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3 Posts authored by: michelesteinberg Employee

Home in flames, Los Angeles "La Tuna" wildfire

As I write this on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11, 2017, firefighters in California are battling 22 large wildfires that have burned nearly 170,000 acres - most of that acreage in 8 counties in the northern part of the state. According to CAL FIRE, firefighters are bracing for the winds to shift this evening and increase in speed. Seventeen people are confirmed to have died in the wildfires this week. Eleven people died in the Tubbs Fire alone, making it the 6th deadliest fire in California's history.

 

Watching this horrific disaster unfold is devastating and depressing. Knowing all the good that so many residents, firefighters, and agencies have done over so many years in California to prepare for wildfire makes it harder to accept that at last count 3,500 structures have been destroyed and that the region is experiencing a tragic loss of life. (Note: news sources on Thursday morning, October 12, cite the rising death toll at 23 people killed). This outcome is what NFPA staff and so many other safety advocates dread and spend our careers trying to avert. 

 

Fielding media inquiries this week has been difficult - but of course nowhere near on the scale of difficulty of fighting the fire, carrying out evacuation orders, or watching one's home and neighborhood go up in flames. The unfortunate trend of the media is to play the blame game. I can't and won't play that game, by calling out any single entity to say it is their fault the fires happened, or homes burned, or people died. What I can do is to point out the tremendous and humbling complexity of the wildfire problem when it comes to the disastrous loss of homes and lives. What I can do is call on everyone in our society to look in the mirror and to think - whether in your personal or professional lives - what must I do to stop this happening over and over again?

 

What I can do is to try to shake people out of complacency. Yes, it will happen. You need to be prepared. It's very likely that firefighters can't rescue you if there are coping with multiple large, fast-moving wildfires. Yes, if your home is already burning during a major wildfire, the firefighters are going to try to save the home next door. You need to be ready to be on your own for up to 72 hours. Yes, you need a plan. Yes, you need a go-kit for evacuation. If neighboring homes are closer than 100 feet to yours, you pose an ignition risk to each other. Yes, you need to work on becoming a Firewise USA site with your neighbors. Yes, you need to participate in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. You need to do a home inventory in case your home burns to the ground and you need to make an insurance claim. When you rebuild you need to make your home fire-resistant. And we all need to come to terms with a new normal of large and frequent wildfires.

 

You may already know these things and be acting on the sound advice provided by NFPA and its partners. If this information is new to you, we have wonderful examples for you to emulate. Ordinary people, whether in the 140 Firewise USA sites in California, participants in the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, or in local Fire Safe Councils have looked in the mirror, learned what they need to do, and taken action. Follow their lead - these people are your neighbors, and they are the ones who are truly making a difference in wildfire safety at the local level.

 

Finally, if you are in an area with a Red Flag Warning - where conditions are ripe for wildfire - stay alert and be ready to leave. Please don't wait for an official evacuation order. Trust your gut, prepare for the worst, and with you, I will hope for the best.

 

Resources:

 

 

Photo: Home burning during the September 2017 La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles, provided courtesy of Jeremy Oberstein,  Los Angeles City Fire Department.

We're grateful to Shayne Mintz, NFPA Canadian Regional Director, for his updates on the unfolding scenario of wildfire disaster in Alberta, Canada. This morning, Friday, May 6, Shayne reported that the fire is not yet under control due to weather conditions that have not changed. The fire area is now greater in size than the city of Calgary. Due to dwindling supplies, CBC reports that approximately 25,000 evacuees who headed north for refuge in the oil sands camps as a result of the fires in Fort McMurray are being moved and relocated south to Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary.

 

Shayne added, "Today, RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) has already begun leading a convoy down Highway 63 complete with fuel tankers, air support to make sure the convoy is aware of any hazards or risk that may arise, and other resources such as service vehicles to ensure the convoy stays intact and complete.  The convoy will be travelling through Fort McMurray to get to the south, so the evacuees from Fort McMurray will be seeing for the first time the devastation that has hit their community."

 

Insurance companies have begun deploying staff to begin the recovery and claims process. They forecast insured losses at $9 billion. This is now being predicted to be the largest natural disaster in Canadian history, surpassing the combined losses from the Central Alberta floods of 2013, the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire, and the 1998 Eastern Ontario Ice Storm.

 

Many readers may be wondering what they can do to help. Shayne said that donations to the Canadian Red Cross to help in recovery are greatly appreciated. He indicated that the Canadian government is matching such donations dollar for dollar.

 

Report from Thursday, May 5 - by Lucian Deaton, NFPA Wildland Fire Operations Division

This morning, we spoke with NFPA’s Canadian Regional Director, Shayne Mintz, based in Ontario, Canada to gain some understanding of the wildfire and its impact.  He shared that, “With the near drought-like conditions in British Columbia and Alberta [Canada], over the past two years and the unusually high spring temperatures – coupled with low humidity, this is definitely unusual and it sets the stage for a potentially bad fire season.”  He added that, “temperatures in  Alberta are some of the warmest in Canada right now because of weather patterns that have highs in the 80s(f).

 

alta-wildfire-evacuation.jpg

Shayne also reflected on the fire, explaining that, “it took a lot of people by surprise that it got into Fort McMurray, becoming an urban conflagration.”

 

To better understand this area of Canada, Shayne relayed that it is in the northern arboreal forests and is a big economic area for timber, oil, and gas extraction.  Fort McMurry is the home of Canada’s large oil sands production facilities and was not a big community until the oil boom of the past decade.

 

I asked Shayne about the current evacuations and he shared that, “the community is served by one highway in and out with one bridge on Highway 63 into Fort McMurray.  Since a southern evacuation has presented challenges, many residents are fleeing north to camp areas and mining camps.  These commercial mining camps are airlifting or otherwise relocating staff to facilitate evacuees.”  He added that local press has already marked this as the largest evacuation in Alberta history and that the wildfire has eclipsed the home loss of the 2011 Slave Lake, Alberta, wildfire.

 

Shayne’s shared that his message to both Canadian and NFPA audiences elsewhere, “is that communities can help defend against wildfires by applying the principles of FireSmart, and for more information, visit www.firesmartcanada.ca to learn more on how to help reduce the wildfire risk they may face in their communities”

 

Photo Credit: Terry Reith/CBC (5 May 2016, Wildfires: The science of how they spread and how they're stopped - Technology & Science - CBC News )

6a00d8351b9f3453ef01bb08afa92e970d-250wi.jpgHow can home builders and developers address the daunting risk of wildfire? A beautiful new e-book from Green Builder Media and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows how in just eight pages.

 

“Design with Fire in Mind: Three Steps to a Safer New Home,” is based on principles from NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program, which addresses site design, construction and landscaping, as well as property maintenance and wildfire safety education of residents.

 

These principles are based on solid fire science research into how homes ignite, and comes from the world’s leading fire experts (we’re looking at you, Drs. Jack Cohen and Stephen Quarles) whose experiments, models and data collection are based on some of the country’s worst wildland fire disasters.

 

In addition to links to educational resources and videos that can easily be downloaded and shared for free, readers will be able to get a more in-depth look at the e-book’s three main topics:

  • Creating a Firewise landscape, including limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and materials immediately surrounding the home
  • Considering the impact of flames, embers and radiant heat when building homes
  • Understanding the role of home and property maintenance in reducing damage from wildfire

 

Download this free e-book resource HERE, or visit www.greenbuildermedia.com and www.nfpa.org for more information

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