“It’s the embers, stupid!” CAL FIRE staff chief addresses structure loss; reducing wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface

Blog Post created by lisamariesinatra Employee on Aug 9, 2017
CAL FIRE, wildfire hazards, C&E2017, embers
As most of us know, states across the U.S. can no longer rely on a defined fire season. This sobering truth is especially evident in California where the fire season is 70 days longer than it was 40 years ago, and fire ignitions in the state have greatly increased in the last few years (in 2016, fire ignitions were greater than the 5-year average).
And while these stats are staggering, in California there has been a dramatic increase in prevention activities over recent years, including defensible space inspections, public education efforts and vegetation treatment projects funded by grants. So why are an alarming number of structures still being destroyed by wildfires?
That’s the question Dave Shew, Staff Chief for CAL FIRE, Planning and Risk Analysis Department, Office of the State Fire Marshall, posed to a packed room for his session: “Structure Loss in the WUI: Why do Losses Continue to Rise Despite Increased Prevention Efforts?” at NFPA’s 2017 Conference & Expo in June. It's also the subject of a recent NFPA Journal article, "Structure Survival," where Shew is interviewed.
While Shew made it clear in his session that the answer doesn’t consist of one "silver bullet,” the keys to resolving the challenge, he says, are tied to embers and communities working more closely together on solutions. Here, Shew explains that there is more than one way to tackle the wildfire problem.
To this end, Shew says that wildfire safety advocates still have a lot of work to do when it comes to educating the public about the dangers of embers and the impact they have on the survivability of a home during a fire. "We have to get better at talking to the public," he says.
One way to do that is for communities to collaborate with their local fire departments. Shew believes the next paradigm shift in the fire service will see firefighters taking a more active role in talking to homeowners about wildfire risk. Shew told the audience he knows this concept doesn’t make him a popular guy in the office. “My colleagues in the fire service get mad at me every time I mention it,” he says. Still, Shew explains his reasoning behind why firefighters need to get more involved with the public when it comes to wildfire education.
In all honesty, you can’t help but get caught up in Shew’s passion and determination when it comes to wildfire safety. From the positive reaction of the audience (many stayed long after the presentation was over to ask questions) it was clear they did, too. We don't want you to miss this presentation, so we've included the full audio version of his talk for you to listen to. And if you find inspiration or have thoughts to share after you’ve tuned in, we’d love to hear from you.
Did you know that NFPA Conference & Expo attendees and NFPA members get full access to all the 2017 NFPA C&E education session audio & video files? Browse the full list of education sessions to find the attached audio/video you'd like to view.