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2019

Wildfires not only impact the environment and human infrastructure, but can also create long term health issues for first responders, residents, and workers due to smoke emitted during the fire. The residues from burned material can also affect people involved in post-fire clean-up efforts. Tips to stay healthier during and after a wildfire event can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage. Information on the page is available in English and Spanish.

The page talks about health concerns for those at highest risk of harm from wildfire smoke during a wildfire. People with COPD, asthma, heart disease, or those who are pregnant, need to be aware of their increased risk and take extra precautions and should seek medical assistance if needed.

After the fire has passed and residents return, the CDC recommends that residents, first responders, and clean-up workers take extra safety precautions to protect themselves from harmful chemical residues and other unsafe conditions that may be present. The site even shares some guidance for first responders who are managing the site. That information covers topics such as electrocution hazards, personal protective equipment needed for cleaning up, structure hazards that might be present, and more.

Being better prepared before, during, and after a fire can help create better outcomes for residents, first responders, and clean up crews after a wildfire event has occurred.

Image credit: Faith Berry, NFPA

It should bring a moment of pause when Australians describe their fire threat as “catastrophic”. This is the forecast warning for Tuesday in eastern-Australia, as high winds and temperatures above 96 degrees Fahrenheit are expected to fan numerous fires that have already brought life and structure losses.  An anticipated afternoon southerly wind shift will cause additional risk. 

This is the first time a “catastrophic” wildfire weather warning has been issued in Australia. The new rating system was introduced in 2009 in response to devastating wildfire losses that year. “Catastrophic” reaches around 100 on the scale, which including most of the New South Wales eastern coast, and one area registers at 109 (Aus. Monday 9:33pm post). 

 

Winds are expected on Tuesday in Australia to gust over 50 mph, with conditions likened to the 2009 “Black Saturday” wildfires that claimed 173 lives in the Australian state of Victoria.   

Right now, more than 120 wildfires are burning across the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales.  More than 3,745 square miles have burned in New South Wales alone, with over 150 structures lost. This  weekend, three fatalities were reported - one victim was found in their car, another in their burned home, and a third separately succumbed to burns in the hospital. Two firefighters were also injured when a tree fell on their truck. To date, 35 civilian and 19 total firefighter injuries have been reported. 

 

Over 55 wildfires in Queensland have consumed 17 structures thus far. 

 

To follow the current wildfires in New South Wales and Queensland:

The resiliency of Australian residents will once again be tested in the coming days and months but there is no doubt as to their ability to stand up to the challenge. Check back here for more information as these wildfires unfold.    

 

Photo Credit: 
Top: New South Wales Rural Fire Service Fire Danger Rating Tues Nov 19, pulled 11Nov19 Denver 

Bottom: Australian BoM Max Fire Danger Index Maps for Tues 12 Nov pulled from bom.gov 11Nov19 Denver

 

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 @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire related topics.

Picture of the community of Paradise, CA 6 months after a wildfire.  The picture is taken from above and shows a number of burned out foundations.

 

The Camp Fire, the most devastating California wildfire to date, which caused 5 injuries, 86 fatalities, the loss of 18,804 structures and 153,300 acres burned.  These losses, along with contamination of the water supply, damage to the watershed, and huge hazmat cleanup costs, devastated the local communities of Paradise and Yankee Concow. The story about the Camp Fire does not end with the fire and losses but is now a story of residents rebuilding lives and neighborhoods. Courageous residents have been working hard to clean up in advance of the one-year anniversary of the fire on November 8th. They have even set up  GoFundMe accounts to help those who are still rebuilding homes and lives.

 

As the anniversary approaches, a number of media outlets have created films to  tell the stories of survivors, first responders, community leaders and more. Each film gives a slightly different viewpoint, but all contain graphic footage and heart wrenching stories. The PBS Frontline film, Fire in Paradise, looks at the dramatic evacuations and explores the causes. Another film produced by Netflix, airing November 1, recounts harrowing stories from people about how they survived. Yet another film, The Camp Fire Documentary by Golden Eagle Films, tries to take a sensitive look at first person accounts from residents and first responders about what it was like.

 

I think the most compelling takeaway to me is the courage of the people who lived through the incident, and their care and support for each other. This is something I noticed when I visited the area years ago. The fact that so many survived the fast-moving fire is a testament to the preparedness of the residents and the first responders. I have a hard time reliving the tragedy in film, but there are stories to be told that we can learn from: stories of courage, caring, survival and rebuilding. I think if we can take their stories to heart and look at where we all are on our individual journeys of wildfire preparedness, a part of what they have to share with us is that we each can make a difference in helping others be safer -- that we all have a role to play in creating safer communities. What have their stories told you, on the anniversary of this fire?

 

Picture credit: Matt Dutcher

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