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153 Posts authored by: luciandeaton Employee

We need to understand how local demographics influence risk preparedness and evacuation. A field tour I recently participated in to see how communities rebuilt following massive bushfires in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia, in October 2013, provides great examples for us all on lessons in action.

 

In early September, I had the opportunity to attend the Australian AFAC 2017 conference and present on the community recognition value of NFPA’s Firewise USA™ Program. As part of the conference, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) led attendees on a field tour to learn from the Blue Mountains bushfires, with presentations from their leadership, volunteer firefighters, and community engagement staff.

 


The tour introduced us to the volunteer firefighters who were on the initial attack for a bushfire ignited by tree limbs touching a power line. Strong winds would quickly spread the fire beyond control and become 627 separate ignition events over a 13 day period. In the end, over 405,000 acres would burn and consume 214 homes before the fires were contained.


We learned about the 2013 event and how stronger understanding about populations at risk is helping to frame their preparedness and outreach for the next fire. Bushfires and a robust fire ecology is not new to the Blue Mountains, but its population is. The terrain and development reminded me of the Front Range in Colorado and mountain towns in Eastern Tennessee.

Its day-time population primarily commutes to Sydney now and by 2025, 60% of its population will be over 65 in age. This is changing resident perception of fire department response and their own ability to mitigate the risk on their own properties. 90% of the homes in the Blue Mountains are within 300 meters of wildland edge and the NSWRFS Community engagement staff shared that they see a 7-year cycle of new residents for renewed education about that risk.

 

The Blue Mountains are also a popular tourist destination and this poses a challenge if fires occur because, aside from the influx of population, many visitors are not proficient in English.

 

The 2013 fire illuminated lessons on public communications that influence how the NSWRFS connects with residents now. Their research showed that residents learned of the fires from family members messaging each other and turned to social media after for official updates. In the moment, they wanted to hear what is expected to happen from the fire services and not what already occurred. The NSWRFS explained that their communications to the public share as much as they know, clearly and honestly in plain language, recognizing that they are a apart of the information stream, not the sole deliverer anymore.

By focusing on these variables, fire services and residents alike are better understanding who is at risk during the next fire.  Out of the ashes of the 2013 fire also came a yearly 2-day workshop held in the Blue Mountains. It educates the public on rebuilding and fosters the collaboration between residents, builders, and planners around enacted development legislation that is an impressive accomplishment to see from an American wildfire perspective.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton, NFPA


After a wildfire has made the headlines, the often unreported risks of soil erosion and flooding remains.  The difficult work of landscape restoration begins.

 

In early June, wildfires burned over 39 square miles along the “Garden Route” region of coastal South Africa, east of Cape Town. The wildfires forced the evacuation of at least 10,000 residents in the hardest-hit town of Knysna and its surrounding suburbs, with thousands more fleeing elsewhere as various fires spread.

 

In its aftermath, the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative was developed to assess the loss and guide redevelopment efforts across the region. They released a progress report in early August focusing on necessary landscape restoration efforts from the June and previous wildfires.

 

Their current work includes:

 

• Over 50 erosion control projects along exposed slopes by moving dead brush into stack lines; installing “bio-sausages”; and utilizing “bio-blankets” to retain top-soil, especially in catchment areas.  

 

• Monitoring large-scale invasive alien plant re-growth, while completing plans to employ a hydro-seeder for native plant development.

 

• Hiring and training efforts to spread the erosion control projects.

 

Val Charlton, Managing Director of the South Africa "Land Works Non-Profit Company" and its FireWiseSA Program, that serves on the initiative, shared with me her reflections on the current work.

 

“The Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires were some of the most devastating ever experienced in South Africa. Declared as a Provincial Disaster, it has been really heartening to see how people and organizations pull together - or "inspan" as we say in South Africa - to address the many post -fire challenges.”

 

Val explained that, “the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative has been formed as a multi-disciplinary, intergovernmental and civil society platform to do just that - rebuild, be innovative in approach and build back better. It will be a long haul, but folks are committed.”

 

Noting some of the challenges faced by the initiative, Val shared that, “in addition to more than 1000 homes damaged or destroyed, this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - outstanding natural areas and rare biodiversity.”

 

The landscape restoration focus is of great importance right now to the initiative. Val explained that, “as winter rains [southern hemisphere in August] are expected, addressing mudslides, slippage and erosion control on the steep slopes have been some of the first actions. Stabilization of the burn scar will remain a priority in the near future in order to keep roads open and avoid risk to homeowners adjoining and on the slopes.”

 

You can follow their post-fire landscape restoration and community rebuilding efforts on The Garden Route Rebuild Facebook page.

 

Photo Credits: Garden Route Rebuild 3Aug17 Progress Report, pulled 14Aug17 


Like any ignition, fire needs an outside heat source applied to the trifecta of available fuel, heat, and oxygen to burn. As the BBC News reported on Monday, the outside source of ignition for various wildfires in southern Sicily between 2013 to 2015 were a band of 15 volunteer firefighters.

 

They are accused of fraud in inflating received payments by both reporting fake fires and setting deliberate fires. They would receive about 10 Euros ($11.75 USD) an hour while on response.

 

Not surprisingly, they garnered initial suspicion because they received more dispatches than any other team and a review of the 115 emergency calls over that period often showed the same phone number reporting wildfire starts under different names.

 

Of all the variables that influence wildfire behavior – fuel, topography, and weather (wind and humidity), I think the motivation of the ignition source is the most difficult to define. While lightning is a natural source of fire, “human-caused ignitions” comprise the vast majority of wildfire starts. Agricultural burns can be understood. The spark from a target practice bullet or the blade of a lawn mower hitting a rock can fall under negligence. The abandoned campfire that continues to smolder can lead to criminality. Yet. It’s the motivation of an arsonist that remains not as clear cut as you may think.

 

2016’s Clayton Fire in Lake County, California, was lit by an arsonist suspected in a dozen other fires in the area dating back to the summer of 2015. The November 2016 NFPA Journal Wildfire Column explored that fire, what motivates people to set fires, and how to counter the anti-social behaviors of those who want to watch the world burn.

 

While greed and false-heroism may have motivated these fire setters in Sicily, it is the selfless acts of countless firefighters currently responding to wildfires from the Mediterranean coasts to Montana, and elsewhere, that truly define what emergency services are all about.

 

Photo Credit: NIFC Public Photo Library Wildfires Album, pulled 8 August 2017.  

 

To view video, click here

 

With wildfires burning in 10 U.S. states – including the 390 square mile Lodgepole fire in Montana – we are also following wildfires that have erupted across the Mediterranean region of Europe earlier this week. Our thoughts are with all those effect, both here and abroad.  

 

Fires along the French southern coast and on the Mediterranean island of Corsica have forced over 10,000 to evacuate. Many have slept on beaches to escape fires that have burned over 15 square miles. The fires are burning as hot, dry and windy weather bake the region.

 

In an article by the BBC, a firefighter explained that faced with multiple fires, “"The situation is not under control because we don't have enough resources.”

 

The reality of this statement reminds me that fire departments are not the only ones with a role to play in wildfire risk reduction. As any fire service will be overwhelmed by the scale of such fires, steps that residents can take to reduce fire threat around their homes will create a safer environment for firefighters and help them better focus their response. Learn more about what you can do to prepare for wildfire in your area.  

 

Thankfully, no fatalities have been reported thus far, though many, including responders, have been taken to hospitals with smoke inhalation.

 

Additional fires are burning across the Mediterranean region in Portugal, Italy, and along the Adriatic coast in Montenegro and Croatia. Another article from the BBC has several videos from those fires

Photo Credit: BBC News, France appeal over 'virulent' Riviera and Corsica fires 25July17, image pulled 26July17 


The July/August NFPA Journal is out and in its Wildfire column, I explore what wildfire response planners can learn from their structural fire department counterparts – often in the same building – about adapting to the evolving fire threat.

 

Back in May when I was writing this column, large fires in central Chile, Florida, and California had all burned much faster than anticipated, causing major loss across unseasonably dry and overgrown landscapes.

 

Wildfires are burning more acreage than before (in the modern context) and costing much more to control. Simply, wildfires are burning differently than we’ve come to expect, and that point sounded familiar to me.

 

Ongoing research on modern residential structural fire behavior is showing that modern construction materials and methods, as well as home contents, have led to fires that can burn much more aggressively, reach flash-over faster, and pose greater dangers to inhabitants and responders alike.

 

In response, structural firefighters have had to evolve to this change in how the train and respond to fires, the equipment they use to do it, and the resources they deploy to educate and inform the public.

 

In the column, I argue that wildfire agencies and land management organizations should consider how the fire service came to understand the emerging shift in the structural fire threat and how it identified the necessary changes to training, response, and fire education to meet it.  The lessons may come from just across the fire station bay.

 

Photo Credit: NIFC Public Photo Library, pulled 11July17

Research released in early June in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres highlights smoke plume particulate data from wildfires in 2013. Its findings show that wildfire smoke emits three times as much small particulate matter – referred scientifically as PM1, meaning particulate measuring 1 micrometer across – than previously thought. Common forms of regulated air pollution are measured at PM2.5.

 

Scientists collected this initial data in 2013 flying directly through smoke plumes of three separate wildfires in a NASA-owned DC-8 equipped as a flying air quality laboratory.

 

The concern by those focused on respiratory issues is that this much smaller particulate matter can deposit more effectively into human lungs as the smoke settles. Dust in lungs can lead to blood pressure, heart attack, and cancer concerns.

 

Interestingly, during these flights, the researchers also flew through the plumes of prescribed fires and found much lower levels of PM1 particulates.

 

While prescribed burns are obviously much smaller then fully-involved wildfires, that is also a lesson the researchers offer in their report. As described to me by a local fire official some time ago, prescribed fires permit you to put a small amount of smoke in the air when you want it, with specific mitigation goals, instead of a wildfire putting a massive amount of smoke in the air and burning everything, when you don’t want it.

 

In a scientific sense, one of the researchers, Greg Huey from Georgia Tech, explains in the Atlantic article that, “because wildfires burn everything in their path, but do it incompletely and inconsistently, they produce an especially dirty and complicated chemical pattern.”

 

Further research is needed because of the small scale of this initial research coming from three fires in western states.

 

In a related video I saw three days later, Utah’s KSL News Chopper 5 is collecting similar particulate data from smoke updrafts as it captures images from current Brian Head Fire. This data goes to the Atmospheric Sciences Department of the University of Utah, as they assess smoke pollution impacts on neighboring Utah cities.

 

Photo Credit: NIFC public photo library, smoke, pulled 29June17

The deaths of over 60 people, including children, attempting to evacuate wildfires currently burring in central Portugal, brings the challenge of wildfire into a very harsh perspective. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who passed away and all effected by these fires.

 

Over 60 separate fires across central Portugal began Saturday night, as persistent dry weather, high winds, and very high temperatures generated dry thunder storms with lightning strikes. The majority of reported deaths are related to forest fires around Pedrógão Grande in the Leiria district in central Portugal.

 

Video from BBC Weather explains the conditions currently faced in Portugal, with high temperatures on Monday at 43 Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit). Similar weather conditions are expected through Thursday.

 

The rising impact of hotter and dryer conditions effecting denser fuel loads with residents in harm’s way is hard to ignore. Wildfires are burning differently then we have come to expect and plan for with preparedness and operations. Recent fires of 2017 in Chile, Ireland, South Africa, here in the US in Florida and California, and now in Portugal all highlight the challenges faced by a changing climate and shifting “fire seasons”.

 

Areas that previously did not think of “wildfire”, like Southern England, are now recognizing the risks of a warming and drying climate against environments and vegetation that are becoming more fire prone.

We have become more aware of this climate challenge in the context of wildfire as we work with our international wildfire partners in Canada, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, and Australia for instance.

 

NFPA hosted a research workshop with these international partners at the annual NFPA conference in Boston in early June. Two of the common themes that came out of the workshop are that wildfire is, uniquely, an evolving and growing hazard amongst fire risk threats; and all of its contributing and impacting factors on upward trends.

 

The proceedings of this workshop will be released soon and the impacts of climate change on wildfire behavior and response will no doubt grow in influence going forward. The tragic events in Portugal over the weekend and today are a stark reminder of this evolving risk and the wildfire preparedness work still to come.  

 

Three days of national mourning have been declared in Portugal from Sunday.  As these fires continue to burn, we hope for the safety of residents and responses alike, and their recovery.  

 

Photo credit: Portugal fire - three days of mourning declared - The Portugal News  pulled 19 June 2017

Following one of the worst storms to hit Cape Town, South Africa, in decades, gale-force winds fanned numerous wildfires across various towns to the west last week and into last weekend.

 

The wildfires burned over 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) along the “Garden Route” region of coastal South Africa, east of Cape Town. Spanning over 100 square kilometers (39 square miles), the wildfires from 7-11 June forced the evacuation of at least 10,000 residents in the hardest-hit town of Knysna and its surrounding suburbs. Thousands more were evacuated from neighboring towns in the region, including Plettenberg Bay, as various fires spread.

 

WATCH a Video of Knysna fire here.

 

Unfortunately, 7 fatalities are attributed to the wildfires, including the death of Plettenberg Bay volunteer firefighter Bradley Richards. More than 400 structures have been lost in Knysna alone.

 

Over 1,100 firefighters from across the Western Cape Province engaged the fires, including firefighting teams from the South African based Working on Fire organization, which is related to the Kishugu Non-Profit Company’s FireWiseSA program.

 

From their Facebook page, Kishugu shared remarks by their CEO, George Slabbert. “Our heartfelt thanks go out to all our brave firefighters, both on the ground and in the air, who heeded the call to assist in battling these wildfires. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and friends who are affected by this tragedy, particularly those who have lost their lives."

 

By Monday 12 June, all major fires were brought under control and the Western Cape Province cabinet is set to meet in Knysna on Wednesday to assess the loss.

 

Financial and material support to effected residents in Knysna and other towns has been robust. A Facebook page supporting the Knysna fires has additional live information about the recovery efforts.

 

Our thoughts go out to those effected by these fires and our hope for their strong recovery.

 

Photo Credit: GALLERY: Aerial pics of devastating Cape fires | News24  

 

Video (Watch) link credit: WATCH: Knysna fires continue to rage | The Citizen  


On Tuesday, June 13, at 3:00pm EDT, the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists is hosting a webinar presentation on how fire shaped Appalachian forests before the fire exclusion era.

 

Charles LaFon of Texas A&M will discuss the a recent fire history synthesis publication and current research on fire and forest composition. An open question and answer period will follow his remarks.

 

Pre-registration is not required and you can connect with the webinar at it’s start here.

 

Wildifre is not just a “western states” issue and we look forward to attending it to learn more about how wildfire and fire ecology influences all regions of the country.

 

Photo Credit: NWCG pc April Deming, NPS 2014_09_09-19_36_23_966-CDT

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of southern New Jersey’s Warren Grove Fire that burned 17,000 acres and caused the evacuations of several communities in Barnegat and Stafford townships. The fire originated on an Air National Guard Range when an F-16 mistakenly dropped a flare at a low altitude. The resulting wildfire spread across the densely forested Pine Barrens region and responders got a controlling hands when a thunderstorm rolled through two days later.

 

Our friend, John Cowie, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, and past president of the Barnegat Volunteer Fire Company, #1, shared his reflections with me on the wildire and how, 10 years later, strong coordinated efforts are underway to make a difference in the wildland-urban interface across the state.

 

“I think the 2007 Warren Grove Bombing Range Fire was a wake-up call for local Municipalities and Residents,” John remarked. “Unfortunately, there is a misconception in our area and possibly on the east coast that wildfire is an out-west problem. It's not. We have fires every year but they don't impact as many people as this one did.”

 

“Since the fire, The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has been working to build safer communities with local partners through CWPP's, Firewise, and Ready, Set, Go!. Partnerships between every level of a community are invaluable during a major incident [and] this has all come together in Barnegat Township through the FAC Learning Network and fire adapted communities.”

 

The 2007 fire has also defined the future focus for wildfire preparedness in New Jersey. John explained that, “We are now working on building capacity to grow these programs throughout New Jersey. Our goal is to make people aware of our problem and to protect lives and property."

 

This is leading to innovative approaches for the state. John shared that, “Bill Brash, a leader in Wildfire safety in New Jersey, has started the NJ Fire Safety Council. The newly formed [council] worked with Sustainable Jersey to incorporate CWPP's, Firewise, RSG and Municipal Fire safety councils as Sustainable Jersey actions. The points acquired through these actions can translate into level designations and grants."

 

Looking to their next steps, John highlighted that, “Our goal is to make these programs not only sustainable themselves but also to build capacity to further the wildfire message in New Jersey. The NJFSC is also working on grant funding for outreach and mitigation efforts state wide."

 

Giving a final reflection on the fire, John shared that, “I guess you can say that out of something so bad 10 years ago, good things have been brought forth to address the problem. From my perspective it is great to see communities working together to build these partnerships that will one day help to save lives and property.”

 

We are thankful to John and the great work of the New Jersey Forest Fire Services in advancing Firewise in the state and empowering residents to better prepare themselves for wildfire.


Photo Credit: Jones, Richard. Fire Sportlights Concern of Living Near Fighter Jets.  NYTimes, 17May07, pulled 23May17.  

While May 6 ended with 2017 National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day events in Hawaii, it began in the Western Australia town of Balingup, as their fire station hosted their first Fire Protection Expo in conjunction with the day.

 

I caught up with Peta Townsing, expo coordinator and lead for the grassroots Firewise W Australia group, about the expo.

 

Peta shared that, “All sorts of activities took place. We had fire drills by local primary school children, displays, talks on prescribed burning and landscaping for bushfire, demonstrations of using fire extinguishers, a short excursion to some nearby bush to point out how to undertake winter burning, and lots more…”

 

Peta explained to me that, “Balingup is one of a number of small towns in the South West of Western Australia. We have a Mediterranean climate with long hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. It was still dry when we held the Expo so we had to be careful with fires - though at least we did have plenty of firefighting equipment at hand! Most of the South West is bushfire prone.”

 

Turnout was strong for the event, especially amongst new residents. Peta highlighted that, “At the talks we had 40 to 50 people attend with additional people coming and going through the afternoon….some, I know, were recently arrived in the area and were very keen to know more about what they could do to reduce their fire risk, so it was good to see them.”

 

Whether in your own community, or around the world, events like these help to build resident understanding of the wildfire risk, bring neighbors together, and show the positive role they can play in preparedness.

 

We applaud the work of the Balingup Bush Fire Brigade, Firewise W Australia, and the residents of Balingup who are not only learning how to reduce their risks to wildfire, but making a difference in their community.  

 

You can see additional pictures from the event on their Facebook page.

 

Photo Credits: Fire Protection Expo - Balingup - Home | Facebook  

In the May/June NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I argue simply that if we are going to ask volunteer fire departments to do more, we all need to support them more. The March wildfires across Kansas and its bordering states showed how both volunteer departments will rise to any challenge, and the over-reliance we have on them to continue to save the public from a growing list of risks, wildfire now included. 

 

Just like the 1970s saw emergency medical services increasingly become an integral part of what the public expected fire departments to deliver, such focus is needed anew in funding, supported training, and resources for wildfires. The expectation of EMS was partnered with public support for the necessary training and resources to achieve that service goal. The public, and state governments, need to step up to the plate again and stand with their rural volunteer departments in this fight we all face.

 

The May/June edition also includes a very good piece by NFPA’s Angelo Verzoni about recent heavy losses in California and Canadian wildfires and what this means for the future of “structure survival”.


This Saturday, community groups across Canada will participate in their 3rd annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

Press releases shared Thursday (in English, et en Français) promote this ongoing effort to support Canadian communities’ actions to reduce their risk to wildfire.  The event is managed by Partners in Protection Association/FireSmart Canada, in collaboration with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) and The Co-operators.  The press releases also share comments by Kelly Johnston, executive director of FireSmart Canada, on the great value of the day. 

The Wildfire Community Preparedness Day (WCPD) in Canada provided funding for 20 projects across the country, with an additional 14 project receiving support from their provincial governments. Funding applications for 2017 more than doubled from last year.

 

Canada’s theme this year is, “Together We Are Prepared,” which highlights the importance of collaborative efforts by communities, the fire service, youth groups, and others.

 

NFPA is proud to support Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in Canada and the efforts of all involved to increase community action in reducing their risk to wildfire.

Two points caught my eye in a recent article about the ongoing fires in Florida.  

 

First, “Man Saves Rhino” is not an article topic one usually expects in the world of wildfire. Yet, it’s what occurred when the owner of a wild life preserve went back to help firefighters evacuate a rhino from its pen as the flame front turned and embers flew through the air.

 

Second, the article sets the imagery of what being caught in a wildfire looks like, and graphically, what it feels like. The preserve owner received 2nd degree burns on exposed skin over 18% of his body and explains in his own words, how he managed.

 

I use the word “graphically” to express the article’s approach and not to stigmatize or sensationalize what burn victims grow through. Massive burns can incite shock in the public eye but groups like NFPA and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors show the strength of burn survivors and importantly, share their stories of perseverance and their safety lessons for us all.

 

There are many resources to help advance understanding and support for burn victims and safety.

 

The Phoenix Society provides burn survivors and their families with resources and programs to help. Their annual Phoenix World Burn Congress shares education and connects peers along the “journey of burn recovery.”

 

The Phoenix Society’s Executive Director, Amy Action gave a recent presentation on, “The Human Impacts of Fire” that address burn victims and safety education.

 

NFPA also works with the Phoenix Society on advocacy around sprinklers as well as other issues like electrical fires. The NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative shares its Faces of Fire campaign and NFPA promotes burn awareness through various risk and age-based resources.

 

I encourage you to learn more and to support those effected by fires of all kinds.  Even Rhino.  

 

Photo Credit: Raquel Landry, Wildfire burn victim Donovan Smith: 'It was like Armageddon', Eric Staats. USAToday. Published 25Aprill17. Photo pulled 27April17

In the March/April NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I explore how NFPA can balance the elimination of fire risk with the reality of wildland fire ecology. Recent fires in Gaitlinburg, Tennessee, provide a context, and importantly, a call to action for assistance.

 

Almost every other NFPA risk-reduction effort, from public education campaigns to the vast majority of NFPA codes and standards, seek the complete elimination of fire from the safety equation. Yet, in the case of wildfire, our wildfire risk reduction strategies have to acknowledge that fire must exist, to some extent, as a critical part of a healthy, natural land management process. How to control that and what to protect becomes the focus.

 

In writing the column, I was also stuck by the difficulty of writing a reflective, arguably academic piece about what was a human tragedy. The role of a writer, if I may call myself that, is to find “the story” from an event to relay reflection and hopefully, lessons learned. It’s easy to forget in this pursuit, that 14 people died and have family and friends searching for a higher meaning to what occurred.

 

Just as I closed the column, I encourage you here as well to visit MountainTough.org, the relief organization established by Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee.  It assists those who need help and those who want to help. Their recovery can be the best example of our collective advocacy and a beneficial lesson learned for all.

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