Nearly $30 million worth of property was destroyed, including 46 residential homes, in the wildfires that struck San Diego County, California, last May. As bad as it was, the destruction would have been much greater had residents not taken steps to ensure there was defensible space around their homes, said Dave Hanneman, the fire chief of Chula Vista, one of many communities impacted by the fires.
Lucian Deaton of NFPA’s Wildland Operations Division spoke to Hanneman for his recent “Wildfire Watch” column in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal. Deaton wrote about the lessons learned from the San Diego County fires and how clearing fuel loads around homes there enabled firefighters to “direct their efforts on the fire front as the fire layed down when it reached properties where the fuels had been thinned and flammable debris removed.”
NFPA’s Firewise® program teaches residents fire principles and strategies to take action to reduce the risks of wildfire destroying their house. And, as focus increases on the rising cost of fighting wildfires, adopting Firewise principles can greatly reduce the resources required to combat fire.
Engaging a structure fire costs more than $1,000 an hour in operations cost alone, never mind the property loss involved, Hanneman said.
“Fires can still impact homes that employ every step of mitigation, but the principles of defensible space held true in May,” Deaton wrote. “Amidst the ongoing national debate on suppression costs … we need to do a better job capturing those firsthand accounts to support residents in their ongoing efforts to prepare for wildfire.”
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