Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan

Wildfires and preparedness aren't limited to a season

Blog Post created by Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan Employee on Apr 5, 2018

 

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

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