LET'S TALK NUMBERS. How about $453,700,000 and $113,700,000—those figures represent the direct property dollar loss from two of the three largest loss fires in 2012. Both were wildland fires. What about 67,704 and 9,326,238—the number of wildland fires and the number of acres burned in 2012, respectively. That’s the equivalent of burning an area larger than New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware combined.
Why am I focusing on all of these numbers? Because they show with clarity that our job as outlined in the NFPA mission—“To reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life”—is not done. Our changing environment and living conditions provide continual challenges that need to be addressed. In decades past, the wildfire problem was thought of as a “California problem” or an “Oregon problem,” but that isn’t true today. From Florida to Texas to the Western United States, the incidence of wildland fires continues to grow. As I write, there are 112 active wildfires taking place in six states. Drought conditions and rising temperatures contribute to a broader geographical concern, and are transforming what used to be known as a “wildfire season” into a year-round concern.
Wildland fire is an environmental reality, but home destruction and the devastation of whole communities need not occur. To change the situation, we need more action before the fires happen. According to reports, the U.S. Forest Service spent $1.3 billion fighting wildland fires in 2013, compared to $26.6 million spent on programs to help communities adapt to fire and to clear fire-prone areas.
NFPA strongly supports education, individual initiative, and continued policy advancement. On the education front, we are making progress with our Firewise Communities and Fire Adapted Communities programs. By the end of this year, we expect to have 1,200 communities designated as Firewise Communities/USA sites. Through these education programs and other incentives, individuals are being motivated to take action. In May, NFPA launched the first national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, inspiring people in more than 100 communities in 21 states to take part in activities to reduce future fire risks. This spring, USAA became the first major property/casualty insurer to step up to the plate and offer homeowner insurance policy savings to its members living in recognized Firewise Communities/USA sites in California. I commend USAA on its leadership and encourage other insurers to consider taking Firewise into account for their policyholders.
In the policy arena, NFPA offers information and resources to help state and local governments make sound decisions when it comes to planning, siting, constructing and maintaining infrastructure, businesses, and housing in areas at risk to wildfire.
We’re working with our fire service members and with our partners in federal land management and firefighting not only to call for the appropriate resources to combat the fires when they break out, but also to direct more resources to prevention, education, and mitigation in order to better protect people and property before fires ever start. It is going to take all of this to change these numbers for the better, and NFPA will continue to be a strong voice and advocate in the wildfire arena.