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2018

On Saturday this week, the Aroostook band of Micmacs in Caribou, Maine hosted their Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, main event due to snow earlier in May this year.  Jon Cote the Emergency Management Director, wrote their successful application for funding, helped organize the event and encouraged all members of their local community to be a part of this important effort. Everyone in the community had a part to play, whether it was pre-planning, helping with the lunch, paperwork, or doing the clean-up work itself.  All shared that they were happy to have a role to play in this important community effort.

 

The youngest participant was 4 and the oldest in their 80’s.  They all worked hard together with agents from their local State Farm office, Job Corps, Red Cross office and rangers from the State of  Maine Forest Service.  They removed a lot of dead fall, (trees and branches that blew down during winter storms), which along with the accumulation of trash in the wooded area surrounding the building contributed to risk of loss in the event of a wildfire.

 

After a morning’s work, the area surrounding the building looked much better.  They were encouraged by the amount of work accomplished in one day.  Their efforts were featured on a local television station to encourage others in the town to make a difference in their own personal safety, by taking simple steps to reduce their risk of loss during a wildfire. 

 

They celebrated their success with a lunch, demonstration of wildland firefighting gear, and a helicopter water drop.  Smokey Bear even stopped by to thank the children who helped..  But most importantly this is just the beginning of their preparedness efforts.  Their success has generated an interest in sustaining their preparedness efforts.  Jon Cote shared, “this is the first time we were selected for the program, but hope the event continues for years to come.”  What is your Wildfire Community Preparedness Day success story?

All photos taken by Faith Berry NFPA

StateHouse
In my spare time outside of NFPA, I volunteer as a tour guide with a nonprofit group called Boston By Foot. I talk about Boston's history and architecture to locals and tourists from around the world. July 4 is my absolute favorite holiday, because I lead people on a 3-hour tour of Boston's Freedom Trail, which commemorates important sites that led to the American Revolution. I love to tell people how a copy of the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the balcony of the Old State House. The townspeople were so excited about overthrowing the "tyrant" (King George III), that a number of them climbed up the walls of the building, tore down the lion and the unicorn which symbolized royal British authority, and burned those wooden carvings in a great bonfire, perhaps the first precursor to our traditional fireworks celebrations today.

 

Boston also holds one of the most famous Independence Day concerts in the country on the Esplanade, which concludes with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, involving the ringing of church bells, firing of cannon, and, of course, an amazing fireworks display. What I truly love about Boston's celebration is that thousands of people can enjoy the beauty and noisy excitement of those fireworks safely, because the show is put on by professionals.

 

Yes, you knew I was coming to that -- fireworks, whether illegal or legal where you live, are just plain dangerous when they're not handled by professionals. Fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year, many of which are grass fires and wildfires. They result in $43 MILLION in property damage on average each year - and the 4th of July is, of course, when more than 25% of these fires occur. 

 

Even worse, in 2015, an estimated 11,900 people visited hospital emergency rooms with burns, contusions, lacerations and fractures caused by fireworks. The 30-day period between June 19 and July 19, 2015, was when more than two-thirds of those people were injured. Even worse, 26% of those injured were just kids - younger than 15 years old. Many of those children were hurt by those innocent-looking sparklers - that are hotter than what it takes to melt glass. Four out of five sparkler injuries were to children under 5 years old. 

 

So, on this Independence Day, I hope everyone has a safe and happy time and finds ways to celebrate our nation's greatness without putting themselves, their children or their neighbors at unnecessary risk of injury and loss. Hand your toddler a glow stick and watch a great fireworks show in your community. Think about how much more fun it is to watch the show together than to go to the emergency room together.

 

As Americans, we have many freedoms, including choices about taking risks. But before you light off that Roman candle, please do take a look at the facts. As one of my heroes, John Adams, once said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." 

Sparkler

Top image: Boston's Old State House, photo by Michele Steinberg. Bottom image: infographic from NFPA's Firework Safety Tips web page. Extra points for anyone who can tell me the historical context of Mr. Adams' quote.

Wildfire burning across the country are putting homeowners on heightened awareness. It’s a reminder that there are things we can do to prepare ourselves before an evacuation hits our neighborhood.

 

The National Interagency Coordination Center reported 16 uncontained wildfires were burning as of Tuesday June 26.

 

In Northern California, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Monday in Lake County where the Pawnee Fire is burning.  Cal Fire reported this morning that more than 22 structures had been destroyed and 3,000 people have been evacuated.

 

Near Durango, Colorado homeowners remain on a pre-evacuation notice as firefighters work to get control of the 416 fire which forced them out of their community earlier this month.

 

Wildfires have threatened communities all over the nation in the last month, including fires in Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico & Texas.

 

It’s a reminder that we need to prepare our family and homes. When a wildfire is burning nearby your neighborhood, there are things you can do to make your home and family safer.

 

First and foremost, if an evacuation notice is given to your neighborhood, leave as early as possible. This not only ensures your safety, but it clears the roadways for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire. Lynnette Round, a spokesperson with Cal Fire, emphasized the importance of staying aware and following evacuations. She told the Sacramento Bee sometimes people wait too long to leave. 

 

Before you get an evacuation notice or if your home is on a pre-evacuation notice, here are 5 tips for protecting your family and home.

 

  1. Stay aware of the latest information on the fire from your local fire officials and local news media.

  2. Place your emergency supply kit and other valuables in your vehicle. If you have household pets, you’ll want to remember to include the supplies they will need as well.

  3. Move patio furniture indoors to a shed or garage. If you can’t do that, move them as far away from the home as you can.

  4. Close and protect your home’s openings, including attic and basement doors and vents, windows, pet doors and any openings that may allow embers to get inside your home.

  5. Connect your garden hose and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water. Firefighters have been known to use the hoses to put out fires on rooftops.

NFPA offers even more wildfire safety tips and you can also learn more about the actions you can take to reduce your wildfire risk.

Skylights and their ability to compromise a home during a wildfire is the featured topic in this month’s Wildfire Research Fact Sheet. A skylight can be vulnerable if subjected to extended radiant heat exposure or to flames when embers ignite accumulated vegetative debris. Implementing precautionary steps can help keep them from being an entry point for embers and flames.

 

Get the full fact sheet and learn which skylights are less likely to fail, how a roof’s slope has an impact, glass and screen benefits and what to do with your skylight prior to evacuating (if and when time permits).

 

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise USA® program produces the fact sheet series. Each topic provides residents living in wildfire risk areas with important research findings that can improve their home’s chances of surviving a wildfire.

 

The series also provides forestry agencies, fire departments and additional stakeholders with the ability to customize each of the topics with their agency or department’s logo.

wildfire

 

When it comes to wildfire, communities all across the globe are continuing to find ways to work together to prepare ahead and reduce their risk. In Tuesday’s session at NFPA’s Conference & Expo, “A Little Help From Your Friends:  Lessons Learned from Wildfire Engagement Campaigns from Around the World,” panel members Faith Berry and Lucian Deaton from NFPA, Kelly Johnston of Partners in Protection in Canada, and Oriol Vilalta from the Pau Costa Foundation in Spain, discussed their experiences and challenges, and highlighted examples of community-wide engagement campaigns taking place in the U.S., Canada, and Spain that are motivating people to act to help make where they live safer from wildfire.

 

Over the last few years, wildfires have made headlines due to the record-setting number of fires and acres burned. In 2017, the U.S. saw one of the worst seasons on record with more than 71,000 fires burning more than 10 million acres. Across the border in Canada, British Columbia had its second worst fire season on record. And across the Atlantic, a recent fire map showed massive flames burning across Italy, Romania and Russia while New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil saw wildfires destroy hundreds of homes. In Portugal, 60 people died over the course of one weekend in June due to wildfires.

 

Yet despite the overwhelming numbers, residents living in high-risk wildfire areas continue their efforts to adapt and prepare. One of the ways they are taking action is by participating in NFPA’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. The panel was excited to discuss how events like Prep Day are gaining momentum, reaching a global scale. In 2015, Canada launched its version of Prep Day and just this year, Spain and Italy joined the global stage with similar campaigns. 

 

"We are so excited to see how much interest there is in Preparedness Day," said Berry. "Each year since our pilot program, the number of applications have grown considerably, and every year we collaborate with more and more great organizations who are committed and passionate about wildfire safety." 

 

"Preparedness Day is a really great integrated international program," said Johnston. "And here in Canada we have been working very hard at educating communities about their risk. Because of this, we continue to see community involvement in this event increase every year, which is exciting."

 

Vilalta echoed this sentiment by saying," The Foundation, which was developed to provide a platform for exchanging knowledge on forest fire ecology and management at a European level, continues to work with communities on a regular basis so they are not just prepared, but well aware of and understand their risk before a fire threatens their area."

 

After initial introductions to their individual programs, the panel then focused on a handful of key questions and shared insight with their audience. Questions like: How do you engage local stakeholders in wildfire mitigation like insurance agencies, fire departments and government officials in your communities? What are the kinds of materials you create to help promote Preparedness Day events? The open dialogue proved a great way to help inspire and engage members of the audience to go back to their own communities and take the next step.

 

Because of local, community action, people are making a difference where they live when it comes to wildfire safety. To learn more about Prep Day, visit us at www.wildfireprepday.org. Additional information about NFPA’s international partnerships and the great work these global communities are doing, can be found on NFPA’s wildfire webpage.

Picture of mountain rainbow by Faith Berry

Planning a summer getaway?  Make sure that you pay attention to park closures due to some of the large wildfires burning out West.  It is always a good idea to check fire and other weather conditions before you head out, so that you stay safe.

 

The National Interagency Fire Center report listed the National Preparedness level at 2, with 21 active wildfires currently burning in eight states.  These wildfires have burnt over 124,000 acres.  Two of the largest wildfires are currently burning in New Mexico.  The first the Ute Park Fire has caused the closure of parts of UTE Park for public safety, and has burnt over 36,000 acres alone. This fire is located 1 mile east of Ute Park and is burning along Highway 64 which is causing road closures.  The second fire in New Mexico the Buzzard Fire is burning in the Gila National Forest.  This fire has caused areas of the Gila National Forest to be closed for public safety and has caused road closures.

 

In Texas the Scenic Loop Complex is actually 18 wildfires burning north of Highway 166 in the Davis Mountains.  These fires were caused by thunderstorms and have burned over 8,000 acres in the area.  This fire has caused a temporary flight restriction in the area to accommodate firefighting aircraft.

 

Before you leave for your summer holiday make sure that you have also left your home well prepared in case a wildfire occurs while you are away.  Taking simple precautions, such as cleaning up material from under decks, cleaning debris from gutters, and remove patio cushions from lawn furniture and store them in the house or garage while you are away.  For more tips on wildfire safety check out the Firewise USA ® website.

 

NFPA is offering its exclusive science based training, "Assessing Structural Ignition Potential from Wildfire" (ASIP) course in four locations throughout the U.S.  The open registration classes are part of NFPA's Professional Development weeks where students can take multiple NFPA class room training courses at one location.  

 

The ASIP course, is an updated version of the Home Ignition Zone or HIZ course and is a science based curriculum to help practitioners learn how structures ignite and burn from wildfires and then what to do to reduce that potential.  Students also learn structure assessment skills to identify vulnerabilities for ignition and how to communicate both the threats and the solutions to the homeowner.

 

Starting in July, students can apply to take this course in four locations:        

  • July 19-20, San Francisco, CA
  • September 13-14, Charlotte, NC
  • October 4-5, Denver, CO

  • December 13-14, Anaheim, CA

So don't delay!  Get registered now and improve your knowledge and abilities in reducing wildfire risk in your communities and jurisdictions.

 

For NFPA members and non- members, register here:

 

For a discounted government rate for local, State or Federal employees, register here:

 

And for those of you interested in certification, this course is a key piece in preparing for NFPA's Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist  exam.

View of CR 630 WildfireFirst-hand, detailed accounts of home survival during wildfire are difficult to come by. Today’s blog post documenting just such a success story comes to us courtesy of Todd Chlanda, wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service in the Lakeland District. Todd has also served as a regional Firewise advisor for NFPA and adjunct instructor on wildfire mitigation training. Below is his article:

 

I’m sure there are some non-believers about Firewise out there. But, I can tell you that the people who live in Indian Lake Estates, Florida sure believe in the program! Indian Lake Estates covers approximately 6,800 acres of land and has a population of around 2,275. Almost half of the acres are covered in forest, making it a true Urban Interface with 650 structures in the community.

Map of CR 630 Wildfire with point of origin and spread

Last spring, Florida saw dry conditions and wildfires that they hadn’t seen in the last 12 years. With the dry conditions, the Florida Forest Service cut off all agricultural burning authorizations in early January 2017. Conditions were extremely dry and the Florida Forest Service, Lakeland District had been running small fires since the middle of January.

 

It was February 15, 2017, around 11:00 am, and the call came in for a small wildfire off County Road 630 in southeast Polk County. The temperature was 78 degrees and the winds were out of the west at 23 mph with a relative humidity of 60%. The small fire was wind driven and quickly became a large fire that jumped to both sides of County Road 630. Indian Lake Estates and an area of hunting camps called River Ranch were being threatened. Within an hour of the report of the fire, a mandatory evacuation of Indian Lake Estates and homes along County Road 630 was ordered. By 4:00 pm, approximately 2,000 acres had burned and several residential structures were lost along the roadway. At 9:30 the next morning, the fire was approximately 4,000 acres in size and the winds had shifted. The fire was burning in areas that hadn’t seen a fire in almost 50 years. This fire was not 100% contained until February 24, 2017, with a total of almost 6,000 acres consumed, 12 residential structures and 130 outbuildings destroyed. None of the residential structures lost were within the Indian Lake Estates boundaries even though wildfire had threatened homes in the southern portion of the development.

Undefended home survived wildfire in Indian Lake Estates due to mitigation work

If that wasn’t enough for the community of Indian Lake Estates, two months after the CR 630 Fire, they were once again threatened by a major wildfire. This fire, dubbed the Red Grange Fire, would burn 480 acres directly through the middle of the community, threatening 50 homes and 24 outbuildings. The fire destroyed one outbuilding and the community maintenance barn. Again, mandatory evacuations were in place and for the second fire in a row, no residential structures within Indian Lake Estates were destroyed. 

Aerial view of River Ranch hunting camp area

Were the homeowners in Indian Lake Estates lucky? I don’t think so. Indian Lake Estates had become a recognized Firewise USA® site in 2010. With personnel changes, Indian Lake Estates let their recognition lapse in 2015. But, the culture that the homeowners in Indian Lake Estates had established while becoming a recognized community and every year after, saved the majority of homes during both fires. Yes, the local fire departments and the Florida Forest Service protected homes, but the volume and speed of the wildfire far outweighed the available equipment and personnel available to protect every structure. The preparation homeowners had done in the Home Ignition Zone improved their homes’ survivability and it worked. Homeowners created safe areas around each home and had taken safety measures before the smoke was in the air. Only a few homes suffered minor, cosmetic damage.  The community of Indian Lake Estates had been tested by two major wildfires in two months and the homes survived.

Map of Red Grange wildfire with point of origin and spread

Indian Lake Estates is actively pursuing their Firewise USA® recognition again. They are in the process of rewriting and updating their plan. The Florida Forest Service is planning a property walk through this summer and assisting with the community’s Firewise Day. Indian Lake Estates should obtain recognition, once again, this year.

 

Many thanks to Todd Chlanda and the Florida Forest Service for this article and for permission to use the photos and images included in this blog. From top, a view of the Country Road 630 Fire from the incident command post at the Indian Lake Estates clubhouse; map of County Road 630 Fire showing point of origin and spread; an example of an undefended but mitigated home that survived in Indian Lake Estates; aerial view of The River Ranch, a hunting camp where non-residential structures were destroyed; map of Red Grange Fire showing point of origin and spread.

 

If you are a middle school, high school or college student and want to do something besides sit inside and be glued to a screen.  Learn how you can make a difference in creating communities safer from wildfire, learn new work skills and make new friends in your community.

 

Check out NFPA’s Take Action website for ideas and activities for community service projects.  These projects can be completed at home, done to help a neighbor or with permission from your school and other agency meet community service project requirements.  Always make sure that you take proper safety precautions.  We have attached a safety tip sheet that you can download.

 

Some project ideas include;

  1. Sweeping pine needles, leaves and other material from off your porch or deck.  Don’t forget to dispose of it when you are done.
  2. Raking underneath decks, porches, sheds and play structures.  Remember to dispose the debris.
  3. Mowing grass to a height of four inches or less.
  4. This is a good math project, get out your measuring tape and see how close wood piles are located to the home.  If closer than 30 feet, they need to be moved at least 30 feet away.
  5. Build an emergency Go bag.  Tip sheet is attached to this blog.
  6. Volunteer to help senior neighbors build a go bag for themselves and their pets.
  7. Talk to your parents about what you would do if there was a wildfire or other disaster in your neighborhood or if you are at school. Then make a plan together.
  8. Organize an outreach campaign to babysitters in your neighborhood and the families they work about the importance of learning the family’s emergency plan.

 

When you have completed your project, be a good friend and neighbor and share your accomplishments on social media to encourage others you know to participate as well.  The more you learn about how to prepare for a disaster and how you can take steps to make you and your family safer from wildfire the safer you will feel and be.  For other great videos and information about how you can empower yourself to be safer from disaster check out all the resources on NFPA’s TakeAction webpage.  

Photo of prescribed fire working group at the Salish-Kootenai community field trip. Photo by Faith Berry

Last week researchers from at least 20 countries from across the globe, met and shared professional information and knowledge with each other in Missoula, Montana at the Fire Continuum Conference. This incredible workshop featured more than 400 presentations from respected researchers in the field of wildfire and fire science, as well as notable key note speakers including Vicki Christiansen the interim US Forest Service Chief, Dave Calkin, PhD, Supervisory Research Forester, Human Dimensions Program, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Mark Finney, Research Forester, USDA Forest Service, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory and more.

 

Some workshop topics included, NASA collaboration in Earth data sharing, communicating risk, using process-based coupled fire/atmosphere models to gain better understanding of wildfire dynamics, conservation impacts of a near real-time monitoring and alert system for the tropics, and so much more. Lucian Deaton from the NFPA presented the Research Foundation’s findings about Global Perspectives on Wildfire Community Risk Reduction.

 

 What was even more unique about conference was the keynote presentation about the importance of inclusivity in fire management and science.  Of special interest during this presentation was the information shared by Diego R. Perez-Salicrup, from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico.  He shared how they have learned from indigenous people about traditional and cultural uses of fire on the landscape. 

 

An organized field trip that was a part of the conference explored how the Salish-Kootenai tribe used prescribe fire not only to manage the landscape for wildfire but also how they developed an integrated planning group including cultural, environmental, forestry, water and fire experts in drafting and managing prescribed fire plans.  The results were incredible! An important part of this conference and any community wildfire safety plan to address wildfire risks are knowing the science behind planned risk reduction projects and inclusivity, allowing everyone to be an integral part in developing and implementing activities to reduce risk of loss from wildfire.

                                                                                               Photo of Lucian Deaton presenting by Michele Steinberg

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