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2017

Last Sunday's 60 Minutes news magazine program featured a segment called "In the Path of Fire." In just over 12 minutes, the episode accurately summarizes the sobering reality of wildfires in the US -- the increasing frequency of large, extreme fires, the spiraling costs of fighting these fires, and the toll on life and property in the areas where more and more people live, known as the wildland/urban interface. Fire scientist Dr. Jack Cohen, whose research has formed the basis for how NFPA works to help homes and communities become ignition resistant, is featured.

 

Producers David Schneider and Joyce Gesundheit frame the issues succinctly, and reporter Steve Inskeep does a great job asking the questions of federal officials, local fire service, residents, and scientists. Take a look - NFPA would love to know what you think and get your feedback about the problem of home destruction during wildfires

 

For more resources about what you can do to prepare your home and community, see www.firewise.org.

 

To bring NFPA's hands-on technical training based on Jack Cohen's research to your organization, visit www.nfpa.org/hiz

TN Department of Agriculture photo - Nathan Waters

TN Dept of Agriculture photo courtesy of Nathan Waters

 

Resident leaders are a cornerstone of both the state and national levels of the Firewise USA program, and last week at the TN Department of Agriculture's annual Firewise Conference in Knoxville, they acknowledged Jack Porter from the Laurel Mountain Lakes community in Madisonville, for his four years of coordination in working with his community’s 130 homeowners in understanding the importance of wildfire risk reduction and implementing corresponding actions. Through his efforts Laurel Mountain Lakes has become better prepared for wildfire.

 

During the event, multiple success stories and community accomplishments were shared along with the acknowledgement of two new communities added to the program in 2016: Top of the World located in Tallassee; and Tri-County in Madisonville. Also in attendance, was Cumberland Cove in Crossville, they'll reach their 15-year milestone of active participation in the program when they complete their renewal criteria later this year. Long-term participating communities like Cumberland Cove were early pioneers in the Firewise program and continue to make a difference in their community's level of preparedness.

 

Under the leadership of Leon Konz, Dave Fiorella and John Kirksey, the Fire Management Unit Leader, the Tennessee Firewise program is experiencing growth and increased resident participation. As the year progresses, we anticipate hearing about lots of achievements from The Volunteer State.

National Interagency Fire Center has listed the national preparedness level at 2 from a scale of 1-5.

Fire season seems to be becoming a year-round event.  On May 26th on the National Interagency Fire Center’s web page, there is one large new fire and seven other active large wildfires burning in the US.  Three fires are burning in Arizona (Dove, Pinal, and Snake Ridge). Other large fires are in Connecticut (Schaghticoke), in Florida (Echo Springs), in Georgia (West Mims), and in New Mexico (Baca).  To date 2,166, 428 acres have burned.

 

As we enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, we should remember to have good outdoor safety habits to avoid being the cause of starting a wildfire. Check out the one less spark one less wildfire campaign for ideas about lessening your risk of being the cause of a wildfire.  If you are cleaning up your yard, make sure that you remove rocks before working to prevent metal blades from making sparks in dry grass, use proper tools, and make sure that you have an ample water source or fire extinguisher close by.  For more tips visit the website for information about being safe while having fun as well. Check out resources available on NFPA’s Firewise website for information about making your community safer in the event of a wildfire.

 

Photo submitted to NFPA by Fort Still Apache Tribe from their Wildfire Community Preparedness Day event in 2017

In forestry practices, Image-Based Point Clouds can help foresters obtain information about three-dimensional forest vertical structures usually through the use of airborne laser scanning.  There is a growing interest in this methodology of obtaining and using the data obtained to more accurately monitor forest inventories.  It is less expensive than completing assessments by foresters in the field and may be more accurate.

 

A paper published this year in Australia by C. Spits, L. Wallace, and K. Reinke; Investigating surface and near-surface bushfire fuel attributes: provides a comparison between visual assessments and Image-Based Point Clouds, and explores the differences in accuracy between using a visual assessment by an individual in the field using a standard called the Overall Fuel Hazard and Assessment Guide and using a three-dimensional technique such as Image-Based Point Clouds to measure a description of the fuel structure or loading.  The results of this research indicated that using the three-dimensional techniques were 2 to 8 times more accurate.  This new method of collecting data about fuel loading in forests according to the paper showed promising use in helping to define fire management practices in an area where repeatable, accurate results are important to forest management.

 

Picture submitted by Andrew Castellani from Lacy Township, New Jersey

Read about communities that accomplished incredible projects on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day this year on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network web page. The variety of projects undertaken celebrates the diversity of each community’s topography, climate, vegetation, and demographics.  Each project addressed a different need with a unique solution funded by State Farm with assistance from the NFPA.

 

In Central Oregon, Project Wildfire disposed of 2,600 dump trucks of hazardous fuels that they removed from their community.  The Coalition for the Upper South Platte removed over 215 tons of slash they removed throughout their community.  In Lakeview, a subdivision of Carson City, Nevada 9,000 pounds of hazardous fuels were removed.

 

The Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership went high tech with their wildfire preparedness project.  They used GPS-enabled tablets that were installed on equipment used for vegetation management to ensure that they did not disturb sensitive archeological sites in their community.

 

Check out NFPA’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day page to learn about other success stories and learn how you can create unique projects to help be better prepared for wildfire.

 

Photo submitted to NFPA by Austin City Fire depicting an interactive tool used to determine how wildfires burn.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of southern New Jersey’s Warren Grove Fire that burned 17,000 acres and caused the evacuations of several communities in Barnegat and Stafford townships. The fire originated on an Air National Guard Range when an F-16 mistakenly dropped a flare at a low altitude. The resulting wildfire spread across the densely forested Pine Barrens region and responders got a controlling hands when a thunderstorm rolled through two days later.

 

Our friend, John Cowie, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, and past president of the Barnegat Volunteer Fire Company, #1, shared his reflections with me on the wildire and how, 10 years later, strong coordinated efforts are underway to make a difference in the wildland-urban interface across the state.

 

“I think the 2007 Warren Grove Bombing Range Fire was a wake-up call for local Municipalities and Residents,” John remarked. “Unfortunately, there is a misconception in our area and possibly on the east coast that wildfire is an out-west problem. It's not. We have fires every year but they don't impact as many people as this one did.”

 

“Since the fire, The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has been working to build safer communities with local partners through CWPP's, Firewise, and Ready, Set, Go!. Partnerships between every level of a community are invaluable during a major incident [and] this has all come together in Barnegat Township through the FAC Learning Network and fire adapted communities.”

 

The 2007 fire has also defined the future focus for wildfire preparedness in New Jersey. John explained that, “We are now working on building capacity to grow these programs throughout New Jersey. Our goal is to make people aware of our problem and to protect lives and property."

 

This is leading to innovative approaches for the state. John shared that, “Bill Brash, a leader in Wildfire safety in New Jersey, has started the NJ Fire Safety Council. The newly formed [council] worked with Sustainable Jersey to incorporate CWPP's, Firewise, RSG and Municipal Fire safety councils as Sustainable Jersey actions. The points acquired through these actions can translate into level designations and grants."

 

Looking to their next steps, John highlighted that, “Our goal is to make these programs not only sustainable themselves but also to build capacity to further the wildfire message in New Jersey. The NJFSC is also working on grant funding for outreach and mitigation efforts state wide."

 

Giving a final reflection on the fire, John shared that, “I guess you can say that out of something so bad 10 years ago, good things have been brought forth to address the problem. From my perspective it is great to see communities working together to build these partnerships that will one day help to save lives and property.”

 

We are thankful to John and the great work of the New Jersey Forest Fire Services in advancing Firewise in the state and empowering residents to better prepare themselves for wildfire.


Photo Credit: Jones, Richard. Fire Sportlights Concern of Living Near Fighter Jets.  NYTimes, 17May07, pulled 23May17.  

While May 6 ended with 2017 National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day events in Hawaii, it began in the Western Australia town of Balingup, as their fire station hosted their first Fire Protection Expo in conjunction with the day.

 

I caught up with Peta Townsing, expo coordinator and lead for the grassroots Firewise W Australia group, about the expo.

 

Peta shared that, “All sorts of activities took place. We had fire drills by local primary school children, displays, talks on prescribed burning and landscaping for bushfire, demonstrations of using fire extinguishers, a short excursion to some nearby bush to point out how to undertake winter burning, and lots more…”

 

Peta explained to me that, “Balingup is one of a number of small towns in the South West of Western Australia. We have a Mediterranean climate with long hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. It was still dry when we held the Expo so we had to be careful with fires - though at least we did have plenty of firefighting equipment at hand! Most of the South West is bushfire prone.”

 

Turnout was strong for the event, especially amongst new residents. Peta highlighted that, “At the talks we had 40 to 50 people attend with additional people coming and going through the afternoon….some, I know, were recently arrived in the area and were very keen to know more about what they could do to reduce their fire risk, so it was good to see them.”

 

Whether in your own community, or around the world, events like these help to build resident understanding of the wildfire risk, bring neighbors together, and show the positive role they can play in preparedness.

 

We applaud the work of the Balingup Bush Fire Brigade, Firewise W Australia, and the residents of Balingup who are not only learning how to reduce their risks to wildfire, but making a difference in their community.  

 

You can see additional pictures from the event on their Facebook page.

 

Photo Credits: Fire Protection Expo - Balingup - Home | Facebook  

Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Patrick Mahoney, with the Florida Forest Service, credited the Firewise construction and landscaping work a Charlotte County, FL homeowner implemented with helping their home survive a wildfire on May 10, during a 23-acre brush fire.

 

The work that Mahoney cited for playing a role in keeping the home safe included:

  • Installing rock under the home's foundation
  • Metal roof free of debris
  • Clean gutters
  • Well-maintained landscaping that incorporated Firewise guidelines

 

The fire threatened two homes and the FL Highway Patrol reported it shut down I-75 for several hours.

In the May/June NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I argue simply that if we are going to ask volunteer fire departments to do more, we all need to support them more. The March wildfires across Kansas and its bordering states showed how both volunteer departments will rise to any challenge, and the over-reliance we have on them to continue to save the public from a growing list of risks, wildfire now included. 

 

Just like the 1970s saw emergency medical services increasingly become an integral part of what the public expected fire departments to deliver, such focus is needed anew in funding, supported training, and resources for wildfires. The expectation of EMS was partnered with public support for the necessary training and resources to achieve that service goal. The public, and state governments, need to step up to the plate again and stand with their rural volunteer departments in this fight we all face.

 

The May/June edition also includes a very good piece by NFPA’s Angelo Verzoni about recent heavy losses in California and Canadian wildfires and what this means for the future of “structure survival”.

A local news network featured the work being completed by communities across the state of Colorado and especially focused on those of a youth group. The newscast featured youth volunteers in Colorado Springs who played a big role in helping reduce their community’s risk of loss during a wildfire, on May 6, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

 

The group involved in helping two Colorado Springs communities with their mitigation project was from TwoCor.  Some of the youth had survived some of the recent devastating fires in Colorado.  The project not only helps the communities with their mitigation efforts but also helps the youth as well, as part of their personal growth.  Check out the broadcast about their success.

Communities from across the nation are celebrating and getting out there and working on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day with generous support from State Farm.  You can check out the map, to get a glimpse of where some of the projects will be taking place today.  We have heard from participants in Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, Ohio, Maine, California and others in so many other states. 

 

In Grants Pass, Oregon, Two Firewise Communities and the Oregon Department of Forestry are collaborating on defensible space work and a Firewise demonstration garden.  Oregon Department of Forestry officials commend communities who participate and help create safer places to live.  Also in Oregon, about 90 sixth graders will be participating in activities today to support their community as well as help them learn about Oregon’s fire ecology.  

 

In Hawaii, Kailapa shared with the media that they were working on removing dead fall from their community that was created in the last storm and had put their community at risk.  In Texas, they are working on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day Projects in a big way. The Lakeway Firewise Committee, Lake Travis Fire and Rescue, the Lakeway Parks Department and community volunteers are all working together to reduce their wildfire danger.

 

The success stories are a testimony to the can-do attitude of many of these community volunteers who do so much to help ensure that they are safer.  The projects are as diverse as the terrain, vegetation, homes, and demographics of each community.  Creating unique solutions collaboratively that addresses the risks each community faces is what makes such a difference.  NFPA would like to thank State Farm and each and every participant for your part in creating more resilient communities.


This Saturday, community groups across Canada will participate in their 3rd annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

Press releases shared Thursday (in English, et en Français) promote this ongoing effort to support Canadian communities’ actions to reduce their risk to wildfire.  The event is managed by Partners in Protection Association/FireSmart Canada, in collaboration with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) and The Co-operators.  The press releases also share comments by Kelly Johnston, executive director of FireSmart Canada, on the great value of the day. 

The Wildfire Community Preparedness Day (WCPD) in Canada provided funding for 20 projects across the country, with an additional 14 project receiving support from their provincial governments. Funding applications for 2017 more than doubled from last year.

 

Canada’s theme this year is, “Together We Are Prepared,” which highlights the importance of collaborative efforts by communities, the fire service, youth groups, and others.

 

NFPA is proud to support Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in Canada and the efforts of all involved to increase community action in reducing their risk to wildfire.

A May 1 article in Nevada Today, Five Nevadans Win Wildfire Community Preparedness Day contest, shared how 5 communities in Northern Nevada were awarded $500 in funding from State Farm to work on projects on May 6.  The article shared how many agencies including the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the Nevada Fire Adapted Communities network have worked collaboratively with the communities to support their efforts to apply.

 

Many successful applicants worked collaboratively with fire districts, school districts, environmental groups, FEMA, Fire Adapted Communities, Firewise communities, Fire Safe Councils and more.  In Colorado, in the Pagosa Daily Press, an article speaks about several communities in the southwest region of Colorado that will be working with 25-30 firefighters from their region and firefighters from Indonesia and Spain. 

 

We all have a part to play on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, May 6.  What will your story be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A recent one-day forum on fire and life safety challenges for rural communities in Canada revealed some interesting issues related to wildfire safety education and wildfire response. NFPA's Public Education Division is trying to learn more about the needs of rural fire departments across North America, and invited 30 participants from across Canada to help get the conversations started. In a pre-event survey, many respondents indicated that wildfires were among their concerns and challenges.

 

In seeking to learn from the participants, organizer Karen Berard-Reed wisely chose to open with a discussion of the benefits of living and working in rural communities. Many felt that the people and the open space and connection to nature (see photos above) were significant benefits of the rural environment. These two top items also connect to wildfire - the desire to live near open spaces and natural areas means that our communities also are at risk from periodic brush, grass or forest fires. And the people - well, we know that people cause the vast majority of wildfires, whether accidentally, intentionally, or as part of our infrastructure and lifestyles. But the people, of course, are the solution to wildfire problems as well.

 

A roundtable segment of the day allowed participants to choose which issue they wanted to discuss more in-depth with an NFPA staffer. In just two 20-minute sessions, I learned about challenges, concerns, and success stories from one end of Canada to the other.  For example, a rural fire chief in Northern Ontario said his department does respond to grass fires, and cooperates with the national Ministry of Natural Resources on large fires, much the way local US fire departments are support for the lead response agencies such as the US Forest Service. However, he indicated that communication and command control has been a problem in the past. He also felt that because his region experienced large fires only sporadically, his staff struggled to maintain their training and skills. "We just don't do it often enough," he said. This concern was echoed by a Saskatchewan colleague, who cited grass fires as a major safety concern in his area.

 

Participants from western Canada, perhaps because their regions have seen larger and more frequent fires, cited buy-in from community members as a positive, allowing them to be proactive in planning with the community and supporting members in "work bees" (think clean-up days) as part of the FireSmart program. With the positives, however, came concerns because of the rural nature of the areas these fire departments protect. One participant from Barriere, 40 miles north of Kamloops, British Columbia, remembers the 2003 wildfires in Kelowna and the significant problems faced in spread-out rural areas of safely evacuating residents and businesses.

 

Several participants commented on the problems caused by trains along major rail routes sparking fires - a hazard across North America, but not one we tend to hear much about. According to comments in the roundtable, some rail companies are better than others in terms of communicating and working with local fire services. When rail service has had to be shut down for fire fighters to cope with numerous fire starts, it can have serious impacts on commerce. Participants also commented that water supply for firefighting can be a major concern in remote areas.

 

When I asked what NFPA could do for them around these challenges, the top answer was to get insurance companies more involved in wildfire mitigation. Fortunately, we are making some progress in this area thanks to relationships with US industry partners as well as the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction in Canada and the Cooperators, who support Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in Canada.


I'm looking forward to meeting 60 US counterparts of these friendly Canadian fire service folks at the Rural Fire & Life Safety Symposium here at NFPA headquarters on May 12 and 13. I hope to have more to take away to help my thinking about how NFPA and its partners can serve our rural fire departments better when it comes to wildfire safety, prevention, mitigation and response.

 

If you're involved with fire prevention and protection in a rural area, join our Rural Firefighters Connection on NFPA XChange. It's easy, it's free, and you can learn from your peers in a professional setting! It includes a calendar of upcoming events and resources such as PowerPoints, videos and more.

Are you ready to produce your own Prep Day video or capture some great shots to promote the activity in your community? NFPA has some helpful tips to get some quality video and shots that can be shared with local media outlets or post on your social media accounts.  NFPA’s communications team has included some things to consider when you tape:

 

      Videotaping should be limited to 15 seconds to a couple minutes of video. Action is better than people standing around. Action that depicts people at work (raking, cleaning gutters, filling bags, chipping, etc.) and engaged with each other (talking, helping lift debris, etc.) is always best.

 

      Having people centered in the frame/full frame makes for more compelling video (vs. having video with the people very far off in the background). Let’s get up close!

 

If you would like to share your videos and photos with NFPA to use promote Wildfire Community Preparedness Day for next year, (the 5th anniversary of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day), NFPA would like to get your pictures and video as soon as possible after May 6.  You and your community may be a new, featured star of Prep Day success next year.  If the video you created is around 15 seconds long you can probably email it.  If it’s longer, NFPA can work with you to share it.   You can email NFPA with your pictures and photos at WildfirePrepDay@nfpa.org .

 

We would like to get pictures and video as soon as possible after Prep Day.  If it’s around 15 seconds you can probably email it.  If it’s longer, NFPA can work with you to send it.  Please include in your e-mail to us:

  •       Name of project
  •       Location (town, state)
  •       How many people worked on the project. Type of project
  •       A little description of the project (what they hoped to accomplish; why they got involved in Prep Day, etc.)
  •       Contact information

 

Thank you again for helping to promote this important NFPA initiative.  NFPA and State Farm (Sponsor of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day), look forward to hearing about and sharing your success story with others.

 

NFPA colleagues Tom Welle and Hylton Haynes joined me in Reno, Nevada, last week to participate in and present at a workshop on the (U.S.) National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (Cohesive Strategy for short). If that title seems a bit long and overwhelming, I can say that I sympathize! The workshop had 5 lofty objectives, including this one:

 

Reinforce that the focus of the Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy implementation is "all hands, all lands" and that seamless access to the best available and correct science is vital to success at every level and every action.

  • "All hands" encompasses the full spectrum of involved parties and includes, but is not limited to, landowners, practitioners, planners, decision-makers, line officers, local, state, regional, and national leaders from private, local, State, Federal, Tribal and political sectors.
  • “All lands” refers to just that, all lands regardless of jurisdiction or ownership.

I am happy and relieved to report that the workshop was quite successful in achieving this objective by actively demonstrating the "full spectrum" in its diversity of presentation topics and geographic spread of participants. There is nothing like meeting new people engaged in wildfire management and safety to make you energized and willing to forgive long, clunky titles that can sometimes mask the passion, hard work and intelligent research that go into tackling a long-term problem in new and creative ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was especially delighted that in addition to Tom's and my presentation on the science behind Firewise and the Home Ignition Zone, many of the presenters put forth exciting findings from both the social and physical sciences addressing individual and community fire adapted behaviors and challenges. These included Dr. Eric Steffey's intensive survey of residents of Prescott, Arizona, featured in "What Can We Learn From Homeowner Associations In Promoting Household Wildfire Mitigation?"; Stephanie Nelson's "Living with Fire In Valley County: One Size Does Not Fit All,which detailed successes in a rural area of Idaho; and Tami Lavezzo's "The Marin Community Wildfire Protection Plan Science-Based Collaborative Planning and Implementation," which highlighted home ignition zone research from IBHS and Dr. Steve Quarles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A presentation on wildland fire fighting needs based on two NFPA reports met with great interest and significant comments about the challenges of dealing with wildfire response at the local level in rural communities. Hylton Haynes did a great job illuminating these key findings and engaging in discussion around what could be done to support training and equipment needs for the local fire service. Equally well-attended by engaged participants was USAA's Rob Galbraith's talk on the power of insurance incentives. One session I missed in person but knew was great was Travis Paveglio's discussion of his research on an "interactional approach" to fire adapted behaviors. His research was the subject of a recent webinar that is well worth viewing if you are trying to understand how to reach your community.

 

Many thanks to the Cohesive Strategy workshop partners and sponsors, especially the International Association of Wildland Fire, for creating an experience where so many could share so much important information and make lasting connections. For more, see the conference site, which includes full abstracts for presentations and posters.

 

Photo credits: my photos of Eric Steffey's slide (top), Hylton Haynes presenting (bottom left) and Rob Galbraith's slide (bottom right). Center photos of Tom Welle and me courtesy Rob Galbraith of USAA (Twitter.com/RobGalb) - Michele Steinberg

Next month research from all around the world will meet in Lund, Sweden to discuss large outdoor fires and the build environment, including the wildland-urban interface.

Wildfires burn near Grand Coulee Dam, Washington

This workshop, lead by Sam Manzello from NIST, will include presentations that highlighting large outdoor fires throughout the world and explore synergies between these fires. The goal workshop is to develop the foundation for an international research needs roadmap to reduce the risk of large outdoor fires to the built environment. A report will be published based on the presentations and discussion during the workshop, similar to the NIST Special Publication on a structure ignition in wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires.

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