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19 Posts authored by: tomwelle

We often say how the small things matter BIG when it comes to protecting your home from wildfire. Gutters on your home certainly fall into this category. Gutters perform yeoman’s duty in getting water off of your roof and away from your foundation, certainly a very important function. But when wildfires happen, they become a hazard filled with dry dead leaves, pine needles and debris that give blowing embers a foothold for ignition to your home.

Keeping gutters clear of flammable debris is not only important, it’s not something you have to do once a year and then forget about. Maintenance of your home ignition zone is an ongoing process whether it is your gutters or other parts of your property. Research-center-ember-wildfire-testing_ibhs261

And that’s not the whole story. What your gutters are made of is equally important…..metal gutters, while more expensive and sometimes requiring additional maintenance tend to fair much better under fire conditions than vinyl, which can often melt and ignite carrying fire to other parts of the structure.

NFPA, USAA, the University of California and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS), all have information and resources on a host of risk reduction measures, including gutters. IBHS has some specific information on building materials including gutters for fire resistance in their “Best Practices Guide for Wildfire”. The University of California’s “Homeowner’s Wildfire Mitigation Guide" is another great resource for gutter and building material information. NFPA’s Firewise website provides a list of principles for reducing wildfire risk for your home and USAA has information for its members in what they need to consider to protect their home.

The small things add up, but if you take them one at a time, utilize the science based practices from the sources above, you will be able to significantly reduce your risk. So go ahead, get your mind in the gutter.

(photo credit: IBHS)

Trying to reduce your wildfire risk around your home does not have to be complicated or overwhelming. In fact, most folks can significantly improve their homes wildfire survivability over a couple of weekends. If you have fire resistant roofing and siding, you are well on your way to getting your home prepared. Next on your list is to evaluate what the ignition potential is within 5 feet of your foundation. D space nifc

NFPA’s Firewise Principles and information contained in its “Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone” course are sources of information on what to do in this critical zone. The 0-5 feet zone is the “non-combustible” zone. You want to make sure that you have nothing flammable in this zone. Natural mulches should be replaced with decorative stone or rock. Make sure if you have a deck, that it is clear of debris underneath and remove patio furniture cushions when fire weather conditions are present. Woodpiles should be no closer than 30 feet to the structure. Leaves, debris and pine needles need to be absent from roofs, porches, decks and from the 0-5 foot zone. If wood fences connect to the home, consider a metal or non-flammable section that abuts the structure.

Nooks and crannies need special attention. Think of where leaves, debris and snow blow in and around the home, this is also where embers will land before, during and after wildfire passage. Embers landing in dry debris beds of dead leaves and pine needles will gain an ignition foothold right against your home.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS), has suggestions for reducing your homes ignition potential. More information can be found from PURE Insurance on wildfire risk reduction as well as an excellent resource from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources that can be found here.

Reducing your wildfire risk is about making choices.  With a little "sweat equity", you can save yourself, your home and even firefighters from severe wildfires.  Make the right choice, before the fire starts.  Be smart, be safe, be Firewise.

(photo credit: NIFC)

While attending the 2015 Backyards and Beyond Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I had the opportunity to accompany the “Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone” class into the field to do several risk assessments in a neighborhood near Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Forestry Commission’s Drake Carroll had stepped up to organize the field trip which took us to a Firewise neighborhood that had been at risk from the recent Highway 31 fire.  Instructors Pat Durland and Jack Cohen lead the nearly 30 students to three homes, each in a different state of risk from wildfire for the students to assess and also, talk with the homeowners about their findings.

With each home presented a different set of conditions for the students to assess and address based on what they had been learning in the classroom for two days. One home was pretty good in terms of wildfire risk and gave students the opportunity to see how that homeowner could then model for others and perhaps engage in neighbor to neighbor interaction on a positive level to reduce risk beyond one or two homes, a basic tenet of Firewise.

Another home was sort of middle of the road, where the students needed to key in on more subtle factors that a homeowner could easily address, especially in that all important 0-5 feet from the foundation.

HIZ Instructor Pat Durland explains wildfire risk to homeowners.

HIZ Instructor Pat Durland explains wildfire risk to homeowners. Photo credit: Jody Freitas, NFPA

The third home offered students much more of a challenge not just in what needed to be done around the home to reduce risk, which was significant, but also then listen to the instructors as they worked with the homeowner on possible solutions and concerns. Instructor Pat Durland often says that the assessment is usually the easy part, the social interaction with the homeowner and getting them to buy in and become engaged in addressing the things they can change around their home and seeking help on the ones they can’t is the tough part. 

So, completing a quality, standardized home assessment is key, but working with that homeowner to take action to reduce the threat to themselves, their home and responding firefighters is where the rubber really meets the road.

You don’t have to be around the wildfire business very long to understand that it is not just a problem in the United States.  Destructive wildfires are global yet the story of losses and the potential solutions are often similar, and always local.IWFC2015_Logo_Slogan

This year, the sixth annual International Wildfire Conference is being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  Korea is the first Asian nation to hold the gathering, and NFPA’s Michele Steinberg, Wildland Fire Operations Division Manager is on the scene.  Michele is presenting on Firewise principles in action as well as acting as a moderator for other sessions.

Notable attendees are South Korea’s Minister of the Korea Forest Service, Shin Won-Sop, and Margareta Wahlstrom, special representative to the U.N. secretary-general for disaster risk reduction.  Well known keynote speakers from the U.S.  include author Stephen Pyne, social scientist Sarah McCaffrey, and Tom Harbour, Chief of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service. Korea's own Director of Fire Prevention and Control Ko Kiyeon, Winston Trollope, Working with Fire South Africa, and Johann Goldammer, Director of the Global Fire Monitoring Center help round out the keynote lineup.

The theme for this year’s conference is, “Fire of the Past, Fire in the Future”.  The conference will focus on topics such as: the global natural and cultural fire heritage, protecting the global natural and cultural heritage from fire and working towards a global cohesive fire management strategy.  The conference provides a forum for fire management leaders, professionals, policy makers, researchers and practitioners worldwide to discuss critical fire issues affecting communities, resources and ecosystems.

Minister Shin wants to place Korea in a leadership role in forest fire management and control and sponsoring this conference certainly goes a long way in achieving that goal. 

Globally, we all share in the effort to share knowledge and information to reduce the risk and loss from destructive wildfires.

The new generation of veterans are finding meaningful employment and a renewed sense of mission working to reduce the wildfire risk in South Dakota.

Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City, SD Fire Department and Jerry Derr of Meade County, SD employ recently discharged vets on a mitigation crew providing them an opportunity to utilize skills learned in the military on a new mission.

Veterans come to an employer with a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and experience working in a team but often find difficulty translating that to a fulfilling sense of accomplishment in the private sector.  Rapid City’s mitigation crew is helping them do just that.

Rapid City Fire is actively engaged in working with homeowners in NFPA’s Firewise program but found that there are large areas that border the City under private and other government ownership that needed serious fuel reduction.  In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management's, ( BLM) Wildfire Community Assistance Program, vets were hired as crew and the City put up $250K in equipment so that those areas could be worked. RCFD mit crew

The crew works on parcels from 10 to 100 acres to reduce the threats adjacent to neighborhoods creating shaded fuel breaks of 300-400 feet.   This provides a vital link in the overall strategy of reducing the risk to neighborhoods and communities at very little cost to the jurisdiction, but that is only part of the story.

Besides learning fire mitigation and forestry knowledge and skills, these vets are feeling a sense of community, of doing something important.  At the same time, most are also in college or tech schools.  Several have moved on to become firefighters, including Dave Ferrier, a former Marine, who joined the Wyoming Hotshots this May and was active on the fires in the Pacific NW this summer. See them in action here.

“I have a love for my community and a love for veterans and this program brings that together”, says Weaver.  “They help us, and we help them, it’s a win-win”.

The veterans that move through the Rapid City program become part of Weaver’s extended family, keeping in contact with him as they progress and grow.  “I get just as much out of this program as they do”, said Weaver.  “I grow with them”.

Tim will be presenting his program with co-speaker Jerry, “Heroes in the Woods”, at NFPA’s Backyards and Beyond Conference in Myrtle Beach on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 from 2:15-3:15.  If you plan on attending, don’t miss this presentation!  See you there!

(photo credit: Rapid City Fire Department)

We often get questions around how to reduce fire danger in common areas such as greenbelts, open space and such.  Partnerships are one way that worked for the Antlers Homeowner’s Association (HOA) in Colorado.

Prior to coming to NFPA, I was the senior Ranger/Land Manager for Douglas County Open Space.  One of my many responsibilities was forest management on County owned lands.  One of these was approximately 6 acres of heavily forested land that adjoined another 7 acres in the same condition owned by the Antlers HOA.

Most forested areas along the Colorado Front Range consist of overgrown Ponderosa Pine stands.  In Douglas County, just south of Denver, Gambel oak, a woody shrub, adds a ladder fuel component which increases crown fire potential.  Due to suppressing wildfires for over 150 years, these stands have become thick with regeneration of Ponderosa Pines and heavy bands of Gambel oak in the understory.                          

Kristin Garrison, District Forester for the Colorado State Forest Service, (CSFS), and Jill Alexander, Douglas County Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, were working with Barb Harbach of the Antlers HOA on their CWPP and began discussions of treating their 7 acre HOA open space.  Since the 6 acres the County owned is adjacent and identified for treatment, they began working with Open Space on how they could partner on the joint treatment.  However, cost was a barrier.

The State of Colorado Department of Natural Resources put out three grant opportunities for a total of $9.8 million to be used for Wildfire Risk Reduction.  Douglas County obtained one of these grants and that money was used for the County’s portion of this project and the Antlers HOA was able to apply for a grant from CSFS for their portion.

Douglas County staff and CSFS put together a plan with the goals of improving forest health, increasing forest resiliency to fire, insects and drought, and to reduce wildfire risk by thinning trees to increase crown spacing and removing some Gambel oak to reduce ladder fuels.

Capture Antlers pics

A contractor was selected to do both parcels but was paid from the two different grants.  The work went far to reduce wildfire risk and improve the resiliency of the natural resources.  Ms. Harbach said, “We could not have accomplished this project without the help and support of Larkspur Fire, Douglas County and the Colorado State Forest Service”.  “The support we received was outstanding….in order to complete the mitigation project the right way”.     

This type of private/public partnership is just one way communities can embrace living less dangerously from wildfire.  Communities can partner with each other, with their local fire department and with their local government to significantly reduce their risk from wildland fires.

Using partnerships to reduce our risk, we make our communities, our firefighters, and ourselves safer from wildand fires. 

(Photo credit: Jill Alexander)

Americans across the country were saddened by the tragic loss of three U.S. Forest Service firefighters in Washington State yesterday.  It brings home the message, once again, on how dangerous that job is and that we have a long way to go to reduce the dangers and risk with these super intense fire conditions.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those lost and injured. Wildland firefighter foundation ribbon

For those of us from the Fire Service family, incidents like these hit home especially hard.  We know how much firefighters train, how much safety is imbedded in everything they do and how hard they work to keep themselves and us safe from the effects of wildfire.

This is why we push so hard with the Firewise program and training and education we offer from NFPA.  We need residents and neighbors and whole communities to work together to help reduce the risk to their lives and properties.  Because, in the end, when communities do that vital work, they make a safer working environment for firefighters.  This is a major tenet of being Fire Adapted, a significant piece to the Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.

So while we all mourn the loss, let’s do what firefighters do whenever things like this occur.  Let’s learn the lessons and put them into practice.  Let's honor them by making a safer working environment for firefighters.

(image: Wildland Firefighter Foundation)

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 Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone will be offered Oct. 20 and 21 at the conference in Myrtle Beach, SC.  The course content reflects the latest in research and investigative findings from trusted sources like Dr. Jack Cohen of the USDA Forest Service Missoula Fire Science Laboratory and Dr. Steve Quarles from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS).  Besides getting the latest scientific based information, attendees will also be able to obtain a Certificate of Education Achievement from NFPA for a nominal fee.

Teaching along with Dr. Cohen will be wildfire expert Pat Durland.  “This is the only standardized nationally recognized mitigation course in the country”, Durland said.  “There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there, but this course boils it down to basic elements”, he said.  “It dials you in on what’s important”. 

With over 35 years of wildland fire experience, Durland knows what he’s talking about when he speaks to our ability to reduce risk from wildfires.  “Losing homes to wildfire is not inevitable, this is a problem we don’t have to pass on to future generations.”  “Wildfire responds so well to pre-event mitigation compared to other natural hazards."

In this course, practitioners, stakeholders and residents will learn how to assess wildfire risk around a home or structure and then steps they need to take to mitigate those risks.  By modifying the area around their homes, which for many, can be accomplished in a few weekends, they can greatly improve their odds of surviving a wildfire.

So, plan on attending the Home Ignition Zone course where you can talk one-on-one with the experts. To register vist: .

6a00d8351b9f3453ef01b7c7b76179970b-300wi.jpgIf you saw a pillar of smoke rising from the forest or brush in your area, would you know what to do?  Would you know what information is needed for firefighters to get there and begin suppressing the fire?  If you spot smoke here’s what you need to know:


First – Keep yourself safe.  Depending on the size of the fire, it may not be wise to try to get a closer
look.  Get to a vantage point where you can gather valuable information.  Then call 911.  A 911 dispatcher will know what questions to ask, but here are some basics to be prepared to answer them.


Location, Location, Location.

-   If there is a close address, use that.  Intersections of roads or mile markers are also good.  If you can’t see any of those then look for landmarks.  Estimation of distance is difficult but give it a go.  You can give the dispatcher an estimated distance from your address or location and some sort of cardinal, (East, North, etc.) direction.


-          What is the color and amount of smoke that you see?  The lighter the smoke, the lighter the fuel
is that’s burning.  How much is there, a small pillar or a large plume?

What’s burning?

-   Is it grass, brush or trees?  Is it on the ground or  in the crowns of large brush or trees.

The need for speed.

-  How fast is it moving?  Fire folks use terms like smoldering, creeping, and running to describe fire behavior.  But saying its moving slow or fast is just fine.


-  Is it near or heading towards any structures?   This is important because it can change the type of dispatch that is issued and the resources that are ordered up.

The public is often the first eyes and ears on the scene.  With good information you can be a valuable resource for dispatchers and firefighters.

More info:

All photos: NIFC

We all know in summer that thunderstorms happen frequently and with them come lightning and naturally ignited wildfires; what you may not know is that according to the National Interagency Fire Center, (NIFC), humans cause more than 62,000 wildfires annually, burning about 2.4 million acres.

Since recreation is huge in the summer, we need to be aware of what we can do to reduce the Campfire safety signpossibility of starting wildfires while outdoors. If camping, think about the location of your campfire - try to use existing fire rings or pits and make sure it is completely out before bedding down or leaving. The same goes for BBQ briquettes, leaving them in an open BBQ is inviting disaster if the wind comes up and blows embers into vegetation; dispose of them properly.  Make sure current fire restrictions in your area allow for campfires and BBQ use.

 Here’s more information from Smokey Bear.

If you use a trailer of any kind while traveling, make sure safety chains do not drag as this creates sparks that ignites vegetation next to roads and highways. If you drive or park a vehicle off road, remember the catalytic converter under the vehicle gets extremely hot and can ignite vegetation, especially grasses under the vehicle.

Spark arrestors are commercially available for motorcycles and ATV’s to reduce that potential ignition source off road. 

For more information on recreating safely in fire prone areas, including fireworks and shooting sports, check out Arizona’s Interagency Wildfire Prevention Page.

To learn about wildfire and causes of wildfire take a look at Interfire Online’s fire investigation page.

(graphic credit:

Most of us can only imagine what homeowners go through when wildfire strikes and they lose their Dean snow black forest home and everything in it.  Some of them have told their stories about how their lives were changed forever.  They lost their home, their belongings and many have said, they lost time.  The time that it takes to rebuild, the time that it takes to re-landscape, the time it takes to work with their insurance company so that they can re-build their lives.

NFPA’s Firewise program provides principles and education so that homeowners can reduce their risk from wildfire loss.  But homeowners can take steps to reduce their financial risk by making sure they are adequately insured should catastrophic loss occur.

Carol Walker of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, (RMIIA), says that many homeowners in high wildfire risk areas are underinsured.  “Homeowners need to evaluate their coverage on an annual basis with their insurance company”, she said.  If homeowners are not proactive to make sure their insurance keeps up with changing replacement costs, they may find themselves under insured.

Replacement cost coverage can provide some inflation protection, but often, with older homes, building codes have changed so replacing the home may be more expensive than the original home.  What about debris removal and re-landscaping after the fire?  Do you have coverage for that?  What endorsements do you have to cover expensive collections, jewelry or antiques?  Have you done a home inventory?

The RMIIA website contains a host of resources to help homeowners reduce their risk and most states have similar organizations that can help residents with resource needs.  Some examples are: Wildfire and Insurance and Insurance Basics from RMIIA.

So along with reducing you home’s risk through Firewise, having an evacuation plan and doing a home inventory, meet with your insurance agent to make sure you are adequately protected.

(photo credit: Dean Snow)

We often talk about how the little things around your home can be a big deal when it comes to wildfire risk.  Ignoring them can mean big losses, dealing with them can pay off in big risk reduction.  These little things include vents.  Vents in your home are openings that can allow embers from wildfires to enter the structure and ignite combustibles in the attic or crawl spaces of the home.  Vents in your eaves, vents in your siding, dryer vents and vents in your roof and gables are all a BIG deal.

Dr. Steve Quarles, Ph.D., is a research scientist with the Institute for Business and Home Safety, (IBHS), and has done a significant amount of work on embers in wildfires and the vulnerability of vents Wildfire-Demo_IBHS-05in structures.  In cooperation with the Savannah River National Laboratory, Dr. Quarles uses a large ember generator to test various types of vents and their vulnerability.  This You Tube video shows that even with the recommended 1/8” mesh screening that embers still penetrate.

IBHS suggests checking with your local Fire and/or Building Officials to learn about what new commercial products are allowed in your area to help protect your vents.  You can also learn about all the wildfire hazards to your home through IBHS’ “Wildfire Home Assessment & Checklist”, all based on scientific research that they have done.  And don’t forget to check out NFPA’s Firewise program.  We have a wealth of information to help you reduce your wildfire risk.  Wildfire2

Don't wait until there is smoke in the air.  It’s your home.  You own the risk around your home.  Act now to live this year less dangerously from wildfire.

photo credit: top-IBHS; bottom -NFPA Firewise photo library

As we move into the “Act” phase of the Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire, the safety of Image1residents and firefighters is foremost on our minds here at NFPA.  One of the products that the National Weather Service, (NWS) provides to improve firefighter safety is the Red Flag Warning.  But just what is a Red Flag Warning?

Red Flag Warnings begin as a Fire Weather Watch.  A Fire Weather Watch means that weather conditions are predicted to occur that will support rapid wildfire growth and rates of spread 24-72 hours from when the watch is issued.  When the conditions are predicted to occur within 24 hours or are already happening, a Red Flag Warning is issued.

So, what are these conditions?  Well, that depends.  In the broad sense, the weather conditions will be high temperatures, high surface winds, low relative humidity, (dry air) and low fuel moistures, (dry vegetation).  However, these vary state to state.

Each year, the National Weather Service coordinates with each state to implement a State Operating Plan related to fire weather services.  According to NWS Fire Meteorologist Chris Cuoco, these meetings take place at the Geographic Area Coordination Centers where the state and federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior are represented. Red Flag criteria and other fire weather products are discussed and set in these meetings.  The Red Flag Warning criteria varies state to state mainly around relative humidity and fuel moistures.   In the humid Southeastern U.S., relative humidity of less than 30% can trigger a Red Flag, but is no big deal in the arid West where critical relative humidity is often in the single digits.  The same goes for fuel moisture values.  And it is usually not any one condition but the combination of these Srh conditions cause Red Flags to be issued.

While the primary purpose of Red Flag Warnings is firefighter safety, fire agencies and land management agencies  also use them for pre-planning, staffing level changes, and if necessary, restrict some public activities such as camp fires and agricultural burns.

The NWS has been active in making the public more aware of these Watches and Warnings.  Cuoco said, “The hope is that when the public is using fire, they will use the caution implied in those products.” 

 photo credit: top, bottom  srh

Sun City, TX residents take their Firewise program seriously and on Feb. 20, 2015, two of their champions were officially recognized at the Georgetown City Council meeting.

Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan presented certificates of recognition to Paul Ohlenbusch and Dan Dodson for their years of dedication to NFPA’s Firewise program.  Paul and Dan then gave a short presentation on Firewise to the Mayor and City Council. Presentation

(l to r Chief John Sullivan, Paul Ohlenbusch, Dan Dodson) 

NFPA’s Firewise program is all about neighbors working with neighbors to reduce their risk from wildland fires.  It provides science based principles, training and education that helps residents organize, collaborate, and act to protect their homes, their lives and to reduce hazards for firefighters.

This year, the NFPA launched its campaign of “The Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire", #YLLDW, and its three phases, “Plan, Act, Embrace”.  Paul, Dan and the residents of Sun City certainly represent what this campaign is all about.     

Sun City has 6,096 homes and 12,430 residents.  The Firewise Group within the community conducts many public presentations, has a core group of 50-60 Home Ignition Zone evaluators and also provides orientation classes to new residents.  In 2015, they will be presenting at the NFPA’s “Backyards and Beyond” conference Oct. 20 – 21 in Mrytle Beach, SC.  Sun City has had some very active Firewise Days and regularly conducts activities during the NFPA’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

So if you want a year, (or more) of living less dangerously from wildfire, take some tips from Sun City, and see how you can “Plan, Act, and Embrace” wildfire risk reduction.

And, speaking of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, it is May 2 this year.  What’s YOUR plan?

The NFPA’s “Living Less Dangerously from Wildfire”, (#YLLDW) campaign focuses on two main groups:  residents and firefighters.  In the plan phase of this campaign, we are addressing the need for residents to plan, before they even have a wildfire, on what they need to do to protect their homes and themselves.  But wildland firefighters need to plan too.  And so do Incident Commanders.

This time of year, most fire agencies are conducting annual refresher training on various wildland fire subjects, especially safety, as well as doing their annual pack tests.  Fire Managers and Command personnel will also be doing planning.  Pre-Incident planning is essential for safe and efficient fire suppression operations.  It’s about taking care of as many things as you can before the fire ever starts.  Actions that can save time, stress and even lives.

All of us that have fought wildland fires and had to command them know only too well how rapidly the complexity of a wildland/urban interface fire can grow.  You can find yourself behind the “power curve” in the blink of an eye it seems.  When it “hits the fan” that is the wrong time to be thinking about mutual aid agreements, water sources, air-to-ground radio frequencies, resource ordering procedures, local area maps, and the like.

In the October 2014 issue of Fire Break, NFPA’s Michele Steinberg wrote about a very informative article by Jim Linardos, “Taking Command of the WUI Fire”, that was published in Firefighter Nation.  Jim is a former Chief Officer and has served on Type 1 and 2 Incident Management Teams.  “If we have prepared our communities towards being Fire Adapted Communities through programs such as Firewise and Ready, Set, Go, then we as the Fire Service need to get prepared too”, Jim said.   

 As our fire service partners prepare for the coming fire season, I thought the article was particularly relevant and should be highlighted again.  Read it, use it, and more importantly, learn from it.  As Jim admitted, “It took me 35 years to write this article because I have been guilty of each one of these mistakes”.  What are you doing about living less dangerously from wildfire?

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