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2018

This Saturday we can all take action to make our communities safer from wildfire risks.  Everyone who participates is making a difference and becomes an integral part of a larger movement, where residents in wildfire prone areas understand what their risk is and are taking steps on May 5th, to reduce their risk of loss. Check out our Prep Day map to look for an opportunity to get involved where you live. Nothing mapped in your area?  Design and map your own local solution today. 

 

Are you thinking that it will never happen here?  Wildfires can and do occur everywhere.  It is not a matter of location.  It is a set of conditions, which can contribute to wildfire loss anywhere. Last week a small wildfire in Minnesota threatened a farm.  Smoke from the wildfires in the great plains area were mapped April 14th as affecting Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.  The Greenway Fire in March caused thousands of forested acres to be burned in Florida. Currently in the Payson, Arizona area a large wildfire is burning thousands of acres causing the evacuation of many communities. Wildfires can and do occur in places not normally considered at risk from wildfire loss.

 

We can ignore the risk, or can we be a part of the solution.  Get involved this Saturday, May 5th. Get to know your neighbors and create a safer place to live.  What will you be doing?  Share your success story with us!

Wind-blown embers generated during wildfires are the single biggest hazard posed to homes, and homeowners should never overlook the potential risk that an attached deck can create. Nothing that can ignite should be stored under a deck. An ignited deck can result in the ignition of combustible siding or glass breakage in a sliding glass door. The research detailed in April's Wildfire Research Fact Sheet provides low-cost construction changes that can minimize fire spread on ember-ignited decks.

 

Recent testing by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has important findings that can help minimize risk from wind-blown embers in a wildfire. The 2018 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) will run from April thru August.

 

Each fact sheet in the series provides residents living in areas prone to wildfires with important research findings that should be implemented at their homes. They also provide forestry agencies and fire departments with a tool that can be utilized in their educational outreach efforts by customizing the fact sheets with an agency/department logo.

 

 

As I was finishing raking up the mess from this year’s past storm fronts, I was thinking about how residents living in wildfire prone areas can do so much to reduce their risk of loss to wildfires by completing some simple and low cost property maintenance chores.  Spring cleaning can also improve your wildfire safety.  In a recent article, Making Homes Resistant to Wildfire May be Cheaper Than We Thought, Jack Cohen shares, “So that raises the question: can we actually prevent home ignitions using extreme wildfires,” Cohen said. “And again: a resounding ‘Yes!’”

 

Start by removing accumulations of flammable vegetative matter (leaves, pine needles, sticks etc.) that may have accumulated around or on your home.

 

Most homes that ignite, and are ultimately destroyed during a wildfire do so as the result of small burning embers that collect on and in areas around the home where there are accumulations of flammable materials.  For example gutters are a great place for leaves and pine needles to collect, a fuel bed for many embers generated during wildfires. Yet another area to check are the inside corners of the outside of the home.  Leaves and other matter builds up here from the wind, this is the same place that embers will accumulate during a wildfire.  Other areas under the deck and next to the home where leaves and material gather also are vulnerable to ignition during an ember storm generated by a wildfire.

 

Small nooks and crannies on the outside of your home that may provide openings into your home because of small cracks and holes (such as areas in your eaves, areas where window frames are not flush to the house and other open areas in siding, and garage doors that do not close flush to the ground) can all provide avenues for embers to collect and ignite your home from the inside.  Caulk all cracks and holes and buy weather stripping material for the sides and bottom of your garage door.

 

Pay special attention to your roof and vents.  Repair holes and replace missing shingles or roof tiles.  Add bird stops or cement in openings in the front of clay tiles to prevent embers from igniting nesting material from birds or other animals in this area. Screen vents to prevent ember entry or update them with ember resistant vents.

 

Steps taken today in the form of simple spring maintenance projects can pay big dividends in the survivability of a home.  Learn more about steps you can take to make your home safer with information provided on NFPA’s Firewise USA® webpage.

 

According to the latest situation report from the Oklahoma Forestry Services website, two major wildfire complexes have burned more than 350,000 acres over the past week, and are only partially under control. The 34 Complex fire in Woodward County has burned 62,089 acres and is 60% contained as of April 20, 2018. The Rhea Fire in Dewey County is more than four times that size at 289,078 acres and is only 25% contained as of April 20.

 

An article on Weatherunderground.com by meteorologist Bob Henson provides an excellent, detailed explanation of why Oklahoma is burning and points out that these large fires are certainly not unprecedented and are even becoming more common in recent years.

 

Henson’s article describes the main factors conspiring to bring these so-called “megafires” to Oklahoma – a place many don’t think of when they hear the word “wildfire.” The culprits include unusually serious wildfires – drought, high temperatures and persistent high winds; alternating wet and dry periods leading to a profusion of fire-prone vegetation; and the prevalence of a particular fire-prone species, eastern red cedar, throughout Oklahoma and the southern plains. I once heard a forester describe this tree as a “native invasive” – a tree that belongs there but without intervention spreads and grows and has significant negative impacts on the landscape. Henson helpfully points out that before European settlement, indigenous people set fires to keep these weed-like trees under control.

 

The trend toward larger and more damaging wildfires in the Southern Plains is clear, and the toll on people, the land and livelihoods is growing. In a haunting repeat of the March 2017 fires across Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado, today’s fires are destroying homes, killing people and livestock, and decimating crops and agricultural land upon which livelihoods are based.

 

To help the people and communities impacted by these fires, see this article that indicates where you can donate money and resources. To track wildfires, see NFPA’s map (image above) that pulls data from national sources and updates every 24 hours.

 

This growing trend of wildfire does not have to mean disaster. To learn more about what to do to protect your home and community, visit www.firewise.org.

Have you ever felt like you just don’t know how to get started, improving the wildfire safety of your community?  You know that you need to do something, but just don’t know how to begin taking action that will make a difference when you are just one person or neighborhood. 

 

Get started by getting involved on May 5th, in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, a nationwide effort.  All you have to do is commit a few hours and connect with some neighbors to take action, working on a project that will help make you safer.

 

NFPA has made it easy for you to get started.  Need a flyer?  On the Wildfire Prep page we have a free resource, a fillable flyer you can customize with information about your project time and location and even add your own logo to.  Simply print it up and post around your community to invite others to participate.  You can also map your project on the Wildfire Prep Day map page so other volunteers can see what you are doing, and learn how they can help. Want to connect with your local paper, radio station, or television station?  NFPA has created a free press release template you can use as a guide to get the word out about what you are doing.

 

If social media is your thing, there is a free downloadable web banner you can use on your webpage or on social media posts.  We make it even easier by providing sample posts.  Connect on the Firewise USA® Facebook page and give yourself a shout out for being a part of making a positive difference in your community.

 

Local elected officials can now download a new resource, a fillable PDF proclamation. You can add your city or town seal and endorse positive actions taken by residents to improve their wildfire safety.

 

Finally if you just have to get something more, to promote your efforts, NFPA has listened to you and created for purchase a beautiful  banner to hang over your fire department or community center, stickers to put on certificates or give to participants and a digital decal that can be used to print an unlimited amount of beautiful t-shirts.

 

Get involved and become a part of making where you live safer in the event of a wildfire.  Need or want something we don’t have?  Let us know.  NFPA wants to support your efforts.  It is so easy to get involved.  Finally, tell us your story about how you are going to make a difference.

USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Lab

A very interesting read on the growth of the wildland-urban interface from scientists with the USDA Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is now available. Scientists tracked changes in the nation’s WUI over a 20-year time span that revealed the area has expanded by more than 46 million acres (an area larger than Washington State), with one-third of all homes in the U.S. now located in areas that are near or intermingled with forests and grasslands.

 

Authors of the study, “Rapid growth of the U.S. Wildland-Urban Interface raises wildfire risk” published March 12, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, found both the number of homes in the WUI and its total footprint are growing rapidly, with many implications for wildfire management and other natural resource management issues. 

 

In addition to the article, make sure to catch an excellent new video, “A Better Way to Think About Wildfires” produced by the USDA Forest Service with the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. It's a great resource to share with stakeholders at all levels. Using a creative approach that includes drone footage and video that illustrates the physics of fire from the USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, it explains the benefits of healthy fire to forest ecosystems. 

 

Grab a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to read the article and watch the video!

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services posted a remarkable article on their website last week.  This article, Signs of Recovery Show Six Months After Most Destructive Wildfires in California History, Debris Removal Reaches Major Milestone shared staggering costs and work involved in rebuilding the communities that were hardest hit by wildfires in Northern California.  The overall costs paid out by government agencies since the October 10th described in this article, which does not including costs paid out by homeowner’s insurance policies was;

 

  •        15.7 million dollars from FEMA for individual assistance to 4,500 residents in this hard hit area.
  •       Of this amount 9.6 million was provided for temporary housing assistance and to help rebuilding
  •       Another 6.1 million dollars was used to help victims of these fires with other needs such as funeral costs, medical needs, and personal property loss
  •        271.8 million dollars was given in Public Assistance grants to the neighborhoods, cities, counties and state affected by the wildfires.This money is used for the repair of public infrastructure and buildings.  The amount going directly to people is only about 6% of the amount going to repair and replace public buildings and infrastructure. 

TOTAL  287.5 million dollars just in government assistance for these 2017 Northern California wildfires.  These costs also do not include 640 households who received California State Transitional Sheltering Assistance and 230 households who received FEMA temporary housing.  This funding does not cover all costs incurred in the rebuilding process and many costs are never recovered.

 

It was amazing to me also how long it took just to remove the 1.7 million tons of debris (from homes and businesses that burned) that became designated as hazardous materials.  The thought of the damage all of this caused the environment not to mention the horrible loss of life was overwhelming.  I can’t help but think that there is so much more that can be done now as the rebuilding and healing process begins to help reduce California residents’ loss during wildfires.  NFPA has many no cost resources that can be used to reduce wildfire losses.  

The photos were shared with NFPA by the LA City Fire Department

 

Get detailed information in our new Reducing Wildfire Risks in the Home Ignition Zone foldout poster that will assist in planning your wildfire risk reduction projects. The format includes detailed actions that all residents with a wildfire risk should complete at their home. Learn about ignition resistant building materials and construction techniques, along with vegetation and debris removal and how each can be impacted during a wildfire.

 

The easy-to-follow checklist identifies tasks that increase a home’s potential survivability when exposed to embers and/or a surface fire. Use the checklist to track individual accomplishments within the Immediate, Intermediate and Extended home ignition zones and make entries that denote when they were completed and will need to be repeated.

 

Order a poster today for both yourself and your neighbors and work together to prepare your homes and landscapes for when wildfires happen. Posters are available as an individual single-unit, or packaged in bundles of 25 for larger outreach events. Both are available through the NFPA online catalog.

In my family, we are always looking for reasons to eat cake. Celebrations of all sizes work equally well for us; so I’m very excited that I can indulge in a big slice tonight as a nod to the 277 Firewise USA sites that recently reached a 5, 10 or 15 year milestone anniversary of wildfire risk reduction achievements. Accomplishments of that magnitude call for lots and lots of cake so join me from afar and cut yourself a giant slice too!

 

These site's long-term accomplishments range from individual efforts, to neighbor-to-neighbor collaborative actions, to community-wide projects that increase a homes chances of surviving wildfires. Each has embraced the importance of neighbors working together to reduce wildfire risks and have worked closely with their state forestry agency and local fire department to maximize their efforts. 

 

We extend a hearty round of applause to all that reached these major milestones! There are 167 sites that reached the five-year milestone; 94 that reached the ten-year milestone and 16 superstars achieved fifteen years with the program. The sixteen sites completing fifteen years of participation will receive customized street signage that proudly shares their status in the program.

 

The 15-year sites include:

Arkansas: Holiday Island, Holiday Island, AR; Joplin, Mt. Ida, AR; Norman, Norman AR and Story, Story, AR

Florida:  Lakewood, Starke, FL

New Mexico:  Village of Ruidoso, Ruidoso, NM

North Carolina:  River Run Plantation, Bolivia, NC

Pennsylvania:  Penn Forest Streams, Jim Thorpe, PA

South Dakota:  Mountain Plains, Spearfish, SD

Tennessee:  Cumberland Cove, Monterey, TN

Texas:  Tierra Linda Ranch, Kerrville, TX; Trails of Horseshoe Bay, Horseshoe Bay, TX and Wildcatter Ranch and Resort, Graham, TX

Washington:  Lummi Island Scenic Estates, Lummi Island, WA

Wyoming:  Story, Buffalo, WY and Union Pass, Dubois, WY

 

Learn how you and your neighbors can become a Firewise USA program participant at Firewise.org, or contact your local state forestry liaison.

 

On April 1 the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC’s) Predictive Services issued their newest National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April, May, June, and July 2018.  Some key takeaways are during April, areas of the central and southern Great Plains will continue to experience significant wildland fire activity; this will shift towards the Southwest as the month continues.  The Florida Peninsula, eastern Georgia, and South Carolina are areas of concern as they experience lingering drought conditions.  As we head towards June and July drought conditions and weather patterns will shift the areas of concern west. 

 

With this outlook, many focus on the approach of “wildfire season” in the west, but others are starting to think more in terms of a “fire year.”  I first heard this presented at the annual Wildland Urban Interface Conference by the now interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen.  Recently it was announced that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) was formally adopting the term. Fire year acknowledges that traditional seasons are starting sooner and extending longer, putting a demand on resources further outside of summer and the traditional fire season.  This is important to consider in the realm of wildfire fire preparedness and risk reduction as well since we have already seen active fire and threats to homes. Several fires during March resulted in home losses in Colorado and just last week 40 homes were saved from a fast-moving wildfire in Florida, their survival was credited to having taken action to create defensible space.

 

All of this reminds me that preparing for wildfires and lowering home ignitability is a year-round event – not limited to a weekend or two leading up to summer.  With the losses in Colorado last month, I took a moment to evaluate my house and realized I wasn’t practicing good fire safety in the Home Ignition Zone.  Oak leaves and pines needles were piled up against the foundation, carried by wind that could potentially drive embers to the same location in the event of a wildfire.  I spent several hours raking and cleaning them up, working out to about 15 feet in areas exposed to the predominate winds.  And while I certainly have more work to do, I could definitely see the difference.

 

Two piles of branches and debris that have been gathered for removal, debris was located within the Home Ignition Zone.As spring rolls forward I encourage you to tackle projects of your own – a few hours a weekend can really make an impact.

  • Clean out the gutters and 0-5 feet from foundation where debris has gathered
  • Trim and clean up dead/decadent plants
  • Work your way out, 5-30 feet, cleaning up litter and debris, pruning tree limbs 6-10 feet from the ground
  • Home projects - inspect your gutters, roof, etc. for any storm damage, replace or repair any missing shingles as they might allow for ember penetration
  • Screen in any decks or porches that allow for debris and embers to get underneath
  • Learn more about what actions you can take to reduce your risk of loss

 

If you are still experiencing winter conditions that prevent risk reduction work focus on other parts of wildfire preparedness:

  • Create an emergency plan for you and your family and practice it
  • Assemble an emergency supply kit, remember to include important documents, medications, and personal identification
  • Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place

 

Check out NFPA's Wildfire safety tips for more information and resources.

 

Photo credits - 

Significant Wildland Fire Potential- NIFC

Wildfire mitigation photo - NFPA

Being born and raised in the West, I would never have expected to see the vast amount of rural forested area that I witnessed, of all places, in New Jersey.  But there it was, miles of trees, with developments nestled within it for as far as the eye could see.  This was the Pine Barrens.  And for the last several years, it has been high on the national list of places that can burn, and burn big.

 

The last time it did was May of 2007.  The Warren Grove Gunnery Range sits within the Pinelands and an Air National Guard F-16 ignited a 14,000 acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 6,000 people and burned several homes. A 2016 article in Rolling Stone magazine, "Will America's Worst Wildfire Disaster Happen in New Jersey" caught many folks off guard with most of the news being western wildfire concerns.  Yet, this 1.1 million acre tract of trees is home to some 500,000 people and is still growing.  And it can burn big.

 

The State of New Jersey, and specifically, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service is working diligently to prepare their residents for future fire events.  In March, we got a chance to meet with them on a State visit as part of our work with the Firewise USA™ program. 

 

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service utilizes a multi-pronged approach that marries up the Firewise USA™ program, The International Association of Fire Chief’s “Ready, Set, Go” program, New Jersey Fire Safety Councils, and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network into one effort called Sustainable Jersey.  This program allows communities to build points towards achieving various levels of status which assists them in competing for risk reduction grant funding.

Given that New Jersey is heavily served by volunteer fire companies, the “Ready, Set, Go” program was a natural fit, especially since the Firewise USA™ program is the “Ready” part for them. The residents we met are deeply engaged with the state to reduce their risk because Sustainable Jersey helped to define what the various wildfire risk reduction programs can do and build upon the success of each locally.

We attended a meeting with over 75 participants in Barnegat, including the Chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, Greg McLaughlin. The large fires in recent memory are always on the minds of these residents and all had stories to tell about the Warren Grove fire.

So from a place many do not think of having significant wildfire, comes a unique approach to trying to reduce the risk ahead of the next “big one”. I think all of us can learn from the good work going on in New Jersey.

Photo credit: Warren Grove Gunnery Range by Tom Welle

In mid-March, NFPA visited with its wildfire partners in South Africa to attend a capstone event recognizing 10-years of UN Development Program funding of the Fynbos Fire Project that promoted integrated fire management for wildfire risk reduction across the landscape, with the model of the Firewise USA® Program employed to achieve community engagement.

 

A series of videos premiered at the event capture the heart and determination of communities that are working to make themselves safer from wildfire.  They provide us some lessons as well on encouraging local responsibility and building local trust for needed behavioral change.

 

The first video is from the Goedverwacht (pronounced: Hook-trah-vacht) community north of Cape Town. A wildfire three years ago motivated the residents to take action and reduce the risks of their community that is surrounded by mountains with one access road.  Firewise site board members, who work the program as part of a job development model, connect with fellow residents door-to-door and with school children about the risk from embers and behaviors that had to change on fire-danger days.

 

Their focus on community responsibility, risk education, and self-improvement has kept their effort strong as they transition to an all-volunteer effort.  I was fortunate to visit with them in 2016 and again this year.  I remain amazed by their commitment to others and the clear risk reduction they have achieved.

 

The second video is from the community of Sir Lowry’s Pass, west of Cape Town. Faced with wildfire exposure, both from within and from the surrounding landscape, the opening narration by a Firewise leader in their video captures it all for me. “If one house burns in the community, we all feel it because if one house burns, it could just as well have been mine.”

 

Michele Steinberg, NFPA Wildfire Division Manager, spoke at the UNDP event.  She shared that it provided the, “great experience to reflect back on 20 years of where the Firewise USA® Program has been to where it is now.” She went onto explain that, “community engagement is so vital and it’s gratifying to see communities under different contexts and without the resources we take for granted here in the US achieve such successes in their community risk reduction efforts.”

 

The videos show how both communities exemplify the values of peer-to-peer exchange to build trust and deliver a responsibility message directly to each resident.  That lesson is transferable back to us when we consider how to engage volunteerism, encourage risk reduction activities, and get residents to see their role in wildfire risk reduction.

 

Two other community videos were made by the Fynbos Fire Project and we’ll share reflections on them in May.

 

Our visit in March with LANDWORKS South Africa and other organizations committed to wildfire community risk reduction let us continue our collaborative work with them, learn what community engagement can achieve, and identify what research is needed to advance that effort.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton

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