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233 Posts authored by: michelesteinberg Employee

Burned out car in Magalia, California after 2018 Camp FireIt was clear that the destroyed homes we saw were more flammable than the vegetation around them. On a tour of the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire in Butte County, my colleagues Ray Bizal and Tom Welle and I saw textbook cases of the impacts of embers, structure-to-structure ignition and wind-driven wildfire all through the communities of Paradise and Magalia.

 

We were part of a group invited by the Western Fire Chiefs Association, who coordinated a learning tour of the area along with CAL FIRE and the local fire chief on January 22. The goal was to include not only fire service professionals but also researchers, insurance industry representatives, and those involved in safety outreach and advocacy such as NFPA. We welcomed the rare opportunity to gain a first-hand local perspective on the event from CAL FIRE and local officials.

Tom Welle, Ray Bizal and Michele Steinberg of NFPA at a site of Camp Fire destruction

We observed that the wildfire was an equal opportunity destroyer, leveling high-end homes and more modest manufactured homes across the communities of Paradise and Magalia. According to the incident synopsis provided by the Western Fire Chiefs Association, one of the major considerations was “ember ignition, ember ignition, ember ignition. The Camp Fire was all about ember ignition. Paradise and surrounding area are in a Pine forest, the ground was littered with pine needles. Ponderosa Pines drop about 1/3 of their needles each year…even those who had ‘raked’ their yards had a new fuel bed due to the wind.” The synopsis also indicated that there were areas where urban conflagration took place – when one structure ignited it provided enough radiant heat and embers as it burned to ignite the next structure, and so on.

 

We received materials on the tour including wildfire preparedness brochures and guides developed by the Butte County Fire Safe Council, a long-active group that has promoted safety guidance including NFPA’s Firewise USA® program. While wildfire preparedness was embraced among many residents, the age, condition and proximity of homes to brush, trees and debris as well as to one another at the time of the fire made home destruction in this intense, fast-moving, wind-driven wildfire inevitable.

 

completely destroyed homes with standing burned and green trees in the vicinityParadise officials and residents also planned and practiced evacuations, but according to the fire chief, they had never contemplated having to evacuate the entire town simultaneously. His own parents were two of the people who made it out of danger through harrowing hours on the road, and who also lost their home. The fire’s destruction was typical in terms of unprepared homes that were more flammable than the vegetation surrounding them and often close enough to one another to cause an urban conflagration – both elements hallmarks of American wildland/urban interface fires. What stood out for me was the sheer size of the damage footprint. We drove miles and miles to encounter the same terrible story at every stop – unconsumed large trees and completely destroyed homes and vehicles.

 

The region has enormous challenges ahead in recovery. Even residents whose homes survived are still out of their homes due to benzene in the drinking water. Small business owners whose physical locations survived have few customers left in the area. The wholesale destruction of thousands of residences in a region where the housing market is already squeezed and contractors are in short supply predict a long and difficult road ahead. There are a number of positive efforts occurring locally to support those made homeless by the event and related recovery needs, and insurers are busy providing claims services to help people back on their feet financially. But everyone should understand the magnitude of the destruction and the huge challenges that the whole community faces for the future.

 

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was recently quoted talking about our society’s failure to plan for the worst case scenario. A quick Google search shows that he’s been talking about this for at least a decade, imploring not only emergency managers and government agencies to start a shift in thinking, but also calling on residents to recognize and acknowledge that government alone cannot avert the destruction and suffering from the next flood, hurricane or wildfire to come along. If nothing else, I hope the Camp Fire is the motivation for communities all over the country facing natural hazard risks to engage, plan and act to address the situation long before the next deadly event occurs.

 

Photos taken by Michele Steinberg, NFPA, in Magalia, California, January 22, 2019

It is not often that people doing the long-term, incremental, locally-based, small-scale work that is vital to wildfire risk reduction are recognized for their efforts, perseverance, and commitment. For the fifth year in a row, the organizations that make up the Wildfire Mitigation Awards committee have created an opportunity to acknowledge these unsung heroes in our midst.

 

Representatives of the US Forest Service, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of State Foresters and NFPA established these awards to denote the highest commendation for innovation and leadership displayed by individuals and organizations committed to wildfire mitigation. We are all pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 Wildfire Mitigation Awards, a result of nominations from their colleagues and fellow safety advocates:

 

  • Byron Bonney (Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development Area, Hamilton, Montana)
  • City of Pigeon Forge (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
  • Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership (Flagstaff, Arizona)
  • Pat Dwyer (Logtown Fire Safe Council and El Dorado County Fire Safe Council, Logtown, California)
  • Paulette Church (Durango, Colorado)
  • Rocky Infanger (Tri-County FireSafe Working Group/Wolf Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Helena, Montana)
  • Sunset View Estates (Bend, Oregon) 

 

The Awards will be presented at the Wildland Urban-Interface 2019 Conference in Reno, Nevada, March 27, 2019. Learn more about the conference and how to register here.

 

For more about the Awards process and goals, read our press release here.

 

ASIP training field work - students evaluate a home for ignition resistanceCalifornia has experienced large, destructive wildfires in the past few years that have led to thousands of destroyed homes and businesses. The time is NOW for fire service, facility managers, and insurance and realty professionals to learn how to identify and prevent ignition risks to homes. NFPA will bring its Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire classroom training to the Hyatt Regency Orange County in the Garden Grove area of Anaheim on December 13-14, 2018. 
Participants will learn the science behind how homes ignite from wildfire. More importantly, they'll find out the best ways to advise property owners about actions that will help prevent ignition and reduce the chances of home destruction during a brush or forest fire. Register now for NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire two-day training. This class will provide valuable skills and knowledge to help you in your wildfire safety and loss prevention mission.
screenshot Meghan Housewright, Michele Steinberg and Miranda Mockrin, Idaho State Capitol
Presenters on issues surrounding wildfire risk, land use and regulation came together last week at the Idaho State Capitol Building in Boise to speak on Law, Planning and Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface. Subtitled "the future of government and governance of disaster in the West," the day-long symposium was coordinated by University of Idaho College of Law associate dean and law professor Stephen Miller along with Tyre Holfeltz,  Lands Program Manager on Fire Prevention and Risk Mitigation for the Idaho Department of Lands. Stemming from a federal grant received several years ago to address wildfire issues at the community level, the symposium was designed to bring together experts from diverse arenas to open a conversation on the challenges of wildfire risk reduction on private lands.
The presentations ranged from economic trends to post-fire recovery planning to case studies of successful planning activities to the limits of planning approaches - and even telling the story of wildfire and community through art. The day was packed with thoughtful conversation and discussion from multiple perspectives.
The call for papers for this event went out nearly a year ahead of time. Submitters wrote papers that will be published in the Idaho Law Review, including one that I worked on with my colleague Meghan Housewright regarding the impact of absentee landowners and vacant property on WUI risks. For a recording of the full session, visit the Idaho in Session archives page of Idaho Public Television.
Image: screenshot from Idaho Public Television recording on October 19, 2018, showing the panel on the limits of planning for wildfire in the WUI. From left to right, Miranda Mockrin, Research Scientist, US Forest Service Northern Research Station; Meghan Housewright, Director, NFPA Fire and Life Safety Policy Institute; Michele Steinberg, Director, NFPA Wildfire Division.

Sue Tone of the Prescott, Arizona, Daily Courier provides the background on the creation of the "Project Andrew" video in her recent article, "Collaborative efforts for fire safety video debut." The family of fallen firefighter Andrew Ashcraft, who died with 18 of his fellow Granite Mountain Hotshot crew members at Yarnell Hill in 2013, has helped initiate not only a new Firewise USA® site near the Prescott National Forest, but has also joined in collaboration with multiple agencies on a fuels mitigation Forest Stewardship Plan.
As the article notes, Yavapai County ranks 4th in the nation for numbers of Firewise USA sites in good standing. Timber Ridge in Prescott, the county seat, was the first Firewise USA site when the program began in 2002. The Prescott Area Wildland Urban Interface Commission, or PAWUIC, has been active for even longer than the Firewise program, bringing agencies and landowners together around wildfire safety since 1990. Yet the need for collaborative efforts and fire adapted community action has never been greater, as wildfires continue as a growing threat.
"Project Andrew: A Yavapai Firewise Community in Arizona" is just over 6 minutes and well worth a view of what can be done to reduce wildfire risks across private and public lands. The "healing haven" that Tom Ashcraft, his wife Jenn, and so many others are helping create is a true testament to his son's mission of protecting life and property from wildfire.
Fire Prevention Week logoFire Prevention Week begins on October 7. It's the perfect time to find out more about wildfire and what you can do to keep your home and family safe!
This year's theme is "Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere." This is just as true of wildfire as it is about any other fire risk your home faces. In that spirit, NFPA's Wildfire Division is offering three new ways for you to get wildfire safety information throughout the week.
LOOK at our brand new wildfire risk reduction video debuting on Monday, October 8. It's all about the choices homeowners have to prepare their property to resist ignition during a wildfire. You can also check out our YouTube playlist for classic videos throughout the week.
On Wednesday, October 10, you can LISTEN to national experts on wildfires and insurance during our webinar. Register now to get important tips about financial preparedness and how to protect your home and belongings, and to ask your questions of the experts in real-time. A recording of the webinar will be available for a limited time following the live event. 
Expand your knowledge with a new and interactive  course, "Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes." LEARN how homes ignite from wildfire and how important it is to take risk reduction steps before fire ever starts. This learning module will debut on Friday, October 12. 
To keep aware and well-informed about wildfire all year long, be sure to bookmark www.firewise.org and visit often!

Pat Durland instructs ASIP class on wildfire safety and mitigation in Bangor Maine. Photo shows NFPA instructor in front of class with a slide on the screen.

Register now for NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire two-day training in Denver scheduled for October 4-5. This class will provide valuable skills and knowledge to help you in your wildfire safety mission.
Learn the science behind how homes ignite from wildfire. More importantly, find out the best ways to advise property owners about actions that will help prevent ignition and reduce the chances of home destruction during a brush or forest fire.


Discover what others have learned. According to one captain/paramedic, “I thought I wanted to learn about structure triage. What I got was a new mindset concerning how to approach wildland fire (operational) and people (social).” Another fire captain commented, “I am better prepared to assess WUI properties and communicate hazards to community members.”


Don't delay - register today and join your colleagues and expert instructor in Denver!

 

Photo credit: NFPA staff member

For many years, NFPA has convened an Educational Messages Advisory Committee to develop consistent fire and life safety messages for the general public on a wide variety of topics. The newly revised 2018 edition of the Educational Messages Desk Reference now includes wildfire topics for the first time.

 

The Committee’s goals include maintaining NFPA’s philosophy of clear, simple, accurate, technically sound and – whenever possible – positive messaging about fire and burn safety. The rules governing the Committee ensure that there is diverse representation among members as well as the ability for public input and comments. In my first term as a Committee member, I was happy to contribute a set of wildfire messages for review, and gratified to learn that several public commenters have been asking the Committee to include such messages in the new edition.

 

The Desk Reference is available for free download on NFPA.org. The wildfire messages are in Chapter 17 and include information about Wildfire Prevention, Protecting Homes from Wildfires, and Community-wide Wildfire Safety. The guide also contains some great tips about how to tailor messages to target audiences. Fire and life safety educators in fire departments and schools throughout North America use this guide – my hope is that the new messages will assist them in communicating best practices to cope with the growing threat of wildfire.

 

Get your free electronic copy and learn more about the public comment process by visiting NFPA’s Public Education web pages.

Photo Credit: Faith Berry, NFPA

It's been less than a year since California's "worst wildfires" and wildland firefighters, fire agencies, and safety advocates are all experiencing a major case of deja vu. As someone who has written continuously for years about what we all need to do to prepare for wildfires, reading the news feels like a nightmare from which I cannot seem to wake up. Conditions throughout most of the western United States are hot, dry and windy, the perfect recipe to create large and dangerous wildfires from any ignition. The federal government mapping counts 90 active fires as of today (July 30, 2018).

 

For the fourth time in the last decade, the federal agencies that respond to wildfire are at a "preparedness level 5" - 2 weeks earlier than last year. This level allows for more aid from states and even other countries to suppress wildfires. For those people very familiar with the wildfire problem, it is not as if current events are completely surprising. In spite of media interviews where people continue to talk about "unprecedented" events and conditions that have injured and killed firefighters and residents, forced thousands to evacuate and burned hundreds of structures in each incident, it has only been weeks and months since sources including the USDA Forest Service, CAL FIRE, the National Interagency Fire Center, the Governor of Arizona, and a U.S. Senator from Oregon have sounded the alarm about predicted conditions that spell high hazard from wildfire. 

 

What will it take for all of us - not only firefighters, and not only elected officials - to start taking the warnings seriously? Why aren't we treating wildfire like the natural, inevitable, and often dangerous phenomenon that it is, and learning how to live with this hazard and prepare our homes and communities? What more can we, should we have done in places impacted by the Carr Fire and all the others? It is not acceptable to me - nor should it be to anyone - to witness repeated, heartbreaking destruction and the toll on human lives when we know there are things we all can be doing to reduce risk. 

 

Safety advocates including staff of all of the agencies mentioned above, the California Fire Science Consortium, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, NFPA and many of our other colleagues and partners around the country and around the world have been tirelessly researching, messaging and reaching out with best practices, tips, tools and opportunities to take action - for years and years. If you are watching these fires and you aren't in immediate danger, NOW is the time to educate yourself and take practical, proven steps to protect your family and home from the risk of wildfire. Visit www.firewise.org and your state and local fire prevention websites to get the information you need today.

StateHouse
In my spare time outside of NFPA, I volunteer as a tour guide with a nonprofit group called Boston By Foot. I talk about Boston's history and architecture to locals and tourists from around the world. July 4 is my absolute favorite holiday, because I lead people on a 3-hour tour of Boston's Freedom Trail, which commemorates important sites that led to the American Revolution. I love to tell people how a copy of the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the balcony of the Old State House. The townspeople were so excited about overthrowing the "tyrant" (King George III), that a number of them climbed up the walls of the building, tore down the lion and the unicorn which symbolized royal British authority, and burned those wooden carvings in a great bonfire, perhaps the first precursor to our traditional fireworks celebrations today.

 

Boston also holds one of the most famous Independence Day concerts in the country on the Esplanade, which concludes with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, involving the ringing of church bells, firing of cannon, and, of course, an amazing fireworks display. What I truly love about Boston's celebration is that thousands of people can enjoy the beauty and noisy excitement of those fireworks safely, because the show is put on by professionals.

 

Yes, you knew I was coming to that -- fireworks, whether illegal or legal where you live, are just plain dangerous when they're not handled by professionals. Fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year, many of which are grass fires and wildfires. They result in $43 MILLION in property damage on average each year - and the 4th of July is, of course, when more than 25% of these fires occur. 

 

Even worse, in 2015, an estimated 11,900 people visited hospital emergency rooms with burns, contusions, lacerations and fractures caused by fireworks. The 30-day period between June 19 and July 19, 2015, was when more than two-thirds of those people were injured. Even worse, 26% of those injured were just kids - younger than 15 years old. Many of those children were hurt by those innocent-looking sparklers - that are hotter than what it takes to melt glass. Four out of five sparkler injuries were to children under 5 years old. 

 

So, on this Independence Day, I hope everyone has a safe and happy time and finds ways to celebrate our nation's greatness without putting themselves, their children or their neighbors at unnecessary risk of injury and loss. Hand your toddler a glow stick and watch a great fireworks show in your community. Think about how much more fun it is to watch the show together than to go to the emergency room together.

 

As Americans, we have many freedoms, including choices about taking risks. But before you light off that Roman candle, please do take a look at the facts. As one of my heroes, John Adams, once said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." 

Sparkler

Top image: Boston's Old State House, photo by Michele Steinberg. Bottom image: infographic from NFPA's Firework Safety Tips web page. Extra points for anyone who can tell me the historical context of Mr. Adams' quote.

View of CR 630 WildfireFirst-hand, detailed accounts of home survival during wildfire are difficult to come by. Today’s blog post documenting just such a success story comes to us courtesy of Todd Chlanda, wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service in the Lakeland District. Todd has also served as a regional Firewise advisor for NFPA and adjunct instructor on wildfire mitigation training. Below is his article:

 

I’m sure there are some non-believers about Firewise out there. But, I can tell you that the people who live in Indian Lake Estates, Florida sure believe in the program! Indian Lake Estates covers approximately 6,800 acres of land and has a population of around 2,275. Almost half of the acres are covered in forest, making it a true Urban Interface with 650 structures in the community.

Map of CR 630 Wildfire with point of origin and spread

Last spring, Florida saw dry conditions and wildfires that they hadn’t seen in the last 12 years. With the dry conditions, the Florida Forest Service cut off all agricultural burning authorizations in early January 2017. Conditions were extremely dry and the Florida Forest Service, Lakeland District had been running small fires since the middle of January.

 

It was February 15, 2017, around 11:00 am, and the call came in for a small wildfire off County Road 630 in southeast Polk County. The temperature was 78 degrees and the winds were out of the west at 23 mph with a relative humidity of 60%. The small fire was wind driven and quickly became a large fire that jumped to both sides of County Road 630. Indian Lake Estates and an area of hunting camps called River Ranch were being threatened. Within an hour of the report of the fire, a mandatory evacuation of Indian Lake Estates and homes along County Road 630 was ordered. By 4:00 pm, approximately 2,000 acres had burned and several residential structures were lost along the roadway. At 9:30 the next morning, the fire was approximately 4,000 acres in size and the winds had shifted. The fire was burning in areas that hadn’t seen a fire in almost 50 years. This fire was not 100% contained until February 24, 2017, with a total of almost 6,000 acres consumed, 12 residential structures and 130 outbuildings destroyed. None of the residential structures lost were within the Indian Lake Estates boundaries even though wildfire had threatened homes in the southern portion of the development.

Undefended home survived wildfire in Indian Lake Estates due to mitigation work

If that wasn’t enough for the community of Indian Lake Estates, two months after the CR 630 Fire, they were once again threatened by a major wildfire. This fire, dubbed the Red Grange Fire, would burn 480 acres directly through the middle of the community, threatening 50 homes and 24 outbuildings. The fire destroyed one outbuilding and the community maintenance barn. Again, mandatory evacuations were in place and for the second fire in a row, no residential structures within Indian Lake Estates were destroyed. 

Aerial view of River Ranch hunting camp area

Were the homeowners in Indian Lake Estates lucky? I don’t think so. Indian Lake Estates had become a recognized Firewise USA® site in 2010. With personnel changes, Indian Lake Estates let their recognition lapse in 2015. But, the culture that the homeowners in Indian Lake Estates had established while becoming a recognized community and every year after, saved the majority of homes during both fires. Yes, the local fire departments and the Florida Forest Service protected homes, but the volume and speed of the wildfire far outweighed the available equipment and personnel available to protect every structure. The preparation homeowners had done in the Home Ignition Zone improved their homes’ survivability and it worked. Homeowners created safe areas around each home and had taken safety measures before the smoke was in the air. Only a few homes suffered minor, cosmetic damage.  The community of Indian Lake Estates had been tested by two major wildfires in two months and the homes survived.

Map of Red Grange wildfire with point of origin and spread

Indian Lake Estates is actively pursuing their Firewise USA® recognition again. They are in the process of rewriting and updating their plan. The Florida Forest Service is planning a property walk through this summer and assisting with the community’s Firewise Day. Indian Lake Estates should obtain recognition, once again, this year.

 

Many thanks to Todd Chlanda and the Florida Forest Service for this article and for permission to use the photos and images included in this blog. From top, a view of the Country Road 630 Fire from the incident command post at the Indian Lake Estates clubhouse; map of County Road 630 Fire showing point of origin and spread; an example of an undefended but mitigated home that survived in Indian Lake Estates; aerial view of The River Ranch, a hunting camp where non-residential structures were destroyed; map of Red Grange Fire showing point of origin and spread.

As the fifth anniversary of the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters in a place called Yarnell Hill approaches, it's a reminder to truly think about what we can learn from an event of this magnitude.

 

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity that I both relished and dreaded - to take what wildland fire leaders refer to as a "staff ride" to the place where 19 of the 20 men who made up the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew lost their lives in a remote corner of Yavapai County, Arizona on June 30, 2013. Organized for the benefit of a group of chiefs, managers and supervisors within the National Association of State Foresters network, the staff ride was coordinated by local leaders who had worked with the crew over the years as well as responded to the multiple fatality incident. Because our group was more than 80 people and the visit had to be planned around a meeting, we compressed what would have been a full day into a drive across rough terrain, a 40-minute hike to the memorial, and back.State forestry and other wildfire specialists hike in toward memorial area in Yarnell Hill.


What exactly is a staff ride? According to the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program, the staff ride has a long history dating from 19th century Europe as a tool for military organizations. It has been adopted by wildland fire managers and is described this way:

"The intent of a staff ride is to put participants in the shoes of the decision makers on a historical incident in order to learn for the future. A staff ride should not be a tactical-fault finding exercise. Participants should be challenged to push past the basic question of 'What happened?' and examine the deeper questions of leadership and decision-making: 'What would I have done in this person's place?' 'How detailed should the guidance from a superior to a subordinate be?' 'Can a senior leader make use of a competent but overzealous subordinate?' 'What explains repeated organizational success or failure?' The study of leadership aspects in a staff ride transcend time and place."

 

For me, as someone whose world is outreach and engagement, not fire and smoke, I still felt that I learned. To be greeted by Darrell Willis, who left the Prescott Fire and Rescue Department a couple of years after the incident, jolted me. I hadn't realized until that moment that I had assumed that after this disaster, I would never see him again. Darrell, a major champion of Firewise USA and Ready Set Go programs, has found a new role in the Arizona State Forestry Department. I learned that even after tragedy, people can still contribute usefully in the area where their passion and talent lies.

Darrell Willis and Michele Steinberg reunited at start of staff ride at Yarnell Hill.

Jeff Whitney, the current Arizona State Forester and State Fire Marshal, impresses me as someone who won't allow the important history of this disaster to be hidden away - that facing it helps all of us learn. It was apparent in the City of Prescott and in areas all around Yavapai County that the community is still grieving its loss. I remember talking with a community leader in one of the many Prescott-area Firewise USA sites right after the incident. She told me how those men were the sons and brothers and fathers that made up their tight-knit community. How during off-season, they were the muscle behind wildfire risk reduction efforts involving heavy lifting. How successful they had been in fighting the Doce Fire just days before. How they could never be replaced. The pain of this loss is never going to go away for this community, although there are wonderful efforts to honor the memory of these men, and to support and assist first responders in the community, including the newly formed Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute recently covered by Mike Rowe's Returning the Favor program.  

 

My own reaction to seeing the memorial, the actual places where they fell, was predictable (for me). Angry and overwhelmed with sadness and the feeling that this did not have to happen. Frustration but also resignation with the fact that there are things that we will never know about what actually happened and why certain decisions were made. The leaders repeated to us that they don't know why the crew "left the black" - the safe area where they spent hours that day. I wish I had left that event with more answers. I'm sure many people feel that way. Reviewing the staff ride booklet, I realize that the experience is meant to raise questions, and not necessarily provide answers. I can only hope that those who participate in this and other staff rides ask themselves the hard questions and find ways to prevent future tragedies in the line of duty.

Assembled at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial in Yarnell Hill.

 

All photos by Michele Steinberg, NFPA. Top: hiking in toward the memorial area. Center: Michele Steinberg reunited with former Prescott Fire & Rescue deputy chief Darrell Willis. Bottom: Staff ride participants assembled at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial at Yarnell Hill.

 

According to the latest situation report from the Oklahoma Forestry Services website, two major wildfire complexes have burned more than 350,000 acres over the past week, and are only partially under control. The 34 Complex fire in Woodward County has burned 62,089 acres and is 60% contained as of April 20, 2018. The Rhea Fire in Dewey County is more than four times that size at 289,078 acres and is only 25% contained as of April 20.

 

An article on Weatherunderground.com by meteorologist Bob Henson provides an excellent, detailed explanation of why Oklahoma is burning and points out that these large fires are certainly not unprecedented and are even becoming more common in recent years.

 

Henson’s article describes the main factors conspiring to bring these so-called “megafires” to Oklahoma – a place many don’t think of when they hear the word “wildfire.” The culprits include unusually serious wildfires – drought, high temperatures and persistent high winds; alternating wet and dry periods leading to a profusion of fire-prone vegetation; and the prevalence of a particular fire-prone species, eastern red cedar, throughout Oklahoma and the southern plains. I once heard a forester describe this tree as a “native invasive” – a tree that belongs there but without intervention spreads and grows and has significant negative impacts on the landscape. Henson helpfully points out that before European settlement, indigenous people set fires to keep these weed-like trees under control.

 

The trend toward larger and more damaging wildfires in the Southern Plains is clear, and the toll on people, the land and livelihoods is growing. In a haunting repeat of the March 2017 fires across Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado, today’s fires are destroying homes, killing people and livestock, and decimating crops and agricultural land upon which livelihoods are based.

 

To help the people and communities impacted by these fires, see this article that indicates where you can donate money and resources. To track wildfires, see NFPA’s map (image above) that pulls data from national sources and updates every 24 hours.

 

This growing trend of wildfire does not have to mean disaster. To learn more about what to do to protect your home and community, visit www.firewise.org.

Witch Creek Fire, San Diego, October 21, 2007 - courtesy State Farm via Wikipedia Commons

 

Getting called, "an unsung bureaucratic hero of fire protection," doesn't happen every day, so when I listened to bits of my interview with Tufts undergraduate Jesse Greenfield recently, I felt proud in my own geeky way. Jesse is a biopsychology major at Tufts University and had a Science and Civic Action class with Professor Jonathan Garlick in the fall 2017 semester. She was assigned a project to produce a short podcast episode relevant to civic science, and she chose wildfire as her topic. I was honored to have my say about the state of wildfire safety and education, but I was much more moved by her personal perspective on wildfire as a San Diego native, and the snippets revealed by another student who lived through the 2007 Witch Creek Fire and 2003 Cedar Fire. 

 

Jesse and her fellow student Vince described what it was like to survive wildfires in which friends lost homes, people in the area lost their lives, and they were forced to evacuate to safety with their families. Listen to the podcast (mp3 file) for Vince's comments about the 2007 Witch Creek fire and his childhood memories of having to evacuate. In conversation with Jesse, they start with a joking tone: "I grabbed my critical clothing..like my raincoat, my Pokemon shoes (ha ha ha)...it was third grade. Finding out what truly is of value to you...yeah, LEGO® (bricks), obviously."

 

The tone turns wistful when Jesse says, "But feeling like you have to do that is so surreal." Vince agrees. "It's a very odd feeling. I was pretty young, but the most poignant memories are definitely figuring out what you need...the anxiety...the smell, was so...just the smell, just a whiff of it. Even if there's like a barbecue and something's burning, I'll think of the fires." He feels today that his neighbors aren't paying much attention to the fire threat, and thinks that families being able to meet firefighters or to participate in brush-clearing projects could help. 

 

Give Jesse's podcast a listen, and learn what you might do differently to change wildfire outcomes in the future.

 

Image: The Witch Creek Fire burning in San Diego County, on the night of Sunday, October 21, 2007. Image courtesy State Farm via Creative Commons license.

As 2017 draws to a close, I'm proud to say that NFPA has been able to bring some 90 fire service members and wildfire specialists to our training, Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone, this year under a generous award from the DHS/FEMA Fire Prevention Safety Grant. In addition to these funded courses, where participants received a travel scholarship to attend, the class was also taught at the IAFC WUI Conference in Reno in March and at several locations where organizations contracted with NFPA to bring the class to their locations.  NFPA also provided this training to state forestry wildfire specialists from 25 states this fall in Boise.

 

At the FEMA-funded offering in Jacksonville, Florida this October, I met participants from all over the country. These individuals were highly motivated and engaged throughout the two-day classroom, and especially enthusiastic about the hands-on opportunity to visit two nearby homes to test their knowledge. NFPA is grateful to the local contacts in all of the states that have helped us get onto private property with permission from the homeowner in so many locations. This exercise truly helps participants learn how to interact with residents in a pre-fire situation.

 

One participant, after only the first day of class, commented to me that he planned to actually change the way his department addressed wildland/urban interface issues based on what he had learned. This statement from a long-term veteran of fire and emergency services was a testament to the value of the science and approach on which this course is based.

 

As NFPA prepares to launch its next round of FEMA-supported classes and scholarship competition, I hope fire departments everywhere will take a few moments to review the information at www.nfpa.org/hiz to learn about the valuable information and knowledge available to them through this training. Whether you send a lucky candidate on a scholarship, register through the IAFC WUI conference offering, or bring the training to your local facility, you'll be taking a step toward a future of safer homes and communities.

 

Photo by Michele Steinberg, NFPA: Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire training participants inspect a home in the Jacksonville, Florida, area.

 

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