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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

 

If you've visited Firewise.org in the last couple of days, you probably noticed that it looks a little different. We are excited to share that our new and refreshed website is live and now housed under NFPA.org. Our goal with this new website is to provide visitors an easier way to learn about Firewise USA™ and quicker access to tools and resources to assist in wildfire risk reduction.

There are many reasons to update, here are a few of ours:

  • Building a cohesive and highly recognizable brand - Firewise USA is a part of NFPA, and while our audience might vary a little bit from the traditional NFPA stakeholder, we share the same values:
    • Our vision - We are the leading global advocate for the elimination of death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.
    • Our mission - To help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge and passion.
  • Improved content - the old website served us well for many years, but much of the content was not in step with current research and recommendations. The migration allowed us to drop old material and bring in new graphics and information based on current science and research.
  • Better user experience - with changes to navigation, an expanding sidebar and "In this section" links, finding items should be easier. We've also improved the structure of our content so you'll get more from a quick read.

 

Important things to note - www.firewise.org will still work! If you have this link bookmarked you won't need to change a thing. We are in the process of redirecting many of our other URLs, however not all will be carried over. If you have other pages saved or linked from website, I would encourage you to explore the new pages and update your URLs.

 

We hope you like the changes, and if you have any feedback, please email firewise@nfpa.org

Three homes of various sizes outlined with the three areas of the Home Ignition Zone.  Photo show how there can be over lap between two properties.

This past year, the NFPA worked with curriculum developers and instructors to revise the Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire (HIZ) course. These revisions were based on scientific experiments and post fire evaluations that examined how homes burned during a wildfire.

 

As we’ve shared in previous blogs and resources, embers and small flames from low intensity surface fires continue to be the primary sources of ignition. What has changed is what we call the focus areas within the HIZ, where they are located, and the emphasis on the HOME as the most important component to address.

Instead, of numbered areas, the names are focused areas for ignition potential:

  • Immediate: home and 0-5 feet
  • Intermediate: 5-30 feet
  • Extended: 30-100 feet, possibly out to 200'

 

These focus areas correspond to the priorities of how homes should be assessed for ignition potential, working from the home out to the property line.

 

Check out The ember threat and the home ignition zone section on Firewise.org to learn more about the focus areas and what actions you can take to reduce your risk.

Map of states that are a part of the Northeast Region, National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy logo

The Firewise USA™ Program and the Northeastern Region Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy Committee have teamed up to highlight community success stories in resident-led mitigation and preparedness from a region very much at risk to wildfire.

 

Each month the NE RSC newsletter delivers articles and stories that demonstrate the collaborative efforts of agencies, organizations and communities in supporting and promoting the three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy:

  • Restoring resilient landscapes
  • Creating fire adapted communities
  • Safe and effective wildfire response

 

This is an opportunity to promote the successes of our Firewise USA™ participants in the northeast region and it helps NE RSC get the message out about how becoming fire adapted via Firewise is beneficial to communities.

In September, Faith Berry highlighted how Cook County, Minnesota residents have learned about the value of collaborating to successfully protect their communities from wildfire loss. Each resident and agency partner accepted their responsibility and embraced their part to identify and lessen their risk of loss.

In October, Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan featured the Pequawket Lake Preservation Association in Limington, Maine, and their efforts to grow beyond their boundaries and engage the community at a higher level.

 

Photo credit: NE RSC newsletter, Larry Mastic

Scout Troop #364 in front of home with residents after completing work around property.

 

One of the things I enjoy most working with a program like Firewise USA™ is the opportunity to visit communities and see firsthand the actions they are taking to prepare and protect their homes from wildfire. In late September, the community of Nassau Oaks near Callahan, FL, kindly welcomed me as I attended their annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day event.

 

An active Firewise USA™ participant since 2008, this year has proved challenging for them to meet the annual recognition program requirements. Their Preparedness Day event was delayed once due to spring wildfires and narrowly escaped being cancelled by Hurricane Irma. In spite of all that, residents, volunteer fire fighters, Florida Forest Service staff, and a local tree service gathered on a Saturday morning with positive attitudes to see what they could accomplish. They spent hours cutting up downed trees, feeding the chipper, hacking down vegetation, and removing debris left by the hurricane.

 

My favorite part of the day was when Scout Troop #364 from nearby Baldwin, FL, arrived to assist one homeowner’s property. The resident has been a strong supporter of Firewise in Nassau Oaks but due to recent health concerns was unable to safely take action on his own property. Under his direction, the scouts gathered limbs, raked leaves and relocated debris to the side of the road where it would be picked up later by the county. These young men were polite and hardworking, exemplifying service to others.

 

I owe a big thank you to the masterminds of the event, Annaleasa Winter with the Florida Forest Service and Craig Herr, the resident leader for Nassau Oaks and volunteer fire chief, for allowing me to be a part of the day. I applaud them, the community, and Florida Forest Service for their commitment to reducing wildfire risks and their dedicated support of Firewise.

 

Home owner, Florida Forest Service, and volunteer fire fighters feed chipper in front of house    Nassau Oaks Firewise recognition sign at community entrance.     Nassau Oaks preparedness day participants in front of Florida Forest Service equipment.

 

Photo credit: NFPA

Members of cascadel woods fire brigade in front of chipper

 Members of Cascadel Woods Fire Brigade at April 15 work day - Carol Eggink

 

When reading through annual Firewise USA renewals, you never know what you might find.  Typically we hear about community chipper days, educational booths, outreach efforts and larger scale vegetation removal projects.  This year, Cascadel Woods shared the day their community had to evacuate due to the fast moving Mission Fire.  Joining the Firewise USA recognition program in 2010, Cascadel Woods’s residents have worked hard to reduce their risk from wildfire, and on September 3, 2017, those actions paid off:

 

"On this day we were evacuated from the subdivision due to a fast fire moving up the mountain. It was the Mission Fire. The fire crossed our only road out and about 50 residents were trapped inside the subdivision. We have and maintain a shelter in place for just this type of event. There are four Fire Boxes with equipment in the subdivision and the equipment was laid out and made ready, just in case. As it turned out, the fire stopped at the entrance of our subdivision and the fire crews were able to maintain a clean line around our subdivision due to the fire preparedness we had accomplished over the year. Three homes just outside the subdivision were totally destroyed. We had a few spots were the fire crept onto a few properties which were butted up to the National Forest, but no major structures were lost. A small out building was lost next to the forest land. Not bad for our small community." – Carol Eggink

 

View of the smoke column from the Mission Fire off a deck of a home in Cascadel Woods.

View of Mission Fire smoke column from Cascadel Woods home prior to evacuation - Carol Eggink

 

For more information about the risk reduction efforts of Cascadel Woods residents and the firefighter response, check out this article by Sierra News Online.

 

Efforts from sites like Cascadel Woods make my heart soar.  Not only are they taking action to protect themselves, but their efforts assist responding firefighters.  As a former wildland firefighter, I can’t tell you the number of times my crew and I looked at our assignment on a fire and wondered “what will we find when we get there?” When an individual homeowner or group of neighbors take the time to reduce the vegetation around their homes and properties it truly does make a difference.  Often, fire behavior is altered in a way that provides an opportunity for firefighters to engage the fire directly, in a safe manner. Cleared areas such as the meadow in the Cascadel Woods also provide a secure area for fire fighters to retreat to if needed. 

 

Cascadel Woods is one of over 1400 recognized Firewise sites across the county working hard to reduce their risk from wildfire. Are you ready to take action? Check out the Firewise USA toolkit for tips on how to prepare.

 

Have you submitted your Firewise USA 2017 renewal? Visit the new Firewise portal and let us know what you’ve been up to.


On Monday August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the United States, working its way from Oregon to South Carolina. This amazing experience is the event of the summer, with millions of observers expected to flock to the states in the total viewing path.

 

While an awesome event to behold, there are those who wish the timing was different. August is peak fire season for much of the country and 2017 has already been a busy year.

 

With the eclipse expecting to bring a large influx of visitors driving and camping into these areas, state and federal wildfire response agencies are gearing up for the worst. They are laying contingency plans for wildfire response and evacuations. Resources are being prepositioned and agencies are taking an “all hands on deck approach”. Some are even cancelling days off for fire staff.

 

Visitors have an important role to play in preventing human caused wildfires during the eclipse.

 

• If towing a trailer, make sure your chains are secure and not dragging.
• Visit the website of your eclipse viewing destination to find out the burning rules and restrictions, permissions vary across public lands.
• Don’t assume you will be able to have a campfire.
• The USFS has some excellent tips are preparedness regarding personal safety and wildfire.

 

For those living in the path of the eclipse, we encourage you to prepare as well. Firewise USA® has easy tools to help you reduce your risk from wildfire, checkout the Firewise Tips Checklist for Homeowners.

 

Most of all, enjoy a safe eclipse experience!

 

Photo credit: NASA Downloadables | Total Solar Eclipse 2017 

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