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2020

Do you need a little help developing and implementing wildfire safety project work?  NFPA has updated its Wildfire Community Preparedness Day toolkit to help  your efforts to improve the survivability of your home and neighborhood, and keep residents and firefighters safe!

The NFPA toolkit shares resources you need to help create your personal or your community's own unique wildfire safety plan and step by step implementation of project work.  Some helpful pieces contained in it are safety tips, who in your neighborhood to include on a planning committee, and a link for your opportunity to apply for $500 to help you be successful.

Also included in the toolkit are recommendations, based upon scientific research, of simple and sometimes very low-cost actionable steps you can take to improve your wildfire safety.    You can also learn about which areas around the home and property might be the most vulnerable to ignite from embers generated by a wildfire.   Learn how easy it really is to get involved and be your own wildfire safety hero!

Recently, the Times of San Diego published an article about their Board of Supervisors approving building code upgrades for wildfire protection.  With the rise of extreme wildfires in the last several decades, our nation seems to struggle with using these same types of tools, Codes and Standards, to address the ever increasing life and property losses from wildfire.   In fact, there are numerous examples where the codes were actually relaxed by local governments after significant fires in order to speed up the re-building process and get the tax base back on track.  This inevitably allows us to repeat the disaster.

However, I tripped across a couple of examples where governments or the private sector are taking the “bull by the horns” and saying, “Enough is enough”.

The proposed ordinance in San Diego received a unanimous positive vote by the board and requires several significant improvements that reduce structural ignition potential from wildfire.  

While a cost increase for a 2400 square foot home is mentioned, it is unclear if this is for retrofit or new construction.   Construction cost increases are often a significant barrier to getting code upgrades approved even in light of Headwaters Economics’ report to the contrary for new construction.

The NFPA has a long history of showing that adoption of appropriate codes and standards can decrease fatalities and property loss from fire.  For over a century, we have engaged in reducing those numbers in structure fires, particularly in commercial, assembly, and multi-family type occupancies.  

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that in Canada, Insurers are driving changes in rebuilding after the 2016 Ft. McMurray fire.  Nearly 25% of the victims took the offer of a cash settlement to re-build in a safer location rather than replace what they had where they were.

Others, used replacement costs to rebuild with more ignition resistant materials and designs leading to a more resilient community emerging from the ashes.

But the current level of loss is a concern to the Insurance industry.  According to Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer for Risk Management Solutions, “If your house is rebuilt twice in a century, on average, that going to be intolerable for the functioning of insurance.”

As we look to the future, insurance is likely to be a key driver in how recovery from wildfire disasters will look.  The industry has the potential to influence the construction and siting of new developments wildfire country.  But that influence is not without limits.

Over the last year the work accomplished in the Firewise USA program has exceeded our expectations.

The Firewise USA program focuses on supporting and recognizing residents for working to reduce their wildfire risk. Participating communities assess their risk, come up with a plan to address it, and take action. Every year participating Firewise USA sites report the work they did to renew their status as an active community in the program.

1,655 communities across 42 states participated in 2019. Residents reported investing $86.7 million in wildfire risk reduction activities. That total includes more than 1.5 million volunteer hours which is calculated into the investment using the national volunteer hourly rate of $25.43 per hour.

The Firewise USA program welcomed more new communities to the program than ever before with 220 new sites. The bulk of our new sites joining the program came from our western states. Communities in California made up almost half of our new sites this year, followed by Oregon, Arizona, Washington and Colorado.

States adding the most new sites:

  1. CA – 101
  2. OR – 29
  3. AZ – 16
  4. WA – 12
  5. CO -10

Most inspiring is hearing the first hand stories from residents about what they’ve accomplished. In my personal conversations with participants I heard a lot of passion from people some with stories about facing a close call with a wildfire, others who recognized risk where they live that were similar to other neighborhoods destroyed in recent wildfires. These residents play a key role in making their homes more ignition resistant and in supporting their neighbors. We are so proud of the work that they have done and are looking forward to more accomplishments to come in 2020.

Champions for wildfire safety can be found throughout our country's high-risk areas and might take the shape of an individual "sparkplug" who leads community volunteer action, a proactive fire department offering prevention education and risk assessment as well as fire recovery services, or a faith-based group on a mission to help people prepare for and recover from disaster. In 2020, the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards committee has found wonderful examples of all three.

The awards are co-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 (USFS). They honor and recognize individuals and organizations for innovation, dedication, and leadership in wildfire mitigation. 

The winners of the 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Awards are:

The 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Awards will be presented at the Wildland-Urban Interface Conference in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, March 25. For more information, visit www.stateforesters.org/mitigation.

Planning overlay aerial community

In light of the recent experience of devastating wildfires in California and the ongoing tragic loss of lives, natural habitat, and property in Australia, NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley has issued a call to action for government officials at all levels to take steps to solve the wildfire disaster problem.

Pauley’s opinion piece appeared this week in the Regulatory Review, an online regulatory news source affiliated with the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He emphasizes the need for preparedness action by individuals, neighborhoods but most importantly by government agencies with regulatory powers in “Beyond Fighting Wildfires.”

Acknowledging the long-time efforts of many stakeholders in preparedness education, Pauley states, “Voluntary action is helpful, but regulation is critical. Governing where and how we build and maintain property in areas at risk to wildfire ignition is more important than ever before.” He asserts that policymakers are uniquely capable of taking steps to reduce community wildfire risks.

Read the article for more information about the magnitude of wildfire risks and costs, as well as to access links to tools and resources for the next steps in wildfire safety.

Follow me on Twitter for more about wildfire every day! @Michele_NFPA

Wooden sign "Summit Park" surrounded by wildflowersIn this final piece of Taking on Excellence, we travel to Utah to learn more about Summit Park.  I had the chance to visit them over the summer, it is a beautiful place in the mountains with a variety of style of homes, just the type of place I would like to live.  But part of its beauty is what puts it at risk.  Mike Quinones, the resident leader of Summit Park, shares their story.

Can you describe your community for me and tell me why you choose to have a home there?  What do you love about your community?  

Summit Park was developed in the late 1950's and lies between 6800 to 8000 feet in elevation. We have approximately 820 lots with around 550 having been developed with single family homes. Some homes being built in the 1960's and some just being finished, so we have a wide range of architecture and building materials. Our community sits in the middle of dense conifer forest, which in the past has been neglected but has become recognized by our community, state and local agencies as a priority for fuel and forest health management projects. 

I live here because I enjoy mountain living and the challenges it offers. We receive a lot of snow, wildlife is common and it’s quiet and dark at night. The location is perfect as well. We're between Salt Lake City and Park City with skiing and mountain biking literally right out our back door.

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA and participation in the pilot?

Because of my wildland fire suppression experience, I recognized the need to address our threat. Nothing was being done in our county or the country at that time. I've been here for 35 years.  We started by me joining the HOA board and developing the CWPP when that was introduced. We developed a web page and started to educate our neighbors. We brought in the local FD and reached out to the State division of forestry and fire. We quickly qualified for a shaded fuel break project which launched more involvement.

Firewise came about when I recognized the advantages of being a member, the state also encouraged our involvement.  The Pilot Program was suggested by our WUI representative and I immediately knew we has to apply, it helps to validate the work we are trying to accomplish.

What are your goals in the pilot?

The ultimate goal is to get 100% homeowner participation with a secondary goal of providing data to the national agenda.

What are some challenges you think you might face?  

The biggest challenge to our journey is getting community members to recognize their responsibility to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire in our community. We are so accustomed to having the notion the government should do something and they are to blame when they don't.  

There are two misconceptions I see. They are "it won’t happen to me (complacency) and the other is "it’s just too much work" (procrastination).   Everyone knows the threat, they watch the news and see the unprecedented losses. They’re the first to admit it when I talk to them, but when it comes to getting the job done, it’s not on most priority lists. However, the message it getting out and neighbors are talking. My expectations at first may have been to bold but when you put all the pieces together, we're making progress. Hopefully it won't be too late. 

How do you propose to overcome them?

I think it’s a multi pronged approach to set the new standard.  A combination of community, local and state agencies all on the same page pushing an aggressive agenda and implementing the narrative of personal responsibility. 

What else would you like to share?

The pilot program sparked an accelerated interest in fuel reduction, defensible space and home hardening. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next summer.

Thank you Mike for sharing your story. We appreciate Summit Park’s commitment to personal responsibility when it comes to wildfire risk reduction.  Can’t wait to see the progress you make over the next year.

A big thank you to all of the readers for joining us in learning about the pilot participants.  We look forward to sharing their results and lessons learned later in 2020 and 2021.

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.

Photos: Community sign and moose provided by Mike Quinones

Cover of e-bookAfter the past few years of wildfire losses, learning about safer design and construction could not be more timely. NFPA and Green Builder Media proudly announce our latest collaboration, Enough is Enough, an e-book detailing what needs to be done to prevent loss of property and lives to wildfire. Aimed at the building and development audience, Enough Is Enough is much more than a rallying cry, it is a practical script for a new era of safe home building in wildfire-prone areas.

 

NFPA has worked with Green Builder Media on a number of collaborative efforts over the last several years, focusing on both sustainability and safety. It was my honor to help develop an e-book, Design With Fire In Mind: Three Steps to a Safer New Home, back in 2015. As I talked with the editors about a new edition, I was struck by the importance of telling the story of what American communities have suffered – loss of life, property, and resources – in only the last four fiery years. Even more important to convey are the things we have learned that we can apply now to prevent future disasters and devastation.

 

Visit the Green Builder Media website to sign up and get a complimentary copy of Enough is Enough. The techniques and strategies we deploy today can have a significant impact on making our communities less vulnerable to the inevitable wildfire of the future.

This year, let's do more than resolve or talk about trying to create communities that are safer in the event of a wildfire. Let’s take steps to make a difference. My daughter shared with me a beautiful saying by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt:  “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

We can not only dream bigger about wildfire safety this year - we can act. Research has proven that simple, low-cost steps can improve the survivability of neighborhoods and homes, and help protect those we love.  So, let’s get started making that dream of communities that can survive wildfire come true! Be a part of the movement to create cities, neighborhoods, people, and pets that are safer from wildfires. Here’s how anyone in any neighborhood can get started to be a part of the solution:

  1. Participate in a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project individually or as a group.
  2. Apply for $500 for a wildfire safety project starting on Tuesday, January 7th. The application opens at 8 am ET - it's easy!
  3. Check out past success stories for project ideas to help you plan your own project.
  4. Check out information about home improvement project guidelines that can work on any residence.
  5. Check out a survivor’s story to learn that wildfire safety preparations can help you survive a wildfire.

You can be a part of changing your world today. Use NFPA’s free resources and the opportunity to apply for funding for a wildfire safety project with generous support from State Farm. In 2020, may our dreams of wildfire safety become a reality!

With all the wildfire news emanating from Australia this week, it’s easy to view the events through the perspective of area burned, structures lost, fuel loading, states of emergency, and evacuation protocols.  The Thursday funeral for New South Wales Volunteer Firefighter Geoffrey Keaton places these wildfires in a deeper context.  The 32 year old began his volunteer work with the fire service as a young boy.  On Thursday, his posthumous Commendation for Bravery and Service medal was pinned on his toddler son. 

 

Keaton and fellow volunteer firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer, died while fighting the Green Wattle Creek blaze in south-west Sydney, when their vehicle rolled missing a falling tree, on December 19.  A funeral for O’Dwyer is scheduled for next week. (Update: O’Dwyer’s funeral was held on January 7th, with his young daughter receiving his service medal and helmet.  The Sydney Morning Herald also shared photos from the ceremony.)

 

I have often felt that society as a whole over-relies on the fire service, volunteer and career, to suppress our way to the wildfire solution.  I explored that reality in the May 2017 NFPA Journal Wildfire column and the expectations placed on volunteer departments to carry the burden of this communal challenge.  The deaths of these volunteers in Australia once again remind us that a solution covering the entire ecosystem of agencies, services, trades, and the public is needed to truly address the current and future global wildfire risk.   

 

Australia has been battered by wildfires over the past two months and conditions are not improving.  As of January 2, approximately 5.9 million hectares (22,780 square miles) have burned across mainly eastern and southern Australia.  About 100 wildfires are burning in New South Wales and another 30 in Victoria.  Temperatures over 104 degrees Fahrenheit and strong winds are driving the flames, with the heatwave expected to continue over this coming weekend.  The civilian death toll is at 18, with eight killed on New Year’s Eve, as wildfires have consumed over 1,300 homes. 

 

Wildfire in Australia is not new, but this summer season for them has been extreme.  A current heatwave that began in mid-December remains and lead to the highest recorded temperature on record at 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  This heat comes on the heels of Australia’s driest spring season on record and a persistent deficit of rain in New South Wales and Queensland since early 2017.  In November, New South Wales issues a first ever, “Catastrophic” fire danger rating.  “A changing climate has meant an increase in temperatures in the Indian and Southern Oceans, which in turn has meant drier and hotter weather across Australia this summer”, as explained in a recent news article


To follow the ongoing fires - especially the current evacuations from southeast coastal communities - the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has a live blog that also provides a daily concise synopsis of events. 

 

For further information, NFPA shared additional Australia media links to follow and the feeds and daily video briefings from the various state fire agencies in November. 

 

Our thoughts remain with those who have lost loved ones and to all those working the fire lines to protect communities across Australia. 

 

Photo Credit: New South Wales Rural Fire Service.  Pulled 2 January 2019 from BBC News: Australia fires: Son of firefighter Geoffrey Keaton awarded medal at funeral. 

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.

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