During the inaugural International Congress on Prescribed Fires, on February 1, in Barcelona, NFPA formalized an agreement with a Spanish non-profit that will serve to support a common mission of wildfire safety through information, knowledge, outreach and advocacy. The Pau Costa Foundation and the Wildfire Division of NFPA share a passion to advocate for profound change in how wildfire is perceived and managed, and to shift beliefs and behaviors from the concept of fire elimination and exclusion to a new vision of community wildfire resilience and the elimination of disastrous consequences to life and property.

 

The joint memorandum of understanding encourages the use of NFPA’s wildfire education and outreach programs, including Firewise®. As the informal custodian of Firewise program concepts in Spain, the Pau Costa Foundation will use its expertise and talent in knowledge transfer and information dissemination to help local entities to develop appropriate wildfire safety actions.

 

Pau Costa Foundation’s European-wide networking is anticipated to inspire the spread of Firewise concepts throughout Europe. Our agreement also encourages the sharing of lessons learned for transfer back to NFPA to enrich the U.S. context.

 

As I have observed through several days of participation at the International Wildland Fire Safety Summit and the International Congress on Prescribed Fire, the Pau Costa Foundation is serving a unique role in Europe and beyond. They are a valued convener and coordinator of information and knowledge about wildfire safety and fire management. While it is a young organization, formed in 2011, it has quickly earned respect and inspired enthusiasm for holistic approaches to wildfire throughout Europe and with partner organizations around the world.

 

At both the professional and personal levels, it was exciting and gratifying to be present together with our new partners in Spain and to be able to sign an agreement of this scope.

 

It will be even more exciting to launch our mutual efforts through a workshop in Catalonia this weekend and to follow developments over the coming months and years.

 

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NFPA was an exhibitor at the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact’s “Winter/Training and Awareness” meeting at the Best Western Merry Manor Inn in South Portland, ME on January 24th-26th.  There were 150 attendees at the meeting with attendees coming from states across the Northeast including; Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York from the US.  Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island from Canada.  Agencies represented at the meeting included the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US National Park Service and many state and local fire departments including FDNY.

 

Some of the topics covered at the meeting included topics that affected wildland firefighter safety, physiology and stress, and fitness. Other topics included new fire reporting and mapping applications. Dr. Steven Pyne from the School of Life Sciences Arizona State University and published author presented about “Fire History and Management of Fire”.

 

It was a great opportunity for firefighters from across the border to connect and share experiences, information, knowledge, and develop plans to share resources.  It was a wonderful opportunity for the NFPA to share resources and information and learn what our stakeholders need.

NFPA's Hylton Haynes presents on wildfire safety challenges uncovered in the 4th Needs Assessment of the US Fire Service at the International Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Barcelona.How do we make decisions in high risk and high consequence environments? This was the key question that presenters sought to answer at the 14th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Barcelona on January 31. Co-produced by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) and the Pau Costa Foundation, the one-day conference was packed with valuable information given in a series of thought-provoking talks and a collection of posters from researchers and practitioners from Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the United States.

 

Marc Castellenou, Pau Costa Foundation president and Spanish firefighter/fire analyst, opened the day with a call to action, challenging participants to be self-critical and keep open minds about changing the firefighting culture to one where safety is not merely an operational protocol but truly embedded everywhere in the command structure.

 

Sessions ranged from case studies from wildland-urban fires on the island of Madeira, to the challenge of trans-boundary communication within Europe on large fires that affect two or more countries simultaneously, to the potential for new technology to change the way fire crews move safely and effectively. Despite a significant emphasis on fire operations and firefighter safety, it was clear that practitioners and researchers alike recognized the need for information and knowledge to inform better decisions to multiple stakeholders – from residents to elected officials to land managers.

 

My NFPA colleague Hylton Haynes and I presented on two pertinent recent studies by NFPA. I spoke to the new NFPA report, Wildland/Urban Interface: Fire Department Wildfire Preparedness and Readiness Capabilities. Hylton (pictured above) discussed the key findings related to WUI and wildland fire from the recently completed Fourth Needs Assessment of the US Fire Service. In listening to the presenters who preceded us in the program, we were encouraged by a number of studies that have been using qualitative techniques focused on story-telling, and the connection to community engagement that seemed to be a part of all of the presentations from experts from around the world. These included US efforts to capture the influence of firefighting experience on expectations of wildfire behavior; after-action reviews in Spain involving the whole community; and an experiential learning technique being tested in New Zealand to help new recruits learn from their peers before going into the field.

 

I’ll be reporting more about the subsequent related two-day conference, the International Congress on Prescribed Fire, occurring on February 1-2 and a planned Firewise workshop in Catalonia later this week. 

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