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2017

Map of states that are a part of the Northeast Region, National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy logo

The Firewise USA™ Program and the Northeastern Region Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy Committee have teamed up to highlight community success stories in resident-led mitigation and preparedness from a region very much at risk to wildfire.

 

Each month the NE RSC newsletter delivers articles and stories that demonstrate the collaborative efforts of agencies, organizations and communities in supporting and promoting the three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy:

  • Restoring resilient landscapes
  • Creating fire adapted communities
  • Safe and effective wildfire response

 

This is an opportunity to promote the successes of our Firewise USA™ participants in the northeast region and it helps NE RSC get the message out about how becoming fire adapted via Firewise is beneficial to communities.

In September, Faith Berry highlighted how Cook County, Minnesota residents have learned about the value of collaborating to successfully protect their communities from wildfire loss. Each resident and agency partner accepted their responsibility and embraced their part to identify and lessen their risk of loss.

In October, Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan featured the Pequawket Lake Preservation Association in Limington, Maine, and their efforts to grow beyond their boundaries and engage the community at a higher level.

 

Photo credit: NE RSC newsletter, Larry Mastic

 As homeowners in wildfire prone areas continue to search for ways to reduce potential home ignitions during a wildfire, the October edition of the five-part Wildfire Research Fact Sheet series produced by the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Firewise USA program and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), provides them with details on how noncombustible fencing products can have an impact.

 

The research fact sheet details how fencing placed within five feet of a building (the Immediate Zone) should be constructed of noncombustible materials. Using noncombustible fencing where it attaches to the building reduces the opportunity of a burning fence igniting the exterior of the structure.

 

Each fact sheet in the series provides residents living in areas with wildfire risks with important research findings that can be implemented at the individual parcel level. They also provide forestry agencies and fire departments with an educational outreach tool that can be customized with an agency/department logo.

 

The final 2017 edition of the fact sheet series will be released in November and the topic is scheduled to be Coatings.

If you’ve been stressing about getting a nomination submitted for that risk reduction "superhero" that you know, you now have a little extra time! The deadline has been extended to November 10, and that gives you an extra ten days to get them nominated.

 

The 2018 national Wildfire Mitigation Awards are for an outstanding individual, group or organization that continuously demonstrates exceptional wildfire risk reduction achievements. They are the highest honor for outstanding work and significant impacts in wildfire preparedness and mitigation. The program was established in 2014 in response to an overwhelming number of exceptional wildfire risk reduction efforts occurring throughout the U.S.

 

Nominating a deserving individual or organization is simple and easy-to-do. Read the guidelines and supporting criteria and get started by completing the online form.

The three award categories include:

  • National Wildfire Mitigation Award
  • National Mitigation Hero Award
  • Wildfire Mitigation Legacy Award

Jointly sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS), the nomination deadline closes Friday, November 10.

 

Awards will be presented at the Reno, Nevada Wildland Urban-Interface Conference on February 28, 2018.

Photo submitted by Krys Nystrom

The news is full of horrifying and sad stories, especially in the aftermath of the California wildfires.  So much tragedy, it is heartbreaking.  When I was in New Mexico connecting with residents, Krys Nystrom, project manager for the Wildfire Network, introduced me to a very positive story about New Mexico young adults.  It was a group of five young adults who are making an incredible difference in the wildfire safety of their community while at the same time are learning basic forestry skills.

 

This group of five Santa Fe Youthworks participants were working on a project to reduce fuel loading at the Santa Fe Institute.  The project is funded by the City of Santa Fe’s Verde grant.  This project is the result of collaborative efforts by ten partners consisting of the Santa Fe Youthworks (lead), Wildfire Network, Reunity Resources, the Food Depot, Dashing Delivery, MoGro, All Trees Firewood Inc, Proscape Landscaping, Adelante Program for Homeless Student Services, and Santa Fe Community College.

 

The project provides assistance for fuels reduction and healthy forest restoration projects.  The students were working on reducing fuels and making necessary erosion control steps that they received guidance with from an environmental professional.

Photo submitted by Krys Nystrom

The students are not only helping their community but also growing in personal qualifications through on the job training and coursework provided. According to Krys, “They have done some fixed plot monitoring training, brown's transects for fuel loading measures, and we're learning how to participate in the Land-Potential Knowledge System by adding soil data to that world-wide database.”  They will get an NWCG S130/190, basic firefighting class and hope to participate on some prescribed fire projects. They will also be interfacing with private landowners to get some people skills, and doing a community presentation at some point early next year to get some public speaking experience.

 

Do you know youth who would like to be a part of something bigger by helping their communities be more resilient from damage caused by wildfire?  Check out NFPA’s TakeAction website for more information about potential community service project ideas.

Current wildfires around Coimbra, Portugal, have claimed over 30 lives in a country still coming to terms with the loss of 64 people in wildfires this summer. It is a hard and painful truth that the impacts of wildfire are shared globally, as we here in the United States see official reports of 41 deaths in California from wildfires that continue to burn. Both tolls deserve our collective reflection on how we manage our landscapes and engage with our built environment.


António Patrão, Forest Engineer and Fire Prevention Specialist in Portugal, shared his thoughts on the current loss of life and the future of preparedness outreach in Portugal for this blog. His words help us to understand the scope of challenge, the impact of fire on the people of Portugal, and what can be done going forward by everyone.

 

“Portugal faced the most devastating wildfire season ever. Massive, very fast and severe wildfires destroyed lives, goods, landscapes, natural heritage and cultural values. It has been a firework on hell, under extreme dry [conditions], gigantic fuel accumulation, and unprepared communities. The perfect storm.

 

Since January until October [2017], mostly in a few days of June and October, 106 people died. Hundreds were injured. Thousands of pets and livestock died. Thousands homes and industrial facilities and others were affected and destroyed. 500,000 ha [1,235,526 acres] were burned. This represent 50% of the total burned area in Europe. It should be noted that 90% of those 500,000 ha were caused only by 1% of the total ignitions.

 

We are now living a moment of uncertainty when wildfires easily become urban and industrial ones.

 

National wildfire management and civil protection systems collapsed. People, most of them old, were abandon to their luck, trapped in smoke and flames, alone and unprepared. All society is morally affected, in pain and tears. People are feeling hopeless, angry with fire, with the state and with the government, and questioning themselves. It will be hard to recover. 

 

Wildfires in Portugal are now clearly being assumed as a social problem. They have human causes, they provoke human losses, and solutions are in human hands.

 

Solutions? Answers? Let’s go back to the basics on forest management and work close with people. Portugal needs to develop and implement community educational programs on fire. Community collaborative work on fire prevention and response represents one anchor to prepare people and to build resilient wildfire communities. This demands long term policies and outreach by multidisciplinary teams, home by home, street by street, village by village, and community by community. The road is hard but we should take the first step on Firewise.”

 

Photo Credit: BBC, Dozens Die in Portugal and Spain Wildfires, 16 October 2017, pulled 18 Oct. 2017. 

Photo of page from Quickseries Publishing

 

In honor of Fire Prevention Week and thanks to the good work of the Mid-Atlantic Forest Fire Protection Compact and the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission along with QuickSeries Publishing, a free mobile app in both English and Spanish is now available to help people prepare for and recover from wildfire damages.

 

NFPA has partnered with the Compact and the Commission to ensure the app is available for free unlimited downloads for one year. This timely information, provided from the convenience of a smartphone or tablet device, can help people not only prepare their homes and families before a wildfire, but also provide critical knowledge and resources to help them recover more quickly after a fire has occurred.

 

While the app contains regionally specific information for the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, it is rich with information on wildfire preparedness and post-fire recovery that can help residents throughout North America. The settings feature within the app allows users to set the language to English or Spanish.

 Photo of App shared by Quickseries Publishing

According to NFPA Wildfire Division Manager Michele Steinberg, “The app is easy to navigate. It’s well organized with attractive graphics, quick tips, and links to all of the most important information people need to know to get prepared and be safer. It’s very well-aligned to the messages and information that NFPA provides on wildfire safety, and helps people in the U.S. find out how to engage in the Firewise USA™ Recognition Program, and those in Canada how to access FireSmart resources. As Californians cope with a major wildfire disaster unfolding during this Fire Prevention Week, it’s my hope that the recovery information, in particular, may be helpful to them.”

 

Fred Turck, Prevention Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Forestry, shared, "Education is one tool we have to help protect people, homes, and places from the threat and damages of wildfires. This new app is one of the best tools we have had in our educational toolbox for many years and I appreciate the collaboration between all those involved in making this available."

 

 

Click here to download the app from iTunes® or Google Play®.                                                                                        (LINK: http://readydl.com/landing/wildfire/index.html)

 

 

Photo of page from Quickseries Publishing

We need to understand how local demographics influence risk preparedness and evacuation. A field tour I recently participated in to see how communities rebuilt following massive bushfires in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia, in October 2013, provides great examples for us all on lessons in action.

 

In early September, I had the opportunity to attend the Australian AFAC 2017 conference and present on the community recognition value of NFPA’s Firewise USA™ Program. As part of the conference, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) led attendees on a field tour to learn from the Blue Mountains bushfires, with presentations from their leadership, volunteer firefighters, and community engagement staff.

 


The tour introduced us to the volunteer firefighters who were on the initial attack for a bushfire ignited by tree limbs touching a power line. Strong winds would quickly spread the fire beyond control and become 627 separate ignition events over a 13 day period. In the end, over 405,000 acres would burn and consume 214 homes before the fires were contained.


We learned about the 2013 event and how stronger understanding about populations at risk is helping to frame their preparedness and outreach for the next fire. Bushfires and a robust fire ecology is not new to the Blue Mountains, but its population is. The terrain and development reminded me of the Front Range in Colorado and mountain towns in Eastern Tennessee.

Its day-time population primarily commutes to Sydney now and by 2025, 60% of its population will be over 65 in age. This is changing resident perception of fire department response and their own ability to mitigate the risk on their own properties. 90% of the homes in the Blue Mountains are within 300 meters of wildland edge and the NSWRFS Community engagement staff shared that they see a 7-year cycle of new residents for renewed education about that risk.

 

The Blue Mountains are also a popular tourist destination and this poses a challenge if fires occur because, aside from the influx of population, many visitors are not proficient in English.

 

The 2013 fire illuminated lessons on public communications that influence how the NSWRFS connects with residents now. Their research showed that residents learned of the fires from family members messaging each other and turned to social media after for official updates. In the moment, they wanted to hear what is expected to happen from the fire services and not what already occurred. The NSWRFS explained that their communications to the public share as much as they know, clearly and honestly in plain language, recognizing that they are a apart of the information stream, not the sole deliverer anymore.

By focusing on these variables, fire services and residents alike are better understanding who is at risk during the next fire.  Out of the ashes of the 2013 fire also came a yearly 2-day workshop held in the Blue Mountains. It educates the public on rebuilding and fosters the collaboration between residents, builders, and planners around enacted development legislation that is an impressive accomplishment to see from an American wildfire perspective.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton, NFPA

 

In just over 24 hours, more than 14 wildfires in eight northern California counties have spread to homes and businesses, destroying some 1,500 structures, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Nevada, Sonoma, Napa, Yuba and Butte counties are some of the areas where the wind-driven fires are triggering mandatory evacuation orders for residents, the evacuation of the Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Hospitals in Santa Rosa, along with school closings in some areas. The Times article has information for local residents, including a text message service to find out more details in real time about the fires and what areas are being affected. The city of Santa Rosa has a city-wide incident information page updating residents on evacuation status and more.

 

See NFPA's tip sheet on what to do on a high fire danger day here. To track the fire, check NFPA's map (pictured above) which pulls data updated every 24 hours from GeoMAC, an interagency mapping and tracking system. For more localized data, CAL FIRE has a simple map of active fires along with a detailed incident tracking system that includes links for each incident covering evacuation orders and more.

Scout Troop #364 in front of home with residents after completing work around property.

 

One of the things I enjoy most working with a program like Firewise USA™ is the opportunity to visit communities and see firsthand the actions they are taking to prepare and protect their homes from wildfire. In late September, the community of Nassau Oaks near Callahan, FL, kindly welcomed me as I attended their annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day event.

 

An active Firewise USA™ participant since 2008, this year has proved challenging for them to meet the annual recognition program requirements. Their Preparedness Day event was delayed once due to spring wildfires and narrowly escaped being cancelled by Hurricane Irma. In spite of all that, residents, volunteer fire fighters, Florida Forest Service staff, and a local tree service gathered on a Saturday morning with positive attitudes to see what they could accomplish. They spent hours cutting up downed trees, feeding the chipper, hacking down vegetation, and removing debris left by the hurricane.

 

My favorite part of the day was when Scout Troop #364 from nearby Baldwin, FL, arrived to assist one homeowner’s property. The resident has been a strong supporter of Firewise in Nassau Oaks but due to recent health concerns was unable to safely take action on his own property. Under his direction, the scouts gathered limbs, raked leaves and relocated debris to the side of the road where it would be picked up later by the county. These young men were polite and hardworking, exemplifying service to others.

 

I owe a big thank you to the masterminds of the event, Annaleasa Winter with the Florida Forest Service and Craig Herr, the resident leader for Nassau Oaks and volunteer fire chief, for allowing me to be a part of the day. I applaud them, the community, and Florida Forest Service for their commitment to reducing wildfire risks and their dedicated support of Firewise.

 

Home owner, Florida Forest Service, and volunteer fire fighters feed chipper in front of house    Nassau Oaks Firewise recognition sign at community entrance.     Nassau Oaks preparedness day participants in front of Florida Forest Service equipment.

 

Photo credit: NFPA

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