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151 Posts authored by: luciandeaton Employee

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.”

The work of over 1,500 communities in the United States to reduce their risk from wildfire not only encourages others to embrace their responsibility here, but globally as well.  They serve as a great example of what residents can do and we’re very excited to see that latest work in the United Kingdom advancing this mutual public safety effort further. 

 

In late June, residents, county council leaders, the local fire authority, and land management organizations launched a Firewise effort in the south of England that will help protect homes.  The event also recognized the residents from Beacon Road in Corfe Mullen, which has become the first Firewise Community in Dorset.  These residents hosted a very successful Wildfire Preparedness Day in May

 

The kickoff event, highlighted by the local Dorset Echo newspaper, heard remarks from the Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service fire chief, Dorset County Council chief executive, and the program manager. 

 

Reflecting upon the event, the program manager, Lin Kettley, shared with me that, "With the launch of Firewise in Dorset, we are looking to have more groups joining us over the coming months. Our first group is already planning next years activities and will be there to offer advice and support to any new groups who may need it."  

The need for local action could not be more clear.  Lin explained that, "To date, this year in the UK we have had more wildfires than in the whole of 2018 so Firewise is the ideal opportunity for communities who live near our heaths, forests and open land, to come together and start to take the small, inexpensive steps to make their homes more resilient to the risk from wildfires and become part of the international Firewise community."

 

NFPA applauds this collaborative local work on developing a more informed public and looks forward to its continued success. 

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton, February 2018.  

 

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 more international wildfire related topics.

Picture of homes in the UK with grass and brush behind, wooden fence running parallel to homes

As great wildfire preparedness day events kicked off on Saturday, May 4, across the United States, they were joined by residents in the south of England who accepted this call to action in their community as well.  Preparedness Day events are now occurring in the UK, Canada, Italy, and Spain.  I caught up with Lin Kettley, manager of the Firewise UK effort in Dorset, England, to learn more about their day and its lessons for success.  

Lin shared that, “Our Firewise group in Beacon Road [Dorset] hMan pruning green vegetationad a very successful first ever Prep Day. I visited them during the day and they were working hard cutting back and clearing plants and debris in their gardens.”

Lin explained that the work day ended with, “A well-attended BBQ with everyone bringing along a contribution and they raised over £200 by holding a raffle for their start- up fund allowing them to purchase a large steel box to hold emergency equipment.”

One of the residents, Duncan Sowry-House, said of the event, “The first Corfe Mullen Firewise preparation day was extremely successful. Our group took advantage of the awareness that had been given and were motivated to come together as a community and work for the common good. Our families and homes are precious to all of us as well as our environment. Firewise is more than an initiative; it reduces risk and going forward will be a way of life.”  

The day also saw residents collect specific yard debris for a valuable purpose.  Their homes border managed open-lands of the “urban heaths” and share that vegetation.  Samples of numerous pants and shrubs were cut and bagged for research that Professor Claire Belcher of Exeter University is currently holding in the burn lab to measure the risks and flammability of the samples.  

The goal is to share a wider understanding of the fuel risks around homes with the residents and gain a stronger risk profile for the urban heath vegetation.  I think this effort shows the great partnerships that can arise out of Wildfire Preparedness Day and its ability to identify common-purpose between different wildfire stakeholders.  

Wildfire Preparedness Day events are also occurring in Canada, Italy, and Spain.  We’ll share stories from these over the summer and applaud all the work of residents who are making a difference in their communities. 

Photos courtesy of Andy Elliott, click on photos to visit original post on Twitter.

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In July 2018, a heatwave across the United Kingdom lead to record breaking wildfires.  They burned across heathlands in the south and moors packed with deep peat in the midlands.  Two podcasts by BBC Radio 4’s Open Country explore the impacts of these fires immediately following, and again 6 months later.  They are both 25-minute podcasts but well worth a listen.  


The July episode, recorded just after wildfires burned north of Manchester near Saddleworth and at Winter Hill
, asked, “what impact the huge moorland fires near have had on the landscape and the wildlife of the area.”  The episode interviews folks on the ground about how long will it take the ecosystem to recover and what this means for future fire risk. 

 

 

Six months later, an episode returned to Winter Hill to explore how the fragile ecosystem and wildlife are starting to recover.  This also includes reflections from people who utilize the lands for grazing and who live around them. 

During those fires, Shaun Walton, Group Manager for the Pennine Area with the Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, shared with me that, “fires on forested lands, upland and lowland heaths and moors involving peat that are carbon rich, burn requiring little oxygen underground for several weeks.”

 

This is a growing wildfire challenge in the UK.  NFPA is pleased to be working with valued groups on advancing resident education around these risks and structural protection.  

 

Photo Credit: BBC News, Drone footage captures Dorset heath fire damage, 27 July 18, pulled 2 Aug 18

[Update: Nov. 21, 10:30 a.m. EST - The Camp Fire now stands at 153,336 acres, with 80% containment. It has destroyed 13,503 residences and 514 commercial structures. 81 fatalities are now reported. CALFire shares that, “Moderate to heavy rain is forecasted over the fire area from this morning into Saturday.” The Woolsey Fire remains unchanged at 98,949 acres, with 98% containment. Learn more below and see links for updated information.]


The Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County and the Woolsey Fire in southern Los Angeles and Ventura Counties are breaking records every day.  A good source to follow breaking news is the LA Times Live Feed and on the Twitter hashtags, #Woolseyfire and #Campfire.  NFPA wants to share some information below to help put these fires in context and answer some common questions.   

 

What is the wildfire's size?

While even a small wildfire can put many residents at risk, the sheer size of the wildfires in California can be hard to imagine.  As of Monday morning, the two main fires – the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire – had burned a cumulative total of 247,949 acres.  For context, converted to square miles, that is the size of Dallas, Texas.  

 

Is a "Wall of Flame" burning down cities?

As the media illustrates the impacts of wildfire, you may hear about a "wall of flame" pushing through a city and destroying all in its path.  If this is true, why do we often see green trees remain around burnt out structures?  This is because blowing embers, and not a wall of flame from a wildfire, are landing on vulnerable areas of structures to cause home loss.  Watch this video from NFPA's Firewise USA® Program to learn more about the impacts of embers on structures.     

 

Why have there been so many fatalities?

As of Monday morning, 77 fatalities have been reported from the Camp Fire, with an additional three fatalities from the Woolsey Fire.  The LA Times is sharing bios on those who have passed away.  You'll quickly see that the elderly and disabled comprise a majority of those lost.  This is because receiving alert information and evacuating can be a challenge to different demographic groups. 
     


As the death toll rises, the list of those missing topped 1200 over the weekend.  While we will unfortunately learn of more fatalities, the current high missing list is a raw count and contains many discrepancies.   Learn more about the challenge of counting the missing here. 

Why are so many homes burning?

The figures on structural loss from these fires can be staggering to comprehend.  As of Monday morning's CALFire incident report, the Camp Fire has destroyed 11,713 residential structures and 472 commercial structures, with the Woolsey Fire claiming 1500 total structures

 

Urban conflagrations – uncontrolled structure-to-structure ignitions – were common 100 years ago, but regulations, safety messaging, and building improvements largely ended this challenge in our urban environments.  Yet, as we have developed into the "wildland urban interface" – where homes interface with natural areas – this challenge has returned.  The focus on risk and proper rebuilding has become more difficult for local politicians and residents alike.  Learn from historic California examples of this challenge as well.  

 

Is home loss inevitable?

No, and NFPA stresses that residents have a positive role to play in reducing their home's risk to wildfire.  This focus can also ensure that the spread of an urban conflagration stops at the first home impacted by blowing embers from a fire.  Once structure-to-structure ignition starts, firefighting resources become overwhelmed, and total loss ensues.  Watch this Firewise USA® video about how residents can reduce this risk. 

 

Why is a wildfire burning at the end of 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 down slope 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 become even drier from the desiccating winds.  

 

So if ignitions happen, fire can move very quickly.  These down slope 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.

 

What about climate change and forest health?

Regardless of the cause of climate change, California has been in a multi-year drought and its "fire season" has become longer, both in the spring and fall.  There has been a lot in the news as well about the role that forest thinning would have on reducing the fire risk.  Fire Ecology Historian Steve Pyne wrote a great piece explaining forest health and debunks some of the recent politicized arguments.  

 

As these fires continue, our thoughts continue to be with those affected and those who have lost loved ones.  

 

Tom Welle contributed to this blog

Photo Credit:  NIFC Photo Library, pulled 19 Nov 2018

[Update: Nov. 16, 2:30 p.m. EST - Since Monday's post, the Camp Fire has destroyed over 9,700 residential homes and 290 commercial structures. It currently stands at 141,000 acres burned with 40% containment. 63 fatalities are attributed to the fire. The Woolsey Fire has destroyed 548 residences and is at 98,362 acres burned with 62% containment. The Hill Fire is now 100% contained. As these and other fires burn, see the shared links below for updated information.]

[Update: Nov. 14, 4:45 p.m. EST - Since Monday's post, the Woolsey fire has destroyed hundreds of structures in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, causing three fatalities. and the Camp Fire in Northern California has become the deadliest fire in the state's history, with 48 fatalities. As these and other fires burn, see the shared links below for updated information.]

 

As three separate wildfires burn across California, reports on stretched suppression operations, massive structural losses, and tragic fatalities dominate the news.   

 

According to an L.A. Times briefing (as of Monday 24 November, 10:45 a.m. PST):

 

“The Woolsey fire has scorched more than 85,550 acres, burning homes in Malibu, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks while threatening parts of Simi Valley and West Hills...

The Hill fire pushed through canyons to the edge of Camarillo Springs and Cal State Channel Islands.

The Camp fire in Northern California’s Butte County has destroyed more than 6,700 structures and killed at least 29. It's the state's most destructive fire and is tied for the state’s deadliest fire.”

It can be difficult to follow the unfolding events presented by the various outlets.  Some that we have found helpful as we follow the wildfires are:

 

 

Earlier today, the Firewise USA® Program shared on social media: “More than 7,800 firefighters continue battling the Camp, Hill and Woolsey CA wildfires. Our heartfelt thanks to all those men and women.” 

 

There are Firewise USA® sites impacted and those residents remain close to the heart of the program as these fires continue to burn.  The resiliency of California 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. 

 

If you are in California, remember to pay close attention to the official social media accounts, alert systems, and media updates of your local emergency response agencies for the latest fire and evacuation news.

 

Photo credit: Getty Images, pulled 12 November 2018 

NFPA wants to connect with you on wildfire and fire & life safety public education beyond just blogs. Many of the Wildfire Division and Public Education staff are active on Twitter and bring their diverse backgrounds to their real-time updates on NFPA’s outreach, messaging, and new resources. 
This is another outlet for you to learn about what what’s happening and how it can benefit your local efforts. Interact and engage with us where outreach and community risk reduction occur. You don’t need to have a Twitter account to read the Twitter feeds, but if you do, please follow these great staff accounts: 
Karen Berard-Reed(@KBerardReed) and Chelsea Rubadou (@Chelsea_NFPA) share that, “We are Community Risk Reduction Strategists at NFPA working to meet the needs of NFPA stakeholders in the CRR space. We tweet about events, conversations, and innovations that move CRR into the forefront of the fire and life safety conversation.”
Michele Steinberg, NFPA’s Wildfire Division Director, (@Michele_NFPA) brings her nearly 30-years of disaster safety mitigation and education focus to Twitter. She shares that, “I style myself “NFPA’s cheerleader for wildfire safety.” While I do use Twitter to promote what we’re doing at NFPA, I love how the platform allows me to cheer on what others are doing and bring timely issues to folks’ attention by using the all-important hashtag: #wildfire / #hazmit / #Firewise / and #infoknowledge.”  
Lisa Braxton, Public Education Specialist with NFPA, (@LisaReidbraxton) promotes blog posts from NFPA’s Safety Source, along with highlights of new resources and online educational opportunities from NFPA Public Education.
Megan Fitzgerald-McGowanwith the Wildfire Division (@meganfitz34) brings her experience as a wildland firefighter to NFPA’s wildfire division. She promotes NFPA resources related to wildfire risk reduction around homes and communities, encourages a collaborative approach to wildfire preparedness, and shares current wildfire related research.
Andrea Vastis, Senior Director for Public Education at NFPA, (@AndreaVastis) is a public health education professional. She explains that, “I follow AARP Livable Communities and CDC Injury Prevention and Adolescent Health Centers. I communicate about health events, public health observances, and timely updates related to fire and life safety.”
Faith Berrywith the Wildfire Division (@Faithannberry) shares, “I love using Twitter to help people find their way to the latest wildfire news on NFPA's Xchange. Did you know that you can join in on the conversation? I like to hear how our stakeholders are making their communities safer and share their successes.” 
Laura King, NFPA’s Public Education Representative in Canada, (@LauraKingNFPA) brings the Canadian and North American connections to NFPA’s outreach on Twitter. She shares that, “I tweet about all things public-education related in Canada, from Sparky to sprinklers and everything in between!”
I am also on Twitter at (@Lucian_NFPA). In my work managing the Wildfire Division’s international outreach, I share highlights from international conferences, the work of NFPA’s great partner around the world, and lessons from international field tours that NFPA enjoys as it learns more about the global challenge of wildfire community risk reduction. 
In addition to these staff accounts, you can learn more about the Firewise USA® Program (@Firewise); follow the official Twitter profile for the National Fire Protection Association for the latest news on fire and life safety, code info and research (@NFPA); and gain valuable youth-focused public education resources from Sparky the Fire Dog (@Sparky_Fire_Dog). 

The November/December NFPA Journal® is out and its Wildfire column explores social equity in wildfire preparedness and outreach. While fire does not discriminate, we need to make sure we aren’t just talking to the residents who may already be well organized and able to act on wildfire risk reduction. A great example of bridging the class divide in Hawaii points to a positive future.

 

For some backstory, NFPA hosted a listening session in 2018 to learn what “community risk reduction” meant to an audience of fire service and policy implementers. The attendees highlighted a range of topics, but it was a singular mention about the importance of social equity in community outreach that got me thinking about how we reach all communities at risk to wildfire.

 

This question is as important internationally, as it is across the United States. The example from the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization on honoring what communities have already done, as well as their existing capacity to build risk reduction, gave answers to that question. I hope the column gets you thinking too.

 

I am also happy to share that after 5 years and 29 Wildfire columns, this edition will be my last as its writer. Starting this January, NFPA’s Wildfire Division Director, Michele Steinberg, will take the Wildfire column to new heights as she brings her nearly 30 years of disaster safety mitigation and education experience to its voice.

 

5 years is a long time and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to share the diverse issues of wildfire with the readers of NFPA Journal®, and you. The column has explored wildfire evacuation lessons, post fire policy assessments, and the impacts of climate change. It has highlighted the burden on volunteer fire departments, the challenge of rebuilding on local governments, and budgeting. It’s also shown the steadfast resiliency of residents in the face of risk and the positive role NFPA plays.

 

As we look ahead, Michele shares that, “I’m grateful to Lucian for using the column to illuminate so many facets of wildland fire management, risk reduction, and community outreach for the past five years. A column in Journal is truly a bully pulpit to reach, teach, inspire and instigate around urgent concerns for fire and life safety. If I can help readers see things in a new way and question the status quo, I’ll have fulfilled my mission. While wildfires are inevitable, home destruction and human suffering are not. As [NFPA President] Jim Pauley says about our fire and life safety mission, “we still have work to do.” I hope readers will join me in learning about the gaps in our safety and how they can take action to change future outcomes. “

 

Enjoy this month’s column and the many more to come from NFPA.

In the September/October 2018 edition, the NFPA Journal remembers the 100th anniversary of Minnesota’s chaotic and deadly Cloquet fire

 

Starting on October 12, 1918, the wildfire would tear through 35 towns, leaving thousands of structures destroyed and nearly 560 fatalities in its path.  

 

The article shares newspaper reports of the time that paint the tragic picture of people trying to escape the flames and the fire’s wild aftermath.

 

As a reminder for us all today, the Journal shares that, “An article published by NFPA in January 1919 pointed to a lack of preventative measures, such as creating firebreaks by clearing vegetation and plowing, which contributed to the fire’s devastation."

 

Catch the full article here in the September/October NFPA Journal.

The September/October NFPA Journal® is out and its Wildfire column asks how we create the local conversation needed for residents to understand their risk. Not surprisingly, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is a good place to start.

 

For some backstory, I was in Vacarisses, Spain, visiting NFPA’s wildfire partner, the Pau Costa Foundation, this past May to see firsthand their work with communities at risk to wildfire. Their region is seeing former agricultural lands transition back to native landscapes and with that, a return of the natural fire ecology. While agriculture previously kept wildfire at bay, the Foundation is using Wildfire Community Preparedness Day as a tool to explain these changes and what wildfire now means for residents.

 

The Prep Day event in Vacarisses combined risk reduction educational messaging with local government promotion. The outreach was made stronger still by additional promotion of the day’s value by the regional council of governments and regional fire authority. All of this started a conversation about wildfire that was not discussed by residents before and got people talking about the positive role they can play in community risk reduction.

 

The value of using Prep Day to start the conversation in a community stuck with me and it didn’t take me long to find that same focus in many of the 2018 funding award submission descriptions. From a rural fire department in Oklahoma and a municipal fire department in California both connecting with their local at-risk residents for the first time, to communities connecting with overlooked populations, the goal for many – as one submitter shared – was to “keep the conversation going beyond our May 5th event.”

 

Learn more about the value of creating the conversation in this month’s NFPA Journal® Wildfire column.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton

The September NFPA Journal® highlights the findings of NFPA’s 2017 National Fire Experience Survey, which outlines that reporting year’s response numbers, fatalities, injuries, and property loss from fires across the United States.

 

2017 was unfortunately a major year for wildfires and that extent is made clear in the report. It explains, “NFPA estimates that the 1,319,500 fires to which the fire service responded in 2017 caused $23 billion in property damage, a very large increase over the $10.6 billion in 2016. It is worth noting that the $23 billion figure includes major wildfires in Northern California in 2017, which caused $10 billion in direct property damage.”

 

In effect, the wildfires that impacted California doubled the annual property loss figure. Overall for that year, wildfires accounted for 22% of response by fire departments.

 

The report also shares that approximately 3,400 civilian fire deaths were recorded, with over 14,670 people injured at responded fires.

 

These figures remind us what one burning ember can do. Learn what you can do to reduce your property’s exposure to embers and read more about the National Fire Experience Survey in the September NFPA Journal®.

 

Photo credit: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) public photo Library firefighters pulled 11 July 2017

NFPA’s wildfire division manager, Michele Steinberg, is slated to present wildfire safety information and tips during an upcoming webinar for mortgage field service industry professionals. Steinberg and members of her team at NFPA are frequently sought out by insurance and realty professionals to provide updates and education on the latest in effective wildfire risk reduction tools and techniques. 
During the webinar at 1:30 pm Eastern Time on September 13, Steinberg along with Safeguard Properties and other industry professionals, will address key wildfire risk reduction principles to protect homes and neighborhoods. The industry is engaged in inspecting and preserving vacant and foreclosed properties, ensuring the safety and security of structures for their clients, the lenders and mortgage companies. 
While industry professionals regularly learn about hurricane and flood preparedness, Steinberg noted that wildfires are a growing concern. In the past two years, NFPA staff have presented to members of the National Association of REALTORS®, several insurance companies, the Casualty Actuarial Society, and have bylined or contributed to articles for such publications as Green Builder magazine and California Buildings News. 
Steinberg notes, “The actions that mortgage field service personnel can take to secure properties against wildfire damage are the very same ones that NFPA advises homeowners to do on a regular basis. Inspecting roofs, gutters and vents for vulnerabilities, clearing away flammables near the home, and reducing ignition potential in the home landscape are all proven ways to reduce the risk of a structure ignition during a wildfire.” 
The webinar will cover tips for individual property protection as well as the value of community-wide risk reduction efforts including the Firewise USA® recognition program. To participate, register here.
Safeguard Properties is the mortgage field services industry leader, inspecting and preserving vacant and foreclosed properties across the U.S. With a focus and investment in innovative technologies, Safeguard provides the highest quality service to our clients by proactively developing industry best practices and quality control procedures. We pride ourselves in our dedication to working with community leaders and officials to eliminate blight and stabilize neighborhoods across the country. Learn more at www.safeguardproperties.com.

Photo credit: NFPA

UPDATE: Registration is now open.  Click here to learn more and sign up.  

As part of the upcoming 2018 Fire Prevention Week, NFPA will host a webinar on Wednesday, October 10, at 3:00pm eastern time helping residents in the wildland-urban interface learn what they need to know about insurance before, during and after a wildfire.

 

Presenters will include Carole Walker from the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, Kenton Brine with the Northwest Insurance Council, and Janet Ruiz with the Insurance Information Institute.

 

Tom Welle, with the NFPA Wildfire Division, shared with me that, “Being prepared for Wildfire is not just about preparing your home and having an evacuation plan, it also means you need to be financially prepared. Being well informed about your insurance coverage and having regular update meetings with your agent are crucial to your financial preparedness for wildfires.” The webinar will share insight from insurance experts so you can be a part of a more informed public.

 

Registration guidance for the webinar will be shared this September and we look forward to your participation.

 

The 2018 Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere,” works to educate people about three basic but essential steps to take to reduce the likelihood of having a fire – and how to escape safely in the event of one. Learn more about Fire Prevention Week and its educational resources.

While wildfires across the American West threaten communities, a summer of excessive heat and drought has also torched parts of Europe. Over June and July, wildfire in the forests of Sweden, to moorlands of the United Kingdom, and even the Netherlands, surpassed records and showed that wildfire is no longer just a “Southern European issue”. The countries of Northern Europe are not accustomed to wildfire and the factors causing this expansion are not going away. Recent articles by the BBC and reflections from our wildfire partner in the UK provide great perspective on this emerging challenge.

 

July was a massive month for wildfire in Europe and followed a heightened trend for 2018 over the previous 10-year average. This is highlighted in an article by the BBC that explored, “why wildfires are breaking out in the ‘wrong’ countries”. The cause is a prolonged heat-wave drying out abundant fuel loads and it is continuing into August. Ignitions are primarily human-caused in Europe.

 

The article explains that by July 24, over 34,000 acres burned in the UK, which is four times the previous 10-year average. Approximately 46,000 acres in Sweden was 41 times the previous 10-year average. Aside from the recent tragic fire losses in Greece, Mediterranean Europe has seen less fires through a cool and wet spring and early summer.

 

In the UK, the current heat wave is the worst since 1976. Shaun Walton, Group Manager for the Pennine Area with the Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, shared his prospective with me on the conditions and their wildfire response.

 

“Historically the UK has experienced periodic severe wildfire seasons, however more recently the number and severity of wildfires have increased. Many influencing factors have contributed to this including hotter and dryer seasonal weather. Traditional wildfire seasons have changed, with the UK experiencing wildfires starting earlier and finishing later in the year. UK seasonal weather has not been consistent over the years in comparison to previous seasons, this has allowed fuel/vegetation to have the right conditions to grow and remain in-situ for long periods of time, allowing the fuel to build with dead vegetation providing more surface fuels to burn across the moors.”

 

Explaining more about the fuel-loading, Shaun shared that, “the UK, like other countries, face challenges [fighting] the various types of vegetation of wildfires in forests, upland and lowland heaths and moors, that can involve surface fuel fires and ground fuels involving peat that are carbon rich and burn requiring little oxygen underground for several weeks.”

 

Wildfire operations and public outreach are changing with the growing threat as well. In Shaun’s role with the UK’s National Fire Chiefs Council and its Wildfire Group, he explained to me that, “the NFCC supports the UK Fire & Rescue Services to manage this risk by providing safety advice to the public to help prevent wildfire occurring and advising the public on what action to take when they do occur. The NFCC Wildfire Tactical Advisers also provide on request specialist advice to Incident commanders in relation to managing wildfires. The NFCC also support the development of UK National Operational Guidance to provide operational advice to Incident Commanders and improve Firefighter Safety.

 

Shaun noted that, “various UK fire rescue services are working together to develop specialist teams to fight wildfires by lighting deliberate ‘good fires’ to suppress wildfires and reduce fuels in the wildfires burn path, thereby protecting homes, infrastructure and reducing the impact to the environment.”

 

As the threat of wildfire continues this summer, Shaun stressed to me, “how important it is that organizations with a vested interest in wildfire, such as NFCC and NFPA, share best practice and learning to support prevention and operational response for what many consider to be the new norm.” NFPA looks forward to this work as well and wishes all those fighting wildfires in Europe safety and success.

 

Photo Credits: 
BBC News, Sweden battles wildfires from Arctic Circle to Baltic Sea, 18 July 2018, pulled 2 Aug 2018
BBC News, Drone footage captures Dorset heath fire damage, 27 July 18, pulled 2 Aug 18

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  

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