Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on September 1, 2015.

It's Coming. You Ready?
A new video offers homeowners tips on keeping their property wildfire-resistant. Plus, a new community preparedness program for teens, and an upcoming assessment of fire departments' wildfire readiness. 

ACCORDING TO WILDFIRE researcher Jack Cohen, “extreme wildfires are inevitable, but extreme wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire disasters are not” if homeowners take proper precautions. That’s what Cohen, a scientist at the USDA Forest Service Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory and a founder of the Firewise Communities/USA® recognition programs, hopes viewers will take away from a new 15-minute informational video called “Will Your Home Survive a Wildfire?”

Shot in conjunction with NFPA, the video shows homeowners how they can take small steps, such as removing pine needles from gutters and moving mulch away from foundations, to drastically reduce the likelihood of their home being destroyed by wildfire. The principle idea, pioneered by Cohen’s research, is that the amount and type of fuel within 100 feet or so from a house—Cohen calls this area the “home ignition zone”—determines the home’s ignition potential. Keeping this area fire-resistant through regular upkeep “is all you have to pay attention to,” he said.

“Our perception is that nothing can be done in the face of a large wildfire—we have these huge flames and towering smoke columns, so how can anything survive within that?” Cohen said. “But the reality is we have the ability to prepare our homes and their immediate surroundings so that we can separate them from extreme wildfire.”

The video will debut at NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond Wildland Education Conference, October 22–25 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Following its debut, the video will be available at youtube.com/user/nfpadotorg.

Young adults urged to take action

NFPA and State Farm have launched a campaign to encourage teenagers and young adults to participate in service projects that help communities prepare for and recover from wildfire, flooding, and mudslides.

The campaign, called TakeAction, aims to educate young adults about the wildfire problem and about what they can do to make their homes and communities safer and more resilient. As part of the effort, NFPA is producing three targeted videos and checklists to help students find and participate in projects and earn community service credits. The launch also includes an opportunity for U.S. residents ages 13–22, who complete a wildfire-related project to submit an application, to receive one of 20 $500 Community Service Funding Awards. The money can be used for future educational costs, or as a donation to a charity of their choice.

According to estimates, in the U.S. more than 8,000,000 students in grades 6–12 live in a wildland/urban interface community where wildfire property damage risk is generally highest. However, nationwide, there are few wildland fire education programs that focus exclusively on changing youth behaviors and attitudes about wildfire prevention, preparedness, and mitigation.

NFPA conducts assessment of fire department wildfire preparedness

NFPA has undertaken a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind assessment to learn more about how prepared the nation’s municipal fire departments are to confront the growing wildfire problem.

Researchers interviewed 45 fire personnel nationwide, representing both rural and urban fire departments, “to try and understand the shortcomings and gaps in preparedness and how to address these problems,” said Hylton Haynes, a senior research analyst at NFPA heading up the project. From speaking with local WUI fire departments, researchers also hope to identify the departmental capabilities and characteristics most important to successfully combating wildfire and other related hazards.

The first phase of the project, an initial analysis of 25 interviews, is slated to be published in early November and will be available at nfpa.org/Phase_1_WUI_Fire_Department_Report. The full report, which will encompass all of the interviews, will be released in the summer of 2016. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed for themes, patterns, and valuable insights. The interviewees were granted anonymity to ensure candid answers.

“Some key elements from Phase I will be best practices from the field and sharing some of those ideas,” Haynes said. “There was a significant amount of learning captured in these interviews and we tried to distill it all.” A comprehensive look at the Phase I results will be published in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal.

JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal.