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21 Posts authored by: megan.fitzgerald-mcgowan Employee

Members of Red Rock Ranch who participated in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

On the heels of Arizona, we travel north to visit our fourth Site of Excellence, Red Rock Ranch (RRR).  Just north of Colorado Springs, this community has seen the devastating effects of wildfire up close with the Waldo Canyon (2012) and Black Forest (2013) fires, yet struggled to get engagement and buy-in in their early wildfire preparedness attempts.  Dave Betzler shares background information on the community and how they moved forward with Firewise and lays out a detailed plan for how they will tack the challenge given to all pilot sites.

 

RRR Community Description:

               RRR HOA is a 360-acre development of 202 homes within a Wildland Urban Interface. Midway between Monument and Palmer Lake, our roughly 600 residents enjoy rural living nestled at the foot of 8100-foot Raspberry Mountain amidst tall ponderosa pines and extensive stands of scrub oak. Bordered on two sides by Pike National Forest, residents enjoy seeing the abundant wildlife (deer, fox, coyote, and occasional mountain lion and black bear) as well as a varied bird population. Residents appreciate the quiet and serenity of mountainside living, yet have close and ready access to all necessary conveniences and services in both Colorado Springs and Denver, as well as small town ‘feel’ of adjacent Monument and Palmer Lake. 

 

RRR Firewise USA Journey:

               Initial, but largely unsuccessful HOA wildfire awareness discussions first surfaced in 2014, led by a Board member.  Slash was collected in one area and chipping was removed.  This was a partially success, as only 20 homeowners participated and HOA chipping costs were too high to be sustained. 

                In 2016 the new HOA president attended numerous Firewise meetings including the Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church’s Emergency Preparedness Group. With EPG and HOA volunteers, we held 2 days of fuel reduction on the property of a disabled homeowner. This event was an attempt to “jumpstart” broad HOA resident fuel reduction, and to show the community “mitigation” or fuel reduction does not mean total destruction of the existing landscape. 

In 2017, HOA President and a handful of concerned residents recognized the wildfire risk, decided to take action, and formed a Firewise Committee. The Community Wildfire Protection Plan was developed in collaboration with Woodland Park office of Colorado State Forest Service and Tri Lakes Monument Fire Protection District. The CWPP includes an aggressive plan detailing mitigation and wildfire education and preparedness actions and activities.  We applied for and were awarded a $6200 grant from Coalition for Upper South Platte for 2018 wildfire mitigation and chipping.

In 2018 Firewise Committee conducted an extensive education and awareness campaign to inform residents  Three people behind a chipper helping feed limbs in to itof the wildfire threat and the need to take action. In addition to widespread homeowner visits, the Committee purchased bright long sleeved Firewise Volunteer shirts as visible reminders for homeowners.  Committee efforts resulted in 73 homeowners conducting property mitigation, and 22 residents receiving home wildfire assessments. Grant funded chipping was conducted on six days. Extensive wildfire outreach efforts included meetings and discussions with El Paso County (Office of Emergency Management, Transportation/Roads, and Sheriff’s office), Colorado State Forest Service, United States Forest Service, Coalition for Upper South Platte, and Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Associations, and Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District.  RRR HOA applied for and was selected as a National Fire Protection Association Site of Excellence, a national two-year program that sponsors comprehensive and focused Firewise USA activities in each of the seven state sites.

 

Our Sites of Excellence Pilot Project is focused on 23 target homes within a severe/high-risk area of HOA. Our project goals are: 

  1. Comprehensive wildfire education & awareness campaign: regular distribution/display of Firewise materials, signs and banners 
  2. Full homeowner engagement & participation: assessment and mitigation of each home/property (wildfire risk zones 1 & 2, tree/understory) 
  3. More resilient homeowners: risk/threat- aware, and better prepared for emergency/evacuation 
  4. Neighbors and neighborhoods working together: acceptance of shared risks, recognition of individual and collective responsibilities

 

Challenges:

  1. Burdened Homeowners – financial situations, physical limitations, elderly or frail seniors; reluctant/obstinate homeowners; absentee owners/rental properties
  2. Resource limitations – insufficient funding for HOA Firewise and target property mitigation and chipping
  3. Volunteer availability – personal emergencies, family caretaker responsibilities, physical limitations (retired, injured, aging, etc)

Line of community members behind chipper, helping to feed debirs

 

Overcoming challenges:

Burdened homeowners: 

- Intentional focus on each and every homeowner interaction: caring, respectful, listening, compassionate, non-judgmental; 

- Partner with local church’s emergency preparedness team for no-cost property mitigation of physical/financial constrained homeowners);

- Respectful and persistent Firewise and neighbor-to-neighbor conversations, low-key but direct with reluctant/obstinate residents; 

- Direct and official HOA correspondence (email, written) to an absentee owners/rentals

 

Overarching approach for Sites of Excellence project: Develop/maintain personal relationships; foster neighbor-to-neighbor assistance; maintain open two-way communications; and recognize homeowner participation and accomplishments (publicity, Firewise and HOA newsletters, website, media articles, project progress reports)

 

Other Sites of Excellence/Firewise emphases:

Outreach, collaboration and advocacy: 

  • Increase Tri-Lakes area/region awareness (e.g., Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Organizations/NEPCO with 40 plus member HOAs, Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners/PPWPP multi-county information sharing organization). . 
  • Develop/strengthen organizational relationships (e.g., El Paso County - Office

 of Emergency Management and Transportation/Roads; County Commissioners); CSFS and USFS; Colorado Stat Representative)

-    Publicize Firewise and NFPA Sites of Excellence efforts

In follow up conversations with Red Rock Ranch, they are making progress on the above plan.  Like other sites, they are finding success in intentional, personal approaches.  While a meeting might spark some interest, face to face conversations are leading to outcomes.  Thank you Dave for giving us a glimpse in to your community, can’t wait to see the end results! Stayed tuned next month when we hear from Washington State.

What will it take for you and your neighbors to take action?  Visit Firewise.org more to learn more about how to organize your community and steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.

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 @meganfitz34for more wildfire related topics.

Photos: Top - courtesy Tom Welle, NFPA; middle - Fire Marshall and Firefighter Will Vogl operating new Tri Lakes Monument Fire Protection District chipper (7/24), courtesy Beth Lonnquist, Red Rock Ranch HOA President; bottom - Firewise & homeowner volunteers carrying slash to chipper (7/24), courtesy Beth Lonnquist, Red Rock Ranch HOA President.

Residents across the nation have been busy in 2019 taking steps to increase the ignition resistance of homes and communities from wildfire.  Here at NFPA we've seen increased interest in the Firewise USA program as neighbors connect with each other to reduce their shared risk.  With over 1,500 sites in the program, we'd like to take a moment to recognize two states that recently reached milestones in participation.  

 

 "Texas Celebrates 100 Firewise USA Sites Across the State."  Our hats off to the Lone Star State and its residents  that have made the commitment to protecting their homes through good fire safety in the home ignition zone.   Since 2003, the Texas A&M Forest Service has partnered with NFPA in the effort to educate communities and encourage action on the ground.   Wildland fire staff from federal, state, and local agencies work together to provide mitigation information tailored to specific areas and help build cooperative networks to support efforts on the ground.  Check out their video celebrating 100!

 

The movement continues in California, where they have surpassed 200 active sites.  Residents are taking notice of the last few fire seasons and making the commitment to own their risk and take action.  Between 2018 and so far in 2019, 86 communities have joined the program, and almost all existing participants renewed in the last cycle. Marin and Nevada Counties are leading the way, with new interest from Contra Costa and Tuolumne Counties.  

Knowing the risk that communities face throughout the state, it makes my heart soar to see so many people realize there are things they can do around their home to make a difference.  A big thank you to CAL FIRE and the network of partners they have built to help the residents of California be more resilient in the face of wildfires.

What will it take for you and your neighbors to take action?  Visit Firewise.org more to learn more about how to organize your community and steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.

 

Photo credits: Top left - Texas A&M Forest Service; bottom right - Julian, CA Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, courtesy of Diane Hake.

NFPA's Wildfire Division announces two resources are now available in Spanish. These tools can be shared and used to empower residents in taking action around their home.

Our video "Your Home and Wildfire. Choices that can make a difference." helps answer questions of where to start when preparing a home for wildfire.  Watch as a wildfire mitigation specialist evaluates a home and property with owners.   See what concerns she identifies and learn the steps recommended to reduce the likelihood of ignition.   Listen as the homeowners share their initial fears about being left out of the decision making process and their reaction to the work that has been done.

Want to learn more about how wildfires impact homes?  Take the online training, Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes, where students receive an overview of fire history, fire basics, and how homes ignite and burn from a wildfire. It's an excellent resource for residents and other stakeholders that are pursuing knowledge on the basics of how wildfires ignite homes and the actions that can be implemented to make homes safer.

Check out our website for more tips and actions you can take around your home to prepare for wildfires.

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 @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

Our third stop on our sites of excellence journey takes us to Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, AZ.   No strangers to wildfire, residents in this community have a history of being engaged in wildfire risk reduction.  We are excited that they are a part of this pilot program, demonstrating a willingness to “do more”.  Pete Kloeber, the community’s resident leader, gives us an inside view of what Forest Highlands means to its residents and the goals they have for keeping their community safe.

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

Forest Highlands (FH) is a 1,100-acre private residential community with 814 residential lots nestled at 7,000 feet among majestic ponderosa pines and groves of oaks and aspens. FH was approved as a Firewise Community USA in November 2004 – the second such site in Arizona and the 60th in the nation.  FH has been a recognized Firewise Community for 15 consecutive years.  During these past 15 years, the number of residential structures has increased from 655 to 736 – a 12 percent increase. The majority of the residences are 2nd homes.  My wife and I are full-time residents, as are around 50 others.

My neighbors and love Forest Highlands for its tranquil beauty, and mountain/forest atmosphere. 

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA?  Why did you decide to participate in the pilot?

I was a member our community Board of Directors in 2004 and initiated the goal of FH becoming a Firewise Community.  two people at a Firewise day with tables covered in print materials discussing wildfire risk reduction, trailer in the background with Defensible Space and a home ignition zone graphic on the side As mentioned above, we were approved as such in November 2004 - the 2nd in the state of Arizona.  The purpose was simple: make our community safer from a wildfire concern - so we could have a better chance of sustaining our beautiful community for coming generations.  

We decided to participate in the “pilot project” for a several reasons: (1) to continue our quest to make our community safer and more sustainable; (2) to approach and stay on the leading edge of Firewise guidance, assistance, technology, and lessons learned; (3) to hopefully increase the awareness and participation of our residents; (4) to reduce the risk of injury to our residents, guests, and brave first responders; and (5) because it is very simply the “right thing to do." 

What are you goals in the pilot?

The above reasons for participating are essentially our goals in this pilot program.  But simply stated, our goal is for our community to be more Firewise at the end of the pilot program - meaning specifically three things: (1) our residents becoming more aware and supportive; (2) our assessment personnel (in house and fire district) learning even more and becoming even better at conducting assessments; and (3) the residences participating in the pilot program becoming more Firewise and setting the standard for the rest of our community.

Picture of a home highlighting wildfire mitigation work done 0-5 feet from the base of the home.  Shows rock around the base of the home with limited, maintained plants, with a gravel walkway around it.

 What are some challenges you think you might face?  How do you propose to overcome them?

Support of our residents.  Our plan is to involve them early in the process through open communication, and keep them involved during the whole process. 

A big thank you to Pete for sharing the story of his community!  Flagstaff is home to 10 active Firewise USA sites, I hope the work that FH is doing inspires others to take a deeper look at their efforts and for those who aren’t yet engaged in wildfire risk reduction, to take the first steps.  We look forward to following their progress and hearing more from them over the next year and a half.  Stay tuned next month as we travel to Colorado.

Photo credit: Top - Lee Ann Berry, Sites of Excellence training, community members, NFPA staff, Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire.  Middle - Peter Kloeber, Firewise Day table and trailer display.  Bottom - Peter Kloeber, highlighting the use of rock and gravel in the Immediate Zone (0-5 feet from the base of the structure) to decrease the chance of the home igniting.

 

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit Firewise.org to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

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 @meganfitz34 for more wildfire related topics.

For the second blog in our series highlights Sites of Excellence participants, I reached out to Marilyn Cavell with Coal Bank Ridge in Virginia.  Below she shares the journey her community has taken on the wildfire risk reduction path and learn about wildfire risk in Virginia.

Located in the mountains of southwest Virginia just outside Blacksburg, Coal Bank Ridge (CBR) was developed in the early 2000’s with a vision of creating a protected wooded environment for quality, greater than 2,400 square foot homes. The subdivision is guided by a set of covenants and requires owners to be members of its homeowners association. Originally comprised of 57 wooded lots averaging about two to three acres each, the subdivision currently has 37 homes built or under construction (33 are currently occupied). The subdivision is flanked on the northwestern side by a steep, wooded 95 acre conservation easement owned by CBR and protected from development. 

We chose Coal Back Ridge to build our home because of the beauty of the wooded area and its location in close proximity to the town of Blacksburg. In addition, the community offered town water (even though most of the subdivision is outside the town limits) and natural gas, amenities not generally available in similar developments. We love looking out into the woods and observing the constant animal activity including birds, squirrels, deer, and the occasional turkey, fox, or bear. Our neighbors also cherish the peaceful beauty of our wooded community.  

Our Firewise Journey:

In 2007 we were contacted by a Virginia Department of Forestry representative (Brad Wright) who wanted to let us know about the National Firewise USA Recognition Program.   We invited Brad to make a presentation on the value of the Firewise USA at our annual homeowners meeting. With his encouragement and recognizing the value of learning about wildfire preparation and protection, CBR joined and has been a National Firewise USA Community since.   In 2018, CBR was chosen as one of seven communities in the nation as a Sites of Excellence Pilot Program participant. 

What are Our Goals in the Sites of Excellence Pilot Program:   

Our goals are 1) to create a Firewise pilot leadership team (composed of two   property owners and two foresters), 2) to get 100% pilot program participation within our neighborhood, 3) to increase awareness about fire behavior and risk, and 4) to prepare our homes for wildfire by achieving complete mitigation within 30 feet of each dwelling. Each property owner will assess their home and property (with the help of the Firewise team), identify and carry out measures to mitigate fire risk, and document progress over a two-year period. This will take commitment and effort, but the reward would be immeasurable in the event of a wildfire.

What are Some Challenges We Face:

Broadly speaking getting our property owners to engage in Firewise activities takes effort, as wildfire concerns are generally not a high priority. Because CBR is located in the eastern United States where relatively moist conditions exist, people here generally do not fear wildfire to the same degree as those who live in drier, open areas of the western United States. It is easy to think that wildfires simply are not going to happen here. Ironically, that way of thinking may put us at even greater risk. While wildfires do not occur often in our area, they do happen. Coal Bank Ridge is rurally located on a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains where abundant fuel and steep slopes and winds from the southwest present a fire risk to our homes. 

The Firewise USA program has been a valuable tool for raising awareness of fire danger and our property owners are appreciative of our participation. However, it will be challenging for our property owners to achieve the degree of sustained focus on fire prevention required by the Firewise Sites of Excellence Pilot Program. Most challenging will be to get 100% of our property owners interested and engaged. Participation of property owners of undeveloped lots will be difficult as many live outside the area and are not engaged with the community.   

A further challenge is that the very concept of our subdivision runs contrary to the 30 feet mitigation goal.  Promoted as a wooded subdivision, where trees are protected by covenants, many homes in CBR are built with the idea of having minimal impact on the natural environment. 

Overcoming Challenges:

The overall premise of the Firewise Sites of Excellence Pilot Program is that personal responsibility is the preferred approach for preventing fire from destroying homes. Likewise, we recognize that personal responsibility or buy-in on the part of property owners is the best path to full participation. We have established our Firewise pilot leadership team and scheduled a neighborhood meeting to explain the pilot program and promote its value to our property owners. We will discuss and distribute (at the meeting and online) a draft communication/outreach plan that also includes ideas for sharing our efforts with the broader community. Our team will welcome input from property owners. We will discuss and distribute (at the meeting and online) a draft process for implementing the pilot program and communicating with residents. Again, we will welcome input, ideas, and concerns. Also as part of the meeting we will present general fire prevention information and provide the same information online. 

Thank you Marilyn for sharing your story. We appreciate Coal Bank Ridge's commitment to personal responsibility and look forward to your progress over the next year and a half.  Stay tuned for our next blog featuring Arizona.

Photos courtesy of Marilyn Cavell

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit Firewise.org to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

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 @meganfitz34 more wildfire related topics.

Map of the US showing above and below normal significant wildland fire potentialThe National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services has released its June outlook, and here's what you need to know.  During May, much of the US experienced wetter and cooler temperatures, below traditional averages.  While we did see some large fires in Alaska, Arizona, and Florida, the number of acres burned was about 1/5 of the average (15,148) and the number of fires was around half (280,661).  Moving in to June and the summer months, we can see some areas will pick up in activity as drying and curing of grasses occurs.  There is potential for areas such as the Pacific Northwest, California, parts of Arizona, and the Southeast to experience above normal significant wildfire potential

 

What does this mean for you?  While the general outlook doesn't seem as dire as in some recent years, wildfire preparedness is still important.  With the abundance of vegetation from the wet spring, taking time to perform annual maintenance around your home and property is critical.

Here are some simple actions in the Home Ignition Zone that can make a big difference:

Home and 0-5 feet from the foundation:

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers
  • Clear any flammable material away from the base of the home such as mulch, leaves and needles, flammable plants

Girl pushing a mower, mowing down grass5-30 feet from the home

  • Keeps lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches
  • Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns

Check out our website for more tips and actions you can take around you home to prepare for wildfires.

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 @meganfitz34 more wildfire related topics.

 

7-R Ranch community and staff

Located in north Texas hill country, 7-R Ranch is an ideal getaway for its residents, most of whom are retired professionals seeking an escape from urban/suburban life. About 1.5 hours from the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area and 45 minutes from a grocery store, the community is set in an area of mesas and canyons, with oak, ash, cedar and juniper, and tall grasses. Residents enjoy birds and other wildlife and can raise horses. It's quiet out there, with truly beautiful sunsets.  

While it sounds idyllic, it also presents concerns for residents and the local fire department in regards to wildfire. I spoke with Rick Best, the community's resident leader, to learn more about their efforts to address their wildfire risk and why they are participating in the Sites of Excellence Pilot Program.   

How did 7-R Ranch get started with its wildfire risk reduction efforts?

Part of the motivation for our community to take action was a wildfire experienced by a nearby, similar community. Seeing what they went through and an evacuation alert for 7-R really got our attention.  Our community has 400 lots that range from 1-10 acres, with approximately 130 houses built. We had concerns from the hilly terrain and local vegetation, some of the homes within the ranch are built at the top of wooded canyons, and there are lots with absentee landowners. With the encouragement of our fire chief, 7-R Ranch joined the Firewise USA® program in late 2017 and we have had lots of support from our community members and our developer. We've taken a lot of the obvious risk reductions steps in the home ignition zone and feel like we're in pretty good shape.  

Why did you decide to participate in the pilot and what are your goals?

Our state forestry representative approached us about the pilot and we said, "why not?" While we've made a lot of progress in 7-R Ranch, the pilot provides us with the opportunity to evaluate our community as a whole to identify our weak areas and where we need to focus our efforts. We're partnering with our local fire department and Texas A&M Forest Service to do individual home assessments. We want to better understand the threats from thTX forest service and homeowners outside doing wildfire risk assessmente canyons - look at the homes and their setbacks from the edge, and what work has been done in the home ignition zone. The Sites of Excellence program gives us an opportunity to systematically assess each home and communicate the results to each homeowner. I believe it will help us get to the next level of participation in our community. 

With this opportunity, we are also in a unique situation to have an impact on a neighboring community that participates in Firewise USA®. We share a committee and are working with our Texas Forest Service partners on a similar pilot with them to increase their engagement in risk reduction actions.

What are some of the challenges in your community?

Some of the challenges we face here are related to the terrain and vegetation - navigating steep slopes, disposing of debris. We also have absentee landowners, who may not be aware of the risk from wildfires or don't have the time or resources to put towards mitigation at this time. Through a targeted approach we hope to make an impact on some of these. As lots are converted to homes, there will be opportunities to engage those new residents and we should see the threat from unmanaged lots go down.

 

I want to thank Rick for sharing the story of his community and look forward to seeing how they progress over the next year and a half. This is the first in a series of blogs introducing our Sites of Excellence Pilot Sites. Stay tuned for our next blog featuring Virginia.

 

What will it take for you and your neighbors to take action?  Visit Firewise.org more to learn more about how to organize your community and steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.

 

Images courtesy 7-R Ranch and Texas A&M Forest Service

The International Association of Fire Chief's annual Wildland Urban Interface Conference is quickly approaching and we hope to see you there!   Held March 26-28 in Reno, Nevada, the WUI Conference is a great way to connect with other wildland fire professionals and get the latest information on advancements in the field.

NFPA will once again have a strong representation, eager to meet and speak with you. On Tuesday, 3/26, you can connect with staff in a couple of ways: 

We'll be around through the rest of the conference, available at the booth and attending education sessions. 

Don't miss out on this opportunity!  Check out the conference web page for more details and to register for the pre-conference and main sessions.

Can't attend but want to stay on top of what is going on?   You can follow the Firewise USA® Follow our staff as they share their WUI Reno experience: Michele Steinberg is @Michele_NFPA, Lucian Deaton is @Lucian_NFPA, and Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan is @meganfitz34

Research related to how homes ignite and post-wildfire assessments tell us that the majority of home ignitions during a wildfire are from embers and small surface fires. Since 2002, the Firewise USA® program has encouraged residents across the county to take action at the home and surrounding area to reduce the chances of their home igniting.  Residents have invested millions of dollars in volunteer hours and cash investment in this work and have made significant accomplishments.

Over the last decade, while progress has been made, extreme fire conditions have shown us that we all need to do more.  In 2019, Firewise USA® is challenging seven active sites across the country to just that.  Sites of Excellence is a 24-month pilot program designed to increase resident participation in active wildfire risk reduction through a focused approach.  Based on the science we have and the fires we have experienced, we must have more residents engaged and doing more of the right work in the right places.  We must increase the ignition resistance of our homes and our communities if we want to change the results of these wildland urban disasters.

 Our challenge to these participants is:

  • To have 100% participation of homes within the designated pilot boundary (sites were able to self-identify up to 100 co-located homes in each pilot site).
  • To complete identified mitigation tasks within 30 feet of every home, based on recommendations from individual assessments.

We recognize that these are lofty goals, however, in order to effectively move needle on wildfire preparedness and increase the ignition resistance of individual homes and communities, this is the type of effort that needs to occur.   Over the next several months we will feature each site, telling their story of what wildfire preparedness means to them, why they volunteered for the pilot, what they hope to accomplish.   We look forward to sharing in their journey and hope you do to.

 

Pilot Participants:

7-R Ranch, TX

Coal Bank Ridge , VA

Crystal Lake Club, WI

Flowery Trail, WA

Forest Highlands, AZ

Red Rock Ranch, CO

Summit Park, UT

 

Photo Credit: Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management

Want to learn more about the Sites of Excellence, Firewise USA® , and other wildfire preparedness efforts? Follow me on Twitter @meganfitz34

This graphic shows three homes and their overlapping home ignitions zones.  The overlap demonstrates the need for neighbors to work together to reduce their shared risk from wildfires.
A cornerstone of the Firewise USA® recognition program criteriais completing a wildfire risk assessment. The assessment helps residents and communities understand their wildfire risk and guides them in future risk reduction efforts.
We are pleased to announce that we have updated our Community Wildfire Risk Assessmenttool! The new form reflects current research around home destruction versus home survival in a wildfire. Focusing on the threat from embers and surface fires, the assessment tool helps users to look at the:
  • General condition of homes: are they made from ignition resistant materials?
  • Home ignition zones (Immediate, intermediate, and extended): are residents reducing and managing vegetation to influence and decrease fire behavior?
  • Common/open space areas or adjacent public lands: are there any present and are they being managed?
The new format also makes a community’s summary and recommendations easier to achieve and applied to its action plan. 
Just like our previous assessment, this is one tool available to guide residents and communities. States have the ability to designate their own template and special requirements for Firewise USA® participants. Before starting, please contact your state liaisonto determine their process.

Title screen of new  course, homes and wildfire in the background

 

Gain a basic understanding of how wildfires spread and ignite homes in our new interactive  class, Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes. An overview of fire history, fire basics, and how homes burn. This easy to follow course is available on our website, does not require a log in, and should take approximately thirty minutes to complete. Residents and stakeholders will learn about:

  • The threat of wildfire to homes and communities.
  • Three things that can affect the speed and intensity of wildfire.
  • The primary sources of ignition for a home during a wildfire.

 

You will also hear from Jack Cohen as he shares some simple actions that greatly decrease the threat from embers and surface fires. Use and share this knowledge to increase the chances of homes and other community assets surviving a wildfire.


As Jack says, if your home doesn't ignite, it can't burn.

Preparing a home and property to resist ignition from a wildfire can seem like an overwhelming task.  Where do you start?  What type of and how much vegetation do you remove?  Does it all have to go?  Who makes the decisions? 
Firewise USA® has a new video that helps answer those questions. Watch as a wildfire mitigation specialist evaluates a home and property with owners.  See what concerns she identifies and learn the steps recommended to reduce the likelihood of ignition.  Listen as the homeowners share their initial fears about being left out of the decision making process and their reaction to the work that has been done.
Remember, it's all about making choices.

Hands holding a house, representing the importance of a home and its possessions.

 

Is your home covered in case of a disaster? An unfortunate reality is that most homes are underinsured, meaning they don’t have enough coverage to protect them if they are damaged or destroyed. While we hope you are never faced with making a claim, here are some resources to help make sure you are prepared:

 

Complete the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s (PCI) Wildfire Reality Check:

  • Conduct an annual insurance checkup – call your agent or insurance company to discuss policy limits and coverage. Not sure what to ask? Check out these 10 questions to ask your insurance agent from Linda Masterson, author and wildfire survivor.
  • Know what your policy covers
  • Update your policy to cover home improvements
  • Maintain insurance – continue to carry homeowners insurance after the home is paid off
  • Get renters insurance

 

Create a home inventory. Having a home inventory is one of the best ways to determine if you have enough coverage to replace your possessions. This task may seem daunting, especially if you’ve been in your home for many years, but it can be manageable. Some simple steps from the Insurance Information Institute include:

  • Pick an easy spot to start, an area that is contained such as a small kitchen appliance cabinet or sporting equipment closet
  • List recent purchases
  • Include basic information – where you bought it, make and model, what you paid
  • County clothing by general category
  • Record serial numbers found on major appliances and electronic equipment
  • Check coverage on big ticket items
  • Don’t forget off-site items
  • Keep proof of value – sales receipts, purchase contracts, appraisals
  • Don’t get overwhelmed – It’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all

When creating your home inventory, embrace technology! Take pictures or videos, back them up digitally. There also many apps available to help organize and store your records.

 

For a more in depth discussion on financial preparedness, check out our Firewise Virtual Workshop: Understanding Insurance in the Wildland Urban Interface. Or, listen to Linda Masterson share her experience of losing her home and contents in a wildfire, Firewise Virtual Workshop: Get Prepared, Stay Alive, Rebuild Your Life.

 

Along with financial preparedness, it’s never too late to take action around your home. Visit the NFPA’s wildfire division for steps on how to prepare your home for wildfires.

 

On April 1 the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC’s) Predictive Services issued their newest National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April, May, June, and July 2018.  Some key takeaways are during April, areas of the central and southern Great Plains will continue to experience significant wildland fire activity; this will shift towards the Southwest as the month continues.  The Florida Peninsula, eastern Georgia, and South Carolina are areas of concern as they experience lingering drought conditions.  As we head towards June and July drought conditions and weather patterns will shift the areas of concern west. 

 

With this outlook, many focus on the approach of “wildfire season” in the west, but others are starting to think more in terms of a “fire year.”  I first heard this presented at the annual Wildland Urban Interface Conference by the now interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen.  Recently it was announced that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) was formally adopting the term. Fire year acknowledges that traditional seasons are starting sooner and extending longer, putting a demand on resources further outside of summer and the traditional fire season.  This is important to consider in the realm of wildfire fire preparedness and risk reduction as well since we have already seen active fire and threats to homes. Several fires during March resulted in home losses in Colorado and just last week 40 homes were saved from a fast-moving wildfire in Florida, their survival was credited to having taken action to create defensible space.

 

All of this reminds me that preparing for wildfires and lowering home ignitability is a year-round event – not limited to a weekend or two leading up to summer.  With the losses in Colorado last month, I took a moment to evaluate my house and realized I wasn’t practicing good fire safety in the Home Ignition Zone.  Oak leaves and pines needles were piled up against the foundation, carried by wind that could potentially drive embers to the same location in the event of a wildfire.  I spent several hours raking and cleaning them up, working out to about 15 feet in areas exposed to the predominate winds.  And while I certainly have more work to do, I could definitely see the difference.

 

Two piles of branches and debris that have been gathered for removal, debris was located within the Home Ignition Zone.As spring rolls forward I encourage you to tackle projects of your own – a few hours a weekend can really make an impact.

  • Clean out the gutters and 0-5 feet from foundation where debris has gathered
  • Trim and clean up dead/decadent plants
  • Work your way out, 5-30 feet, cleaning up litter and debris, pruning tree limbs 6-10 feet from the ground
  • Home projects - inspect your gutters, roof, etc. for any storm damage, replace or repair any missing shingles as they might allow for ember penetration
  • Screen in any decks or porches that allow for debris and embers to get underneath
  • Learn more about what actions you can take to reduce your risk of loss

 

If you are still experiencing winter conditions that prevent risk reduction work focus on other parts of wildfire preparedness:

  • Create an emergency plan for you and your family and practice it
  • Assemble an emergency supply kit, remember to include important documents, medications, and personal identification
  • Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place

 

Check out NFPA's Wildfire safety tips for more information and resources.

 

Photo credits - 

Significant Wildland Fire Potential- NIFC

Wildfire mitigation photo - NFPA

 

In the world of wildfire risk reduction, it seems like we are always looking for another way to engage with our target audience - those residents living in or near the WUI. At the StormCenter Live Conference in San Antonio on March 3rd, I had the opportunity to speak to individuals that may prove to be useful partners in sharing wildfire messaging, broadcast meteorologists. These folks are trusted by their communities and have the ability to reach hundreds to thousands of people at one time.

 

Developed by broadcast meteorologist, for meteorologists, the conference is an opportunity to share the latest developments in forecasting, safety preparedness, extreme weather science, and best practices when dealing with extreme weather. Its mission is "to create content that educates, informs, prevent and alleviates human suffering in the face of extreme weather and disasters by mobilizing the power of media and working in partnerships with communities to create a more informed public." What an awesome idea!

 

I presented on the wildland fire issue - statistics from the last year and the shift we are seeing with fire as a year round event. I also focused on the relationship between embers and how homes burn, and steps people can take to reduce their risk. My goal was to expose the attendees to resources, tips, and tools they can share when forecasting conditions that influence wildland fire behavior.

 

In my previous work at a state forestry agency, we reached out to the major new channels before our typical fire season, but I'm not sure how much we tied in wildfire preparedness and mitigation to weather forecasts. Looking back, I wish we had pursued those opportunities more. We know that small actions in the HIZ can make a big difference. With a captive audience, meteorologists have a unique ability to slip in gentle reminders to "cut that grass" or "clean out those gutters" prior to a weather event, helping residents reduce the opportunity for embers to find a fuel source on or against their home.

 

I want to thank Alex Garcia, StormCenter Live, and Rob Galbraith, USAA, for giving NFPA the opportunity to speak at their event. Not only did I get to share about a topic near and dear to my heart, I got to learn from so many others. There was an excellent assortment of extreme weather presentations, including several related to hail, climate change, tornadoes, and severe storms, along with a really engaging session led by Gina Eosco on social science and communicating severe weather information.

 

Call to action:
Does your wildfire organization partner with its local news media to share wildfire threats and weather concerns? There's no time like the present to seek out those opportunities.

 

Top photo: courtesy Rob Galbraith, USAA

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