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153 Posts authored by: luciandeaton Employee

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  

In the July/August NFPA Journal®, a feature section shares the completed 2017 NFPA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States report and selected on-duty firefighter fatality case studies. Of the 17 deaths in 2017 at the scene of fires, eight died at wildland fire incidents.

 

Of these eight wildland firefighter tragedies, three occurred from falling trees, two from separate wildfire entrapments, and one each from chainsaw operation, a vehicle crash, and a sudden cardiac event.

 

The related case studies shared in the Journal explore the cause and nature of three of these wildland firefighter fatalities to provide a reference to inform and educate readers.

 

In addition to the NFPA Journal® article summary, you can read the entire 2017 NFPA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States report.  You can also learn more about efforts to reduce wildfire fatalities by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation “Everyone Goes Home” initiative focused on wildfire.

Photo Credit: Fahy, Rita, et al.  Firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2017.  NFPA Journal July/August 2018. pulled 11 July 2018.  

In the Fall of 2017, the Tubbs fire burned more than 470 homes in one California community. A month later, the same community held their annual Firewise day to maintain their active status in the program.  In the July NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I explore what motivates that community post-wildfire and the value they still see in Firewise USA® program going forward.

As I learned, there’s no single or correct way to handle the aftermath of a devastating wildfire, and until it happens, it’s impossible to know how any individual or community might respond. With that said, the response by the residents provides a great example of resiliency and community rebuilding.

 

Learn more about their story and their road ahead in July NFPA Journal edition.

The task of reducing wildfire risk can seem like a heavy burden for homeowners who are unable to do the physical labor themselves, but some volunteer groups are trying to lighten that load.

 

A local news channel in Colorado shares the story of how real-estate agent volunteers are helping older residents and those with disabilities to reduce their home’s risk to wildfire and make a safer community in the process. "We want to help people find their homes up here, but once they do find them, we want to make sure they can enjoy them too, " a volunteer told the news station. Volunteers spent a day trimming trees and removing slash for their neighbors and plan to again in July.  

 

Current fires across Colorado and other western states have many seeking help on what they can do to make their homes and properties safer from wildfire. The Firewise USA® Program also encourages neighbors to work together on risk reduction activities and even to lend that helping hand when its needed.

 

Learn more about how embers from wildfires put homes at risk and what you can do to make your home and community safer.  

 

Photo credit: CBS 4 Denver, "Volunteers Help Seniors And People With Disabilities Protect Property From Wildfires", 28 June 2018, pulled 5 July 2018.  

 

Marie Snow, NFPA Wildfire Staff, contributed to this blog

In the May/June edition of NFPA Journal®, the Safety Policy column by Meghan Housewright explores the fact that while its clear that the public and government leaders value fire services, city budgets too often overlook wildfire, one of the fastest growing fire safety threats.

 

The column reflects on a recent study that provides guidance on leveraging local data for more focused funding. She also discusses how NFPA’s Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute can help communities and fire departments make wildfire the budget-line priority it needs to be.

 

I recently spoke with Meghan about the column and what stood out to her about these budget challenges. She shared that, “Tight budgets are a tough reality but people need to understand the consequences of relying on periodically available grants, or neglecting mitigation entirely. The most interesting point about the survey of residents from Rapid City [South Dakota] is that 53 percent reported being willing to increase taxes before cutting fire services. It’s an opportunity for the fire service to make the mitigation case to the community and they should certainly take it.”

 

Learn more about navigating the budget and community risk reduction landscape in the current edition of NFPA Journal®.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton.  Pulled from NFPA Journal® online 21 May 2018.  

Far from an academic question, the Cape Town, South Africa, Fire Department and the 4 million residents it serves provide a great example of building operational and community resiliency for wildfire in a time of server drought and strict water restrictions. Learn more in the May/June edition of NFPA Journal®’s Wildfire column.

 

Back in March, NFPA visited with its wildfire community outreach partners in South Africa and landed in the middle of a water crisis. Years of drought have reduced the reservoirs that supply Cape Town with its drinking water and the city faced a “Day Zero” reality, when the taps would actually run dry.

 

In response, residents, businesses, and agriculture, all reduced their water consumption and reconsidered the value of something that we usually take for granted.  I did as well as a guest and have tried to reduce my unnecessary water use back at home in the USA.

 

While there, I had the great opportunity to talk with Ian Schnetler, Cape Town’s chief fire officer, about how municipal water restrictions and the looming threat of “Day Zero” changed how the department deals with wildfire and the culture of the fire department in it use of water.  Learn from his insight and actions in the current edition of NFPA Journal®’s Wildfire column.  

Picture Credit: Lucian Deaton

In mid-March, NFPA visited with its wildfire partners in South Africa to attend a capstone event recognizing 10-years of UN Development Program funding of the Fynbos Fire Project that promoted integrated fire management for wildfire risk reduction across the landscape, with the model of the Firewise USA® Program employed to achieve community engagement.

 

A series of videos premiered at the event capture the heart and determination of communities that are working to make themselves safer from wildfire.  They provide us some lessons as well on encouraging local responsibility and building local trust for needed behavioral change.

 

The first video is from the Goedverwacht (pronounced: Hook-trah-vacht) community north of Cape Town. A wildfire three years ago motivated the residents to take action and reduce the risks of their community that is surrounded by mountains with one access road.  Firewise site board members, who work the program as part of a job development model, connect with fellow residents door-to-door and with school children about the risk from embers and behaviors that had to change on fire-danger days.

 

Their focus on community responsibility, risk education, and self-improvement has kept their effort strong as they transition to an all-volunteer effort.  I was fortunate to visit with them in 2016 and again this year.  I remain amazed by their commitment to others and the clear risk reduction they have achieved.

 

The second video is from the community of Sir Lowry’s Pass, west of Cape Town. Faced with wildfire exposure, both from within and from the surrounding landscape, the opening narration by a Firewise leader in their video captures it all for me. “If one house burns in the community, we all feel it because if one house burns, it could just as well have been mine.”

 

Michele Steinberg, NFPA Wildfire Division Manager, spoke at the UNDP event.  She shared that it provided the, “great experience to reflect back on 20 years of where the Firewise USA® Program has been to where it is now.” She went onto explain that, “community engagement is so vital and it’s gratifying to see communities under different contexts and without the resources we take for granted here in the US achieve such successes in their community risk reduction efforts.”

 

The videos show how both communities exemplify the values of peer-to-peer exchange to build trust and deliver a responsibility message directly to each resident.  That lesson is transferable back to us when we consider how to engage volunteerism, encourage risk reduction activities, and get residents to see their role in wildfire risk reduction.

 

Two other community videos were made by the Fynbos Fire Project and we’ll share reflections on them in May.

 

Our visit in March with LANDWORKS South Africa and other organizations committed to wildfire community risk reduction let us continue our collaborative work with them, learn what community engagement can achieve, and identify what research is needed to advance that effort.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton

In the March/April NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I ask if we are kidding ourselves to think that voluntary risk reduction efforts can really make an impact.The answer is that we are not, but the criticism posed by some provides a healthy reflection for us on the necessary work ahead and the value of community engagement.

 

For some backstory, the American writer, Mark Twain, once said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” This quote takes on delightful meaning when you discover that, though credited in various articles and movies for the quote, he never said it.

 

It’s an example of a confirmation bias, when people want to believe something is true, so they just believe it to be a truth. When homes are lost in a wildfire, are our beliefs and risk reduction efforts an overconfidence in the face of “megafires” and ever lengthening fire seasons?

 

The column explores this challenge and offers how a more educated and empowered resident, working on their own risk, will have the understanding to better accept building practices and regulations we all need.

How we plan and manage evacuations of communities in the path of wildfire was discussed in a packed room at the WUI 2018 Conference last week. I have been a part of many conference sessions over the years and it was refreshing to see an audience so engaged and eager to explore an issue. The passion is there because it’s about people’s lives.

 

From the panel, Daniel Gorham, of the NFPA Research Foundation, presented the recently released, “e-Sanctuary” report that describes a novel framework for modeling wildfire urban evacuations. Dan explained how the report synthesizes the complex forecasting tools of fire spread, human behavior, and vehicle traffic modeling to illustrate how an evacuation would unfold in a given area throughout a risk. A tool that can combine these models is seen as a way to help communities identify challenges to evacuation, before smoke is in the air.

 

Boise Fire Department Capt. Jerry McAdams and Austin Fire Department Capt. Josh Anderson brought a implementing prospective to the room, explained the realities of evacuation from the department prospective, public perceptions, and municipal planning.

 

Chief Dave Driscoll, CAL FIRE, Ret., who moderated the panel discussion, got the room thinking about evacuation and how we plan for it as an event. He explained that an evacuation is a formula of time, distance, and volume of people, which can occur with spontaneous, immediate, or planned methods. It was great to see a room consider his question of when is something an evacuation and when is it a rescue. If it’s the latter, fire departments do evacuations every day, but how do they train for them?

 

Fire service members from California shared their challenges seen in evacuations from recent wildfires and asked whether a model framework can anticipate the public panic of human behavior in the moment. It is a good point to raise and the hope of any model is to identify community risks and reduce their impacts at time of evacuation, regardless of timing.

The good test of a conference session is if the audience wants it to go long, and they did, with the 20 minutes of audience discussion allotted spilling over 10 minutes more into the break. The issue of evacuation is a great challenge to residents and the fire service alike.

 

Read more about the “e-Sanctuary” report and share your thoughts on what is missing from our current understanding of community evacuation, especially when smoke is in the air.

 

Photo Credits: Lucian Deaton

In the January edition of NFPA Journal, Associate Editor Jesse Roman explores why, if experts say we could create wildfire-resistant communities today, is it so hard to get it done?

 

Reflecting on the article, Jesse shared with me that, “The deeper you dive into the nuances of the nation’s wildfire problem and the web of issues that surround it, the more you start to realize how long and difficult the road to fixing it will be. Politics, economics, sympathy, fear, and lingering misconceptions are a few of the multitude of legitimate hurdles that have kept us frozen in the status quo, unable to address a crisis that has grown steadily more destructive as the decades have passed.”

 

Pulling from recent fires in California and our nation’s history of trying to manage fire ecology, the article wrestles with how difficult even defining change can be.

 

“With wildfire, even seemingly the most simple ideas are fraught with nuance,” Jesse remarked. 

 

The article, “Build. Burn. Repeat?” is in the January edition.

 

Photo Credit: National Interagency Fire Center Public Photo Archive, pulled 12 January 2018.

In the January/February NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I ask that before we rush to find answers about the recent fires in California, we pause to consider whether we’re even asking the right questions.

 

We want to be whole again after such a devastating event, but in the days and weeks that followed the September-October wildfires, media outlets and policy wonks were pitching blame and churning out neat solutions to our wildfire problem.

 

The media response got me thinking if we are asking the right questions about the fire or just rehashing old assumptions for the current news cycle. In the face of these fires, we need to challenge presumed orthodoxies about wildfire. I hope you enjoy the column.

 

I should add that when the column was written, the fires were still raging and subsequently, the loss figures mentioned unfortunately grew.  This tragedy has assumed a new form over the past two days as heavy rains have caused mudslides across the exposed landscape.  With 17 deaths and over a dozen unaccounted for, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those lost and missing.  

The question, “why is community wildfire risk reduction important”, took on a global prospective when NFPA gathered its wildfire partners from Canada, Chile, The United Kingdom, Spain, Lebanon, South Africa, and Australia last summer.

 

The proceedings document from that workshop was released by the NFPA Research Foundation in December and is now available. It reflects the dynamic discussion that occurred around community risk reduction and the continued networking needed to advance long-term sustainability of efforts.

 

It was great to bring our partners together, see the knowledge exchange that occurred, and learn from them about the common risk of wildfire. Many have adapted the Firewise program to complement their implementation plans for community engagement and others brought their current knowledge and research to the discussions. 

 

By sharing their experiences in community risk reduction, the group identified six fundamental issues that impact these advocacy efforts across the globe. These issues helped to frame the current state and challenges to outreach and how to best package messaging to at-risk communities anywhere. The group developed these discussions into identified next steps to advance local implementation strategies and necessary wildfire research.

 

We thank the Research Foundation for facilitating the workshop and our partners for their involvement.  In 2018, we look forward to advancing the identified research opportunities outlined in the document and continuing the great efforts with our global partners in collectively reducing wildfire risks.

Firewise and the simple value of recognizing local risk-reduction accomplishments were shared this past November at the UK Wildfires2017 conference (#UKWildfireConf17) in Bournemouth, England. NFPA had the great privilege to present at the conference and support the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Scottish Wildfire Forum in their conference planning.

 

The conference culminated in a resiliency booklet that captures, in descriptive illustrations and findings, the current wildfire challenges faced across landscapes in the United Kingdom, plus a call to action for fire service and resident preparedness.

 

Andy Elliott, with the Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, served as the conference event manager and shared with me his thoughts on the great value of the new booklet.

 

“It was great to have a product from UK Wildfires Conference 2017 in the form of a small booklet." said Andy. “The delegates formed three habitat based groups and answered six questions over two workshops and the booklet is a summary of their discussion and comments.”

 

He went onto explain that, “It is certainly not an authoritative statement on Wildfire Mitigation in the UK, but it is a great starting place for a meaningful discussion. In the UK, current legislation requires the Fire Authority to agree to Wildfire Mitigation measures when a landowner wishes to claim grant aid to manage certain habitat types or when they create open habitats from forestry plantations, etc.”

 

To help that effort, Andy shared that, “It is hoped that the booklet will be used by anybody that has a need to consider wildfire resilience in these circumstances or when creating a new Firewise® Community. The illustrations by Auralab add an element of fun, but also illustrate the key points in a very memorable and visual way.”

 

At the conference, I served as the facilitator for the “Forestry” habitat workshop and found both hour-long group discussions to be fascinating. About 50 attendees a piece represented fire service, land management, forestry, planning, and policy prospectives.

The open discussions explored what resiliency means across landscapes and what is uniquely needed in each to advance wildfire risk understanding. Far from the usual topics, NFPA was happy to be a part of a conversation that identified socio-economic, forest industry, cultural prospectives, and even urban-forestry exposures.

 

The focus of the 2017 conference was to frame, “Wildfire resilience in a UK context”. Presentations by national and international speakers explored how to make UK homes, communities, and the landscape more wildfire resilient in the future. NFPA is very pleased to play a supporting role in the collective wildfire outreach implementation efforts by the National Fire Chiefs Council of the UK, the UK fire service forums, the Dorset Urban Heaths Partnership, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Serviceand others going forward.

 

Photo Credits:
Booklet images: Wildfire Resilience in a UK Context booklet.  
Booklet Illustration: Laura Sorvala, Auralab.  Twitter: @_auralab 

Current wildfires around Coimbra, Portugal, have claimed over 30 lives in a country still coming to terms with the loss of 64 people in wildfires this summer. It is a hard and painful truth that the impacts of wildfire are shared globally, as we here in the United States see official reports of 41 deaths in California from wildfires that continue to burn. Both tolls deserve our collective reflection on how we manage our landscapes and engage with our built environment.


António Patrão, Forest Engineer and Fire Prevention Specialist in Portugal, shared his thoughts on the current loss of life and the future of preparedness outreach in Portugal for this blog. His words help us to understand the scope of challenge, the impact of fire on the people of Portugal, and what can be done going forward by everyone.

 

“Portugal faced the most devastating wildfire season ever. Massive, very fast and severe wildfires destroyed lives, goods, landscapes, natural heritage and cultural values. It has been a firework on hell, under extreme dry [conditions], gigantic fuel accumulation, and unprepared communities. The perfect storm.

 

Since January until October [2017], mostly in a few days of June and October, 106 people died. Hundreds were injured. Thousands of pets and livestock died. Thousands homes and industrial facilities and others were affected and destroyed. 500,000 ha [1,235,526 acres] were burned. This represent 50% of the total burned area in Europe. It should be noted that 90% of those 500,000 ha were caused only by 1% of the total ignitions.

 

We are now living a moment of uncertainty when wildfires easily become urban and industrial ones.

 

National wildfire management and civil protection systems collapsed. People, most of them old, were abandon to their luck, trapped in smoke and flames, alone and unprepared. All society is morally affected, in pain and tears. People are feeling hopeless, angry with fire, with the state and with the government, and questioning themselves. It will be hard to recover. 

 

Wildfires in Portugal are now clearly being assumed as a social problem. They have human causes, they provoke human losses, and solutions are in human hands.

 

Solutions? Answers? Let’s go back to the basics on forest management and work close with people. Portugal needs to develop and implement community educational programs on fire. Community collaborative work on fire prevention and response represents one anchor to prepare people and to build resilient wildfire communities. This demands long term policies and outreach by multidisciplinary teams, home by home, street by street, village by village, and community by community. The road is hard but we should take the first step on Firewise.”

 

Photo Credit: BBC, Dozens Die in Portugal and Spain Wildfires, 16 October 2017, pulled 18 Oct. 2017. 

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