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2019

Wildland firefightingWhile moderate weather this fall has pacified 2019 wildfire-starts in California compared to previous years, CAL FIRE calls for vigilance as the season unfolds. An article in yesterday’s LA Times shares data on the state’s five current wildfires over 500 acres. These are found in the north and central areas and include the Taboose Fire near Big Pine; the South Fire near Red Bluff; the Springs Fire near Lee Vining; the Cow Fire in the Inyo National Forest; and the Middle Fire in the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  

Moderate weather has meant fewer days of hot and dry wind. Yet, as the season continues, this threat can increase. A FireBreak Blog from 2018 shared an explanation of these winds that fan wildfires, especially in Southern California. It's important to share this information again as we enter October and November.

“It is not unusual for California to have large fires in the late fall. This is the peak season for "Santa Ana" winds, which is the local name for dry downslope winds. In California, they blow from east to west and as they move downhill, they compress due to increased atmospheric pressure, which causes them to be hot and dry. The result is that vegetation that has been drying for most of the summer becomes even drier from the desiccating winds.  

So if ignitions happen, fire can move very quickly. These downslope winds have been clocked up to 70 mph at times. As with "fire seasons" in general, the fall Santa Ana season has become longer. In 2017, the Thomas fire in Southern California was actively burning in December.” 

A CAL FIRE spokesman says in the LA Times article, “With this beautiful weather, people are getting complacent,” and that, “it’s important for residents to remain vigilant, keeping their 'go bags' ready and their vehicles’ gas tanks full.”

Community with Firewise USA signsThere are many things you can do to prepare your family and home for wildfire, but it is also important to have a plan for your community. September marks National Preparedness Month, sponsored by FEMA, and the focus for this week is all about getting your community prepared.

Why is it important to get involved in community preparedness?

Ultimately, a more prepared community is going to help you reduce your individual wildfire risk. Research shows that embers and small surface fires are the primary reason for homes burning in a wildfire. The key to defending our homes is to prepare the area zero to 100 feet surrounding our home, known as the home ignition zones.  In many communities, those zones around homes overlap, so your risk can be impacted by your neighbor’s risk. This is why it is so important to work with our neighbors and have an overall strategy to educate, plan and prepare your community.Diagram of three overlapping home ignition zones

What are some of the things we can do to prepare our community?

  1. Lead by example – It is hard to take advice from someone who doesn’t take their own advice. So before telling your neighbor what they should do on their property, think about what you can do on yours. Consider having an individual home assessment done with a local wildfire mitigation specialist. They can help you identify and address specific risks for your home. This visit or the home repair and landscaping projects you do afterward are both good opportunities to share what you are doing with your neighbors. It may inspire them to think about what they can do as well.
  2. Provide support – You can provide your neighbors with support both educationally and physically. New homeowners moving into the area might not know about the wildfire risk your community faces, so welcoming them with some handy information about the neighborhood and what they can do to reduce their risk, is a great way to introduce yourself and get a conversation started. There may be neighbors living in your community who cannot physically do some of the home and landscaping projects needed to reduce their risk. Offer to lend a hand. Remember you are not only helping them but reducing the overall risk to the community and your home as well.Chipper day in Idaho
  3. Plan community events – Hold a day of action in your community that gets people outside and working together. People are more likely to take action when there is a specific day with a call to action. It is always good to include incentives for people to participate, like the use of chipper or an evening potluck to celebrate.
  4. Take it to the next level - The Firewise USA program helps communities build a framework for working with neighbors to create a more ignition-resistant community. The steps to becoming a Firewise USA site help your community learn about your risk, come up with a plan to address it and encourage neighbors to work together to take action. To share information with your neighbors on the Firewise USA program, consider ordering our newest brochure Taking Control of your Wildfire Risk. The brochure speaks to the importance of working together as a community.

You can find more information about preparing homes for wildfire and getting youth involved in wildfire preparedness on our website. Follow my colleague Lisa Braxton on Safety Source as she shares more resources for National Preparedness Month on home fires and other disasters.

Image credits: NFPA; Taylor Hunsaker of Kimberly, Idaho.

Here's the perfect opportunity to highlight and recognize an outstanding individual, group or organization that continuously demonstrates exceptional wildfire risk reduction achievements - the 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Awards.

Wildfire Mitigation Award graphic
Established in 2014, in response to an overwhelming number of great wildfire mitigation program efforts across the nation, the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards program recognizes outstanding work and significant program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

 

The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are jointly sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the USDA Forest Service.

 

These awards are designed to recognize effective community wildfire adaptation and risk reduction efforts by individuals and organizations. A wide range of efforts are recognized, such as the creation of local mitigation coalitions, community wildfire protection plans, community-wide risk assessments, reducing home ignition risks, hazardous fuel treatments, fire department engagement in wildfire risk reduction, and use of codes and ordinances. The award sponsors seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts.

 

Submit a nomination and view the nomination guidelines and selection criteria here on NASF’s website.

 

Have questions? Please contact Meghan Marklewitz at meghan@iafc.org or (703) 896-4839.

Three teenage girls raking pine needles and other vegetation debris on to a tarp, clearing around a home

The impacts from disasters such as wildfire or flooding are not just felt by adults, but people of all ages.  During week three of National Preparedness Month we want to take a moment to share ways that teenagers and other young people can be involved in helping their families and neighbors be ready for wildfires.

Through a series of conversations with NFPA, youth living in areas with a wildfire risk expressed a want of knowledge about wildfires and how they can help their family, including pets, be ready to evacuate when needed.  NFPA's TakeAction campaign was developed to meet those needs.  Share the following resources with young adults, teachers, and youth leaders to give them the opportunity to play a role:

Service can be another great way to be involved and feel like you are making a difference.  There are many wildfire risk reduction activities that are safe for young people to do including:

  • Sweeping porches and decks clearing them of leaves and pine needles.
  • Raking under decks, porches, sheds and play structures and dispose of debris
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches

Check out this community service project guide and our preparing homes for wildfire page for more ideas on how to get started.

Follow my colleague Lisa Braxton on Safety Source as she shares other resources to help families prepare for home fires and other disasters.

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

Register now for NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire two-day classroom training in Denver, Colorado, October 3-4, 2019. This class will provide valuable skills and knowledge to help you in your wildfire safety mission.
Colorado and other western states have experienced large, destructive wildfires in the past few years that have led to thousands of destroyed homes and businesses. The time is NOW for fire service, facility managers, and insurance and realty professionals to learn how to identify and prevent ignition risks to homes. 

Learn the science behind how homes ignite from wildfire. More importantly, find out the best ways to advise property owners about actions that will help prevent ignition and reduce the chances of home destruction during a brush or forest fire.

Discover what others have learned. According to one captain/paramedic, “I thought I wanted to learn about structure triage. What I got was a new mindset concerning how to approach wildland fire (operational) and people (social).” Another fire captain commented, “I am better prepared to assess WUI properties and communicate hazards to community members.”

 

Young, male child with backpack

Wildfires can not only force residents to evacuate their homes, but also depending upon the time of day that they occur, force students to be evacuated from schools.   This is something parents and caregivers can prepare for, as they help children get ready to go back to school, during September, National Preparedness Month.  

 Wildfires can displace many children attending school at once, which shows the necessity of creating a plan.  For example during Northern California’s Camp Fire, 3,300 students were  evacuated from 11 schools in school buses and faculty cars.  In one instance students were sent home and the administration was concerned that the homes they were sent to may not have been safe.

In response to their own recent wildfire evacuation of schools, San Diego County, a wildfire prone community has recently adopted a plan that recognizes this risk and has outlined a way to make sure children are safer during a wildfire event when they are at school and need to be evacuated.   The county wide school evacuation plan was developed by the San Diego County office of Emergency Service (OES) based upon the county wide Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in collaboration with the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE), The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, CAL Fire, California State Parks, and others.    

According to an article about the plan, There are some questions parents can ask school officials before an emergency occurs, that would make it easier for everyone if an evacuation order is given;

  1. How will transportation be secured if my children need to leave?
  2. What is the designated relocation site?
  3. What happens/how will I be notified if students have to be taken to an alternative site?
  4. How will I be contacted and how can I contact school officials during an emergency?
  5. Have the school and school grounds been maintained looking at the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) so that if students are unable to leave it will be safer?

As you fill their backpacks with school supplies this year, you can also help prepare children to be safer in the event that a wildfire occurs when they are away from you at school.   Learn more about how you and your family can be prepared for wildfire at NFPA’s Firewise USA site.

Photo: shared by Jason King 

 

The Firewise USA renewal deadline is fast approaching. We can’t wait to hear what your site has accomplished in wildfire risk reduction this year!

This year’s renewal deadline is November 15th, 2019. In order for you site to remain a participant in good standing with the program next year you will need to complete the renewal criteria. Please Note: sites that became recognized for the first time in 2019 do not need to renew. 

Here’s some tips to help you along the process:

1. Logging into the system: The renewal application is online and you will need to log-in to get to your community profile. Make sure you can log-in at: portal.firewise.org. If you forget your password, you can use the “forgot password” link underneath the log-in button. If you are continuing to have trouble, email us at firewise@nfpa.org.

2. Check to make sure your community contact address is up-to-date: This will be on the first page of your renewal application and the address provided is where your renewal certificate will be sent. If you provide us with a P.O. Box, we will use it when sending items through the US Postal Service.

3. Add another resident leader contact: You can add another resident leader contact if you have another resident who you want to have access to your application and the ability to update it. To add someone, click into the renewal application or go to your site dashboard. In both places, you’ll find a “Manage Contacts” button. You can add a send resident leader by inputting their email address. If they don’t have a log-in account set up, the system will send them an email inviting them to set up an account.

4. The information you will need to provide: You will need to provide information about your 2019 educational event and 2019 risk reduction investment information. We are looking for information on what your community did during the calendar year. For more information on this, visit our renewal resources webpage.

5. Tool for risk reduction investment: If you need help collecting investment information from community members, consider using the volunteer hourly worksheet. You can have residents turn them into you and then total up the work by inputting it into the renewal application.

6. Submit early: If you have reached the minimum amount needed to complete your renewal, you can submit it early. It will be frozen while it is under review, but once it is approved you can go back and add more information until the end of the year.

We listened to your feedback from last year and made small updates to the portal to make it easier for you to use. You can view a short walk through video of the renewal application on our renewal resources webpage. If you have questions, email us at firewise@nfpa.org.

Flowery trail community members standing with their 2016 Wildfire Community Preparedness Day sign

 

Set near the base of 49° North Mountain Resort, Flowery Trail is an ideal getaway for ski enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors.  A little over an hour north of Spokane, WA, the community is set in a forest of Lodgepole and other pines.  The location and terrain allow for recreation year round, with skiing in the winter to mountain biking and hiking in the spring and summer.  

While it sounds like the perfect destination to me, there are concerns for residents and local fire officials in regards to wildfire.  Dan Holman, the community’s resident leader, filled me in on the efforts the Flowery Trail Community Association (FTCA) has taken over the years and why they are participating in the Sites of Excellence Pilot Program.

Tell me a little about your community and its journey in wildfire risk reduction.  

In 1972, construction on the ski area was completed.  To help bring in people and revenue, they laid out a community of 100 lots.  The ski area is part of US Forest Service land, but the community was built on state land, with a 100 year land lease with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  (From other conversations I’ve had with Dan, this presents an issue because the residents don’t own the trees.  They have to work with DNR to get permission to remove any large/merchantable timber.   They have had some success in purchasing plats in order to harvest timber and are in talk to complete a land swap.)

This area has a history of fire, with a large one 1910 resulting in a regrowth of Lodgepole pine – which is where we live.  Our community is located in an area of “no man’s land” for fire protection – we don’t fall under a fire district or state response for a home fire.  We have been in a 20+ year discussion with the local city to be included in their protection plan, installing water tanks and hydrants at their request.  Five years ago our proposal was accepted, homeowners are now able get insurance up here.

Our community has recognized the danger of wildfire up here.   Part of our annual dues support our wildfire risk  Flowery trail work day, community members feeding a chipperreduction efforts and we have an annual fuel reduction push in the spring.  Over the years, working with the state, we’ve been able to thin and remove on plats that pose a risk – 34 trucks with trees, we have 10 slash piles the size of houses to remove/burn when appropriate.

Now our efforts are focusing more on the homes and the 0-5 foot space – spreading gravel around home.  We have lot of engagement from our residents and have made excellent progress

What are your goals in the pilot?

We are using the pilot as a way to emphasize the importance of work being 0-5 foot zone.  We have spent a lot of time and effort clearing away trees and brush, this is the next step.  We also see it as a way to get buy-in from the last of the holdouts who haven’t wanted to participate in the cleanup days.

Participating in the pilot also can help provide leverage, showing our commitment.  The Flowery Trail Community Association is working on a land-swap with Washington DNR.   Due to the land lease situation, there hasn’t been any building in the last 15-20 years.

What are some challenges you have faced or think you might face and how do you propose to overcome them?

With the long history of work in our community, a lot of progress has been made.  We did have some resistance at the beginning.  With the help of community pressure/neighbor shaming, maybe of the attitudes have changed.  One thing FTCA implemented that has helped get more people interested is a $100 credit towards annual dues for a full day of volunteer service.  

Flowery trail work day potluck

What else would you like to share?

This type of work takes time.  Use the resources you have and just keep moving forward.

A big thank you to Dan and the Flowery Trail community for sharing their wildfire preparedness journey.   They have been in the game for a long time but it goes to show that the work doesn’t end, rather it just changes in terms of what level and type of work is needed.  Join us in October when we learn more about wildfire preparedness efforts in Wisconsin.

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit Firewise.org to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

Photo credit: all photos provided by Dan Holman, Flowery Trail resident leader

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire related topics.

NFPA’s Wildfire Division is excited to announce the release of a new brochure: Taking Control of Your Wildfire Risk. This brochure is an introduction to the Firewise USA program with information on the critical role that residents play in reducing their wildfire risk and why it is also important to work together with neighbors.

The brochure is useful for handouts at events for new communities that are getting started in the Firewise USA program. It will also be a good tool for existing Firewise USA sites to reach new participants within their community.

This product is now available for free in our online catalog. Orders come in packages of 50 brochures.

In addition, we also have educational materials to address the specific steps homeowners can take to make their home more ignition-resistant. How to Prepare Your Home for Wildfire is a tri-fold brochure that explains actions you can take around your home and Reducing Wildfire Risks in the Home Ignition Zones poster gives a more in-depth look at each of the home ignition zones. Both of these educational materials will continue to be available in our catalog.

Recent hurricanes and other wildfire disasters serve as a reminder that being able to evacuate quickly can mean the difference in whether or not you are able to survive.  When creating evacuation routes, it is important to use sound data to make sure traffic does not get congested at choke points, putting people at risk.  

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) recently posted research from StreetLight Data that can help emergency managers and government agencies with evacuation planning.  They looked at 30,000 communities across the United States with populations 40,000 or less, evaluating their evacuation routes.

According to the infogram, “Researchers developed an index based on the total number of routes out of town, the percentage of people who take certain routes on a typical day, and the total population. The data from this study can help towns consider the reality of evacuation plans in terms of road maintenance and availability when combined with human behavior.”

According to an Emergency Management article about this data, the states with the most evacuation-challenged communities some of which are also located in wildfire prone areas were:

  • Florida (20 communities)
  • California (14 communities)
  • Arizona (8 communities)
  • Texas (6 communities)

StreetLight Data has also made a list of the top 100 communities in the United States with limited evacuation routes available.

Before you need to evacuate make sure that your community has a good plan in place based upon reliable data.  For more information about preparing to evacuate, check out NFPA’s free resources available on the TakeAction  and Public Education pages.

Photo credit: NFPA

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues.

Graphic promoting National Preparedness Month - Prepared, Not Scared.  Week 1: Sept 1-7, Save Early for Disaster Costs; Week 2: Sept 8-14, Make a Plan to Prepare for Disasters; Week 3: Sept 15-21, Teach Youth to Prepare for Disasters; Week 4: Sept 22-30, Get Involved in Your Community's Preparedness

There's no time like the present to help your family prepare for disasters.  Join NFPA throughout the month of September as we participate in National Preparedness Month, sponsored by FEMA.  We'll share different resources from Fire Break and Safety Source to help you address wildfire and home safety concerns. 

Week 1: Save Early for Disaster Costs - Check on your Insurance Policy

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:  Hands holding house

  • 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.

 

Photos: Top photo courtesy FEMA

 

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

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