Skip navigation
All Places > Fire Break > Blog > 2018 > July
2018

It's been less than a year since California's "worst wildfires" and wildland firefighters, fire agencies, and safety advocates are all experiencing a major case of deja vu. As someone who has written continuously for years about what we all need to do to prepare for wildfires, reading the news feels like a nightmare from which I cannot seem to wake up. Conditions throughout most of the western United States are hot, dry and windy, the perfect recipe to create large and dangerous wildfires from any ignition. The federal government mapping counts 90 active fires as of today (July 30, 2018).

 

For the fourth time in the last decade, the federal agencies that respond to wildfire are at a "preparedness level 5" - 2 weeks earlier than last year. This level allows for more aid from states and even other countries to suppress wildfires. For those people very familiar with the wildfire problem, it is not as if current events are completely surprising. In spite of media interviews where people continue to talk about "unprecedented" events and conditions that have injured and killed firefighters and residents, forced thousands to evacuate and burned hundreds of structures in each incident, it has only been weeks and months since sources including the USDA Forest Service, CAL FIRE, the National Interagency Fire Center, the Governor of Arizona, and a U.S. Senator from Oregon have sounded the alarm about predicted conditions that spell high hazard from wildfire. 

 

What will it take for all of us - not only firefighters, and not only elected officials - to start taking the warnings seriously? Why aren't we treating wildfire like the natural, inevitable, and often dangerous phenomenon that it is, and learning how to live with this hazard and prepare our homes and communities? What more can we, should we have done in places impacted by the Carr Fire and all the others? It is not acceptable to me - nor should it be to anyone - to witness repeated, heartbreaking destruction and the toll on human lives when we know there are things we all can be doing to reduce risk. 

 

Safety advocates including staff of all of the agencies mentioned above, the California Fire Science Consortium, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, NFPA and many of our other colleagues and partners around the country and around the world have been tirelessly researching, messaging and reaching out with best practices, tips, tools and opportunities to take action - for years and years. If you are watching these fires and you aren't in immediate danger, NOW is the time to educate yourself and take practical, proven steps to protect your family and home from the risk of wildfire. Visit www.firewise.org and your state and local fire prevention websites to get the information you need today.

Photo by Faith Berry

As wildfires rage across the globe, we ask ourselves what can be done to help cities, homes, people and animals be safer during these events?  The losses are heart wrenching. The pictures are horrifying.  Wildfires occur across the globe and can increase in intensity anywhere, in the right set of conditions; hot temperatures, dried out vegetation, and high winds.

 

But we also see many people, neighborhoods, and cities coming together to create safer communities; firefighters, elected officials, land managing agencies, and residents all working together to be a part of the solution.  Did you know that there is a lot that you can do long before a wildfire happens to protect yourself, your family your pets and your home?  People of all ages can come together and complete property maintenance chores that are simple and don’t cost a lot of money but can provide huge benefits.

 

So what can we do?

 

  1.       Help a senior neighbor or neighbor unable to do the work, with yard maintenance.  This helps protect your property from damage if their home ignites.  It will also make you feel good.
  2.       Host a neighborhood clean-up day!  Rent a large dumpster to dispose of those human treasures (plywood, furniture, yard ornaments etc.) around and next to everyone’s home and create safer, and more desirable neighborhoods to live in.  You will make new friends and perhaps increase property values.
  3.       Host a day to complete one project waiting for your attention.  Get the neighbors together for a morning of work, with everyone doing their own thing at their own home; cleaning out gutters, cleaning up under decks, removing dead vegetation from around the home or liming up trees next to the house.  Get together afterwards for a picnic and half day of fun to celebrate your success!
  4.       Have lots of dead wood in your yards from storms?  Organize your own “Dead Wood Gang”.  Neighbors working together to clean up wood from property to property.  Place branches butt ends facing the street in easy to manage piles, and chip them up as soon as possible.  Just don’t put those wood chips in your landscaping next to the house or leave those piles hanging around long.
  5.       Have someone that your community trusts and enjoys working with locally (from a local fire department or land managing agency etc.), help you “see” what maintenance projects you can do to your home and in the area surrounding your home. Make a list for each neighbor to complete at a later date, and do something nice for the agency person assisting you to show your appreciation.  You are also helping to build a great relationship with an agency partner.

Be a part of making your home, neighborhood, and city safer.  Dust off those gloves and put them to work.  If nobody leads the way, be the hero in your neighborhood and help organize your neighbors to take action. For more information about projects you can do to make your home safer check out the Firewise USA® web-page.

                                                                                                                       Chipping at Bustin's Island photo by Faith Berry

Use of exterior sprinkler systems as an option to protect a home during wildfires is something frequently explored by residents looking for ways to increase their home’s chances of survival. Information in July’s Wildfire Research Fact Sheet on the functionality of exterior sprinkler systems, along with potential issues and recommendations is a must-read if you're considering adding them to your home.

 

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise USA® program produces the fact sheet series. Each topic provides residents living in areas where wildfires can happen with important research findings.

 

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

As wildfire, fueled by gale force winds and a dry landscape fanned across the Greek coastal resort town of Mati earlier today, 18 miles east of Athens, news headlines could not keep up with the unfolding tragedy, as the death toll passed 60. Hundreds of firefighters are responding and Greece has requested European Union assistance. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has declared three days of national morning.

 

The wildfires are the worst to hit Greece since August 2007. While winds have relaxed today and slowed the fire’s spread, the BBC is reporting that its origin came from 15 fires started simultaneously on three different fronts near Athens. They also share quotes from Greek officials that suggest the cause to be arsonists looting abandoned homes.

 

The town of Mati is a popular summer tourist beach retreat, with many retirees and children attending camps. It is due to this that truly tragic stories of loss are emerging.

 

Reuters is sharing multiple examples of fatalities caused by evacuating people being trapped by smoke and overrun by fire. Of note and reported widely, emergency responders found a group of 26 individuals, including children, who huddled together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach as the fire overtook them. Elsewhere, the Greek coastguard has rescued over 700 people who fled Mati to the beaches, with 19 more pulled from the sea and unfortunately, six additional dead bodies.

 

A video from a Greek military helicopter provides a sense of the scope of devastation in Mati. The town is lush with vegetation and its layout exemplifies what is called the wildfire-urban interface. It is the scenes of burned out blocks of homes, while green trees remain that make the “home ignition zone” and embers the ongoing focus and challenge in the wildfire world.

 

Much like 2016’s Fort McMurray, Canada, wildfire and recent fires across California, the dry vegetation is only part of the fuel load feeding the flames. Structures ignite and send larger embers across the built environment, becoming an urban conflagration that quickly overwhelms firefighter’s best efforts. CNN International has a series of related videos of the fires within Mati and their impacts.

 

The coming days will unfortunately provide additional stories of loss. NFPA’s thoughts are with all those affected in Greece and hope for their safety as dry temperatures in the 90’s continue to blanket much of Europe.

 

Photo Credit: Militaire News, Greece. YouTube: Militaire.gr: Καταστροφή στην ανατολική Αττική - YouTube  

Photo by Faith Berry

According to Representative Dan Newhouse’s site,  the Interior, Environment, Financial Services, and General Government Appropriations Act was passed in the House of Representatives. This legislation provides yearly funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, the Indian Health Service, and other related agencies.

 

Although the bill addresses other areas of conservation and agriculture, like grazing monitoring, and big horn sheep research it also provides increased funding for wildfire prevention. According to Newhouse’s report, “In total, the bill funds wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.9 billion, fully funding the 10-year average for wildland fire suppression costs for both the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, and providing robust additional funding – $500 million– for Forest Service suppression operations. The legislation also includes $655 million for hazardous fuels management, which is $30 million above the fiscal year 2018 level.”

 

You can follow the progress of this appropriations bill as it must next be passed by the Senate and then signed by the President to become a law.

In the July/August NFPA Journal®, a feature section shares the completed 2017 NFPA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States report and selected on-duty firefighter fatality case studies. Of the 17 deaths in 2017 at the scene of fires, eight died at wildland fire incidents.

 

Of these eight wildland firefighter tragedies, three occurred from falling trees, two from separate wildfire entrapments, and one each from chainsaw operation, a vehicle crash, and a sudden cardiac event.

 

The related case studies shared in the Journal explore the cause and nature of three of these wildland firefighter fatalities to provide a reference to inform and educate readers.

 

In addition to the NFPA Journal® article summary, you can read the entire 2017 NFPA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States report.  You can also learn more about efforts to reduce wildfire fatalities by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation “Everyone Goes Home” initiative focused on wildfire.

Photo Credit: Fahy, Rita, et al.  Firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2017.  NFPA Journal July/August 2018. pulled 11 July 2018.  

In the Fall of 2017, the Tubbs fire burned more than 470 homes in one California community. A month later, the same community held their annual Firewise day to maintain their active status in the program.  In the July NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I explore what motivates that community post-wildfire and the value they still see in Firewise USA® program going forward.

As I learned, there’s no single or correct way to handle the aftermath of a devastating wildfire, and until it happens, it’s impossible to know how any individual or community might respond. With that said, the response by the residents provides a great example of resiliency and community rebuilding.

 

Learn more about their story and their road ahead in July NFPA Journal edition.

.

Photo shared by Andrew Castellani

 

A neighborhood from Forked River New Jersey shared with us how they helped other neighbors reduce their risk of loss due to wildfires.  This Firewise USA ® site used their Wildfire Community Preparedness Day funding to expand their influence and share their knowledge about wildfire safety with residents living in a new housing development located close to them, who were not familiar with wildfire safety.  A portion of their project work included outreach to new residents who had no knowledge about how to make their communities safer from wildfire.

 

According to Andrew Castellani, “We had a very successful event that spanned three days, May 4th, 5th and 6th. We had about 15 council participants that made contact with 110 residential homes and engaged them with information about Firewise USA ® and the Ready, Set, Go program. On Monday the 7th our public works department picked up roughly 17 dump trucks worth of cleared trees, slag, pine brush, and various other combustible brush.”

 

This community is not only making a difference in their own neighborhood’s wildfire safety but are mentoring and assisting other neighbors to help them be able to do the same!

Hands holding a house, representing the importance of a home and its possessions.

 

Is your home covered in case of a disaster? An unfortunate reality is that most homes are underinsured, meaning they don’t have enough coverage to protect them if they are damaged or destroyed. While we hope you are never faced with making a claim, here are some resources to help make sure you are prepared:

 

Complete the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s (PCI) Wildfire Reality Check:

  • Conduct an annual insurance checkup – call your agent or insurance company to discuss policy limits and coverage. Not sure what to ask? Check out these 10 questions to ask your insurance agent from Linda Masterson, author and wildfire survivor.
  • Know what your policy covers
  • Update your policy to cover home improvements
  • Maintain insurance – continue to carry homeowners insurance after the home is paid off
  • Get renters insurance

 

Create a home inventory. Having a home inventory is one of the best ways to determine if you have enough coverage to replace your possessions. This task may seem daunting, especially if you’ve been in your home for many years, but it can be manageable. Some simple steps from the Insurance Information Institute include:

  • Pick an easy spot to start, an area that is contained such as a small kitchen appliance cabinet or sporting equipment closet
  • List recent purchases
  • Include basic information – where you bought it, make and model, what you paid
  • County clothing by general category
  • Record serial numbers found on major appliances and electronic equipment
  • Check coverage on big ticket items
  • Don’t forget off-site items
  • Keep proof of value – sales receipts, purchase contracts, appraisals
  • Don’t get overwhelmed – It’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all

When creating your home inventory, embrace technology! Take pictures or videos, back them up digitally. There also many apps available to help organize and store your records.

 

For a more in depth discussion on financial preparedness, check out our Firewise Virtual Workshop: Understanding Insurance in the Wildland Urban Interface. Or, listen to Linda Masterson share her experience of losing her home and contents in a wildfire, Firewise Virtual Workshop: Get Prepared, Stay Alive, Rebuild Your Life.

 

Along with financial preparedness, it’s never too late to take action around your home. Visit the NFPA’s wildfire division for steps on how to prepare your home for wildfires.

 

Photo of nighttime fire activity from the La Tuna Fre shared by LA City Fire

 

FEMA has created a new bulletin to provide state government officials and residents with information about grant funding available for pre and post disaster mitigation efforts.  However the recent bulletin also provided information about post wildfire recovery funds and how to determine community eligibility.

 

A wildfire that has burned through an area can not only be the cause of damage to resident’s homes but can also contribute to a secondary form of risk from loss due to landslides.  Land impacted by a wildfire can be a greater risk of a landslide after heavy rains due to a loss of vegetation.  A few projects identified as eligible for this funding include:

  •     Soil stabilization
  •     Flood diversion
  •     Reforestation

States, territories, and federally-recognized tribes with Fire Management Assistance declarations from October 01, 2016 until 11:59 pm local time September 30, 2018 are eligible to apply.  FEMA provides a quick and easy way for you to calculate whether a post fire project identified is cost effective and thereby eligible to apply for funding.  For example, the cost effectiveness can be determined by multiplying the number of acres you propose to mitigate by $5,250.  If the total cost of your project proposal is equal to or below that amount, your application will be considered.  For more information about this post fire recovery grant program check out the FEMA webpage.

The task of reducing wildfire risk can seem like a heavy burden for homeowners who are unable to do the physical labor themselves, but some volunteer groups are trying to lighten that load.

 

A local news channel in Colorado shares the story of how real-estate agent volunteers are helping older residents and those with disabilities to reduce their home’s risk to wildfire and make a safer community in the process. "We want to help people find their homes up here, but once they do find them, we want to make sure they can enjoy them too, " a volunteer told the news station. Volunteers spent a day trimming trees and removing slash for their neighbors and plan to again in July.  

 

Current fires across Colorado and other western states have many seeking help on what they can do to make their homes and properties safer from wildfire. The Firewise USA® Program also encourages neighbors to work together on risk reduction activities and even to lend that helping hand when its needed.

 

Learn more about how embers from wildfires put homes at risk and what you can do to make your home and community safer.  

 

Photo credit: CBS 4 Denver, "Volunteers Help Seniors And People With Disabilities Protect Property From Wildfires", 28 June 2018, pulled 5 July 2018.  

 

Marie Snow, NFPA Wildfire Staff, contributed to this blog

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: