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2019

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is only a few months away. If you know what project your community will engage in on May 4, now’s the time to apply for a funding award that can help offset the costs. Our newest video below can help walk you through the applications process.


The deadline to apply is March 1, so give yourself plenty of time to craft a winning application. The funding awards are available through the generous support of State Farm.
For additional information about Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, project resources, tip sheets, and more, visit www.wildfireprepday.org. wildfireprepday

Burned out car in Magalia, California after 2018 Camp FireIt was clear that the destroyed homes we saw were more flammable than the vegetation around them. On a tour of the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire in Butte County, my colleagues Ray Bizal and Tom Welle and I saw textbook cases of the impacts of embers, structure-to-structure ignition and wind-driven wildfire all through the communities of Paradise and Magalia.

 

We were part of a group invited by the Western Fire Chiefs Association, who coordinated a learning tour of the area along with CAL FIRE and the local fire chief on January 22. The goal was to include not only fire service professionals but also researchers, insurance industry representatives, and those involved in safety outreach and advocacy such as NFPA. We welcomed the rare opportunity to gain a first-hand local perspective on the event from CAL FIRE and local officials.

Tom Welle, Ray Bizal and Michele Steinberg of NFPA at a site of Camp Fire destruction

We observed that the wildfire was an equal opportunity destroyer, leveling high-end homes and more modest manufactured homes across the communities of Paradise and Magalia. According to the incident synopsis provided by the Western Fire Chiefs Association, one of the major considerations was “ember ignition, ember ignition, ember ignition. The Camp Fire was all about ember ignition. Paradise and surrounding area are in a Pine forest, the ground was littered with pine needles. Ponderosa Pines drop about 1/3 of their needles each year…even those who had ‘raked’ their yards had a new fuel bed due to the wind.” The synopsis also indicated that there were areas where urban conflagration took place – when one structure ignited it provided enough radiant heat and embers as it burned to ignite the next structure, and so on.

 

We received materials on the tour including wildfire preparedness brochures and guides developed by the Butte County Fire Safe Council, a long-active group that has promoted safety guidance including NFPA’s Firewise USA® program. While wildfire preparedness was embraced among many residents, the age, condition and proximity of homes to brush, trees and debris as well as to one another at the time of the fire made home destruction in this intense, fast-moving, wind-driven wildfire inevitable.

 

completely destroyed homes with standing burned and green trees in the vicinityParadise officials and residents also planned and practiced evacuations, but according to the fire chief, they had never contemplated having to evacuate the entire town simultaneously. His own parents were two of the people who made it out of danger through harrowing hours on the road, and who also lost their home. The fire’s destruction was typical in terms of unprepared homes that were more flammable than the vegetation surrounding them and often close enough to one another to cause an urban conflagration – both elements hallmarks of American wildland/urban interface fires. What stood out for me was the sheer size of the damage footprint. We drove miles and miles to encounter the same terrible story at every stop – unconsumed large trees and completely destroyed homes and vehicles.

 

The region has enormous challenges ahead in recovery. Even residents whose homes survived are still out of their homes due to benzene in the drinking water. Small business owners whose physical locations survived have few customers left in the area. The wholesale destruction of thousands of residences in a region where the housing market is already squeezed and contractors are in short supply predict a long and difficult road ahead. There are a number of positive efforts occurring locally to support those made homeless by the event and related recovery needs, and insurers are busy providing claims services to help people back on their feet financially. But everyone should understand the magnitude of the destruction and the huge challenges that the whole community faces for the future.

 

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was recently quoted talking about our society’s failure to plan for the worst case scenario. A quick Google search shows that he’s been talking about this for at least a decade, imploring not only emergency managers and government agencies to start a shift in thinking, but also calling on residents to recognize and acknowledge that government alone cannot avert the destruction and suffering from the next flood, hurricane or wildfire to come along. If nothing else, I hope the Camp Fire is the motivation for communities all over the country facing natural hazard risks to engage, plan and act to address the situation long before the next deadly event occurs.

 

Photos taken by Michele Steinberg, NFPA, in Magalia, California, January 22, 2019

While this past year we watched devastating wildfires make the television news cycle throughout the country, quietly thousands of people decided to take action to reduce their wildfire risk. Wildfire preparedness doesn’t often make national headlines, but it is becoming a topic of discussion in neighborhoods across the country. The Firewise USA® program is geared towards helping residents work together to not only learn about the wildfire risk in their community, but to take steps to make their neighborhood safer from wildfire. 

In 2018, we asked our Firewise sitesto take even more action than they did in the past by increasing the minimum requirement to become a Firewise USA® site. Despite this change, we saw neighborhoods across the country step up to the plate. 2018 welcomed 163 new sites across the country, with an increased sites in states like California, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado & Georgia. 

The Firewise USA ®  program began in 2002 with 12 pilot sites and currently has a total of 1,478 active participating sites in 42 states. 
Program-wide in 2018, Firewise USA® sites invested more than $65 million in risk reduction efforts.  This included over 1.3 million volunteer hours of "sweat equity".   

Science shows us that wildfires are inevitable in the wildland urban interface, but there are things we can all do to make our homes more likely to survive when this does happen. The 1,478 sites within the Firewise USA® program have committed to a continued collaborative effort in wildfire risk reduction. Every year sites are required to report their accomplishments and reach a minimum investment equivalent to one hour of work per home within the site.

 

The mission does not end here! We look forward to 2019 and encouraging even more achievements in the sites that have begun their journey to be safer from wildfire. 

 

Photo Credits: NFPA wildfire photo library

It is not often that people doing the long-term, incremental, locally-based, small-scale work that is vital to wildfire risk reduction are recognized for their efforts, perseverance, and commitment. For the fifth year in a row, the organizations that make up the Wildfire Mitigation Awards committee have created an opportunity to acknowledge these unsung heroes in our midst.

 

Representatives of the US Forest Service, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of State Foresters and NFPA established these awards to denote the highest commendation for innovation and leadership displayed by individuals and organizations committed to wildfire mitigation. We are all pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 Wildfire Mitigation Awards, a result of nominations from their colleagues and fellow safety advocates:

 

  • Byron Bonney (Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development Area, Hamilton, Montana)
  • City of Pigeon Forge (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
  • Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership (Flagstaff, Arizona)
  • Pat Dwyer (Logtown Fire Safe Council and El Dorado County Fire Safe Council, Logtown, California)
  • Paulette Church (Durango, Colorado)
  • Rocky Infanger (Tri-County FireSafe Working Group/Wolf Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Helena, Montana)
  • Sunset View Estates (Bend, Oregon) 

 

The Awards will be presented at the Wildland Urban-Interface 2019 Conference in Reno, Nevada, March 27, 2019. Learn more about the conference and how to register here.

 

For more about the Awards process and goals, read our press release here.

 

The January 2019 edition of NFPA’s® Journal explores why older residents suffered so greatly during the recent Campfire in an article titled, “Old & In Harm’s Way”.

According to the article,” The demographics of Paradise skewed older, with a significant portion of the population 65 or above. The town also had a significantly higher proportion of disabled residents. When those vulnerable populations came face to face with the topography and fire history of Paradise—most of the town exists in the wildland/urban interface—it was a meeting primed to end in disaster.”

 

A separate article by the Los Angeles Timesbacked up this observation, sharing that the majority of deaths that occurred during the Camp Fire were seniors. According to the article, “The victims who have been identified range in age from 39 to 99; however, 60% were in their 70s, 80s or 90s.”

So, what can be done to help prepare vulnerable populations such as the elderly, those without vehicles, those with physical or mental limitations, latch key children home alone while parents are at work, the homeless, and those for whom English is a second language? 

 

A first step is to learn more from NFPA’s emergency evacuation planning guide for people with disabilities.

Some other steps that can be taken include:

 

1.  Community members can identify and connect with those needing assistance in their neighborhood and make a plan where neighbors act as a buddy to assist disabled residents during events. 

 

2. Have a neighborhood, youth, or church group connect with disabled residents and help them with wildfire safety-focused yard work. Apply for a $500 Wildfire Community Preparedness Day award to help.You are not only helping to make their home safer, but yours as well.

3. Make sure disabled residents have a go-bag with extra medications, prescriptions, and anything else they need to have with them to reduce the time it will take for them to leave their home. Check out NFPA’s “Go Bag” checklist to learn more. There is even one for pets.

4. Host a community practice evacuation day, make it fun!

 

5. If a community finds they have a large percentage of residents that will need assistance, host a meeting with local emergency responders to share this with them and develop plans to ensure everyone’s safety.

 

We all have a part to play to improve the safety of our homes, neighbors, and those closest to us.  Let’s make sure it includes everyone too!

 

Photo Credits: Top photo, Marie Brescht; Second photo, Fallbrook Fire Authority. 
Home in Durango Colorado where a wildfire burned nearbyMany times I have seen pictures of a lone home that survived a wildfire while all the surrounding homes in the neighborhood burned. Recently I saw a compelling 3-D image shared by the New York Timesof one home that survived on a street in Paradise while all the surrounding homes burned. Was it luck, a miracle, or is there more to it? Although there is never a guarantee, there are many things homeowners can do to help their homes survive a wildfire.
If you look closely at the 3-D shot you can see some things this homeowner did that helped to protect their home:
1. Hardscaping -- rock has been used in the landscaping close to the home
2. A well-maintained roof
3. The yard was cleared of debris -- no trash, leaves or other debris, especially within the first 5 feet
4. The area around the bottom of the home is covered
5. The vent at the base of the home has screening
Siting and relative location to other flammable structures also played a part. It appears that the trees next to the home absorbed the heat from one home that ignited close to this home and it was far enough away from other homes that ignited.
NFPA®has created resources to help you learn what causes homes to burn and what steps you can take to increase the survivability of your home. These resources help you look at the “Home Ignition Zone”, completing wildfire safety project work that can help make your home safer. Still don’t have a good resolution for the New Year? How about increasing the wildfire safety of your home and neighborhood by taking action today?   Followtips you can downloadat no cost from NFPA's  Firewise USA® webpage.
Photo: Home that survived a wildfire in Durango, Colorado, by Faith Berry.

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