AUTHOR: Lucian Deaton

NFPA Journal explores how we can collectively Outthink Wildfire™

The new Spring NFPA Journal is out and its feature article takes an in depth view on NFPA’s bold new strategy for ending the destruction of communities by wildfire in 30 years.  To Outthink Wildfire™, we can’t simply do what we’ve always done to address the problem.  What is needed are new approaches, new tactics, and a new resolve to use what we’ve learned about the risks of the wildland/urban interface (WUI) over the past 50 years to create a new blueprint for addressing the nation’s wildfire crisis.  The article explores the five key action policies for this new call to action, provides relevant examples about where the challenges are and where they are being solved, and calls on you to make a difference.  I enjoyed the privilege of collaborating with NFPA’s Wildfire Division Director, Michele Steinberg, on this article and hearing her excitement for the vision of Outthink Wildfire™.  When the NFPA Journal’s feature article was released earlier this week, she explained, “We can’t wait any longer, hoping that a specific industry or agency will take the first step to changing future outcomes. By taking a holistic approach and inviting decision-makers and stakeholders to engage in the solutions together, we can strengthen the arguments in favor of sustainable building and land management. Together, we can come to consensus on the solutions to provide better protection of the people and places at risk from wildfire destruction.” I share her excitement.  Recent destructive wildfires bring into stark focus that the continued loss of life, property, and local economic vitality is unacceptable.  The challenges in social equity from this risk are unacceptable and a holistic approach is truly needed to outthink wildfire.  This will require a generational shift that seeks changes over the natural life cycle of existing homes and public demand, just as the progressive response to urban conflagrations in the 19th and 20th centuries achieved.  Ultimately, we need to make the loss of communities to wildfire a lesson of history, not a part of our future. Learn more about the Outthink Wildfire™ action policies and their call to action for your community

NFPA to present how we can Outthink Wildfire™ at Facebook Live event on February 23

In recent years, the United States has suffered a relentless tally of losses due to wildfire, a trend that experts predict will only continue to grow. On February 23, 2 p.m. ET, we invite you to join us for a Facebook Live event that will kick-off  Outthink Wildfire™, a new comprehensive strategy that calls for policy action at all levels of government to end the destruction of communities by wildfire by 2050.  The event will feature remarks and a live Q&A session with our panel of experts, including: Jim Pauley, President and CEO, NFPA; Roy Wright, President and CEO, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS); Jeffrey D. Johnson, Fire Chief (Ret.), Chief Executive, Western Fire Chiefs Association; and Alison Alter, Austin District 10 City Council Member. Reflecting on the evolving landscape of wildfire, NFPA’s Jim Pauley shared that, “The time is now to face two harsh realities, wildfires are going to happen and the fire service alone lacks the capacity to contain and extinguish these fires at their current pace.”  Jim went onto explain that, “Through collaboration that begins with policy implementation, we can reverse this direction of loss and pursue a course of action that will better protect our communities, our citizens, and our first responders.” Mark your calendars for February 23, 2 p.m. ET and share our Facebook Live invite with your network on social media.  Your presence at this event and participation in advocating for change is critical. Learn more about how you can Outthink Wildfire™ and the change you can bring in local policy action. We look forward to seeing you on February 23. 

Use these 4 easy steps to build your home wildfire safety knowledge

Nearly 45 million homes currently exist in our nation’s wildland-urban interface (WUI). With more people moving to areas of wildfire risk every year, it’s critical that residents take action to help protect their homes and communities from wildfire. The challenge faced in many communities is that residents may not fully understand the risks or actions they can take to reduce them. Many people may believe that firefighters will be able to protect their homes and rescue them from wildfires, not understanding that residents have an important role to play in their own safety. So, what can you do as a resident in the WUI? The first step is to make sure you understand the concept of the “home ignition zone” and how it impacts your home. Years of scientific research show that removing fuel sources from the area immediately around the home reduces the risk of home ignition from embers or radiant heat. The basic idea of the Home Ignition Zone is that the construction and composition of a home and its surrounding vegetation have the biggest influence on whether a home will ignite from a wildfire. The first 0 to 5 feet around a structure, known as the “Immediate Zone,” is critical. Work there to reduce the risk may be no more complicated than seasonal yard and debris cleaning.  Firewise USA® has online resources that can help you build your knowledge in 4 easy steps: First, visit the program’s Home Ignition Zone resource page. There, you can read more about the risks to homes by wildfire embers and actions you can take in the “Immediate”, “Intermediate”, and “Extended” zones from your home to reduce those risks. Second, view the 30-min, “Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes”, online training video. This engaging video will help you understand the basics of how wildfires progress, ignite homes, and the actions that can be implemented to make homes safer. Third, read the various Wildfire Research Fact Sheets, created by NFPA and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. These will take your strong knowledge of the home ignition zone and apply it to risk areas around your house, like vents & under-eave construction, roofing materials, skylights, siding, decks, and fencing. Fourth, put this knowledge into action by viewing the 30-min, “Community Wildfire Risk Assessment”, online interactive tutorial. You will learn how to evaluate your community’s strengths and vulnerabilities to wildfire and define action plans that you and your neighbors can accomplish. Next, build on these steps by learning about your local fire history and the situational awareness of wildfire threats.Your local fire department and state forestry agency will have many resources to help develop this knowledge. Now, talk with your neighbors. All of this knowledge can’t stay in a vacuum.Residents must work together, sharing knowledge and even volunteering to help others, because wildfire is a common risk to an entire community. Federal campaigns like the “Fire Adapted Communities” Network foster communication among all stakeholders in a community.  National programs like Firewise USA® give residents a common purpose in a neighborhood and a path forward.  What can local government and agencies do to support the building of public knowledge? All levels of government can help create a more informed public that is ready to take steps needed for a future with more wildfire activity. Through initiatives like educating residents on ignition-resistant home improvements and property mitigation; to supporting the development of a trusted workforce homeowners can look to for mitigation guidance and labor; to funding social science research to better understand human behavior in the context of disasters; and ensuring people know what actions to take when there is a wildfire, including evacuation; these will not only save lives and property but also reduce the burden on first responders.  Fire safety educators should keep in mind that people might be new to the entire concept. In some cases, people move to new areas because of employment, life changes, or retirement. In other cases, the very landscape around them evolves, due to development, regional drought, and invasive vegetation. Whatever the case may be, the public must understand the risks around them and importantly, feel empowered that they can indeed make a difference.   There is also the challenge of reaching all of those at risk to wildfire. These include the elderly, disabled, and economically disadvantaged groups who are more likely to be in areas of higher wildfire risk and who often face tragic results from wildfire events.  Additionally, there are folks at risk, maybe even your own neighbors, who may not have the means or ability to do risk reduction steps around their home.Local governments and agencies must ensure that their outreach recognizes and meets the needs of all their residents. Learn more from the resource links above and bring your knowledge to the solution for wildfire loss. 
PC Cindy Leonard for 22Oct2020 blog IMG_1558

An innovative community event drives home wildfire preparedness

A Firewise site in California used the five-year anniversary of a tragic wildfire and the rebuilding of a damaged local bridge to host an innovative community event that drew residents and numerous local agencies.  The event illustrates how a Firewise site can sustain local risk knowledge, while also bringing neighbors together in a challenging time to gain wildfire education and guidance on what they can accomplish around their own homes individually.  A local newspaper article highlighted that the Cobb Firewise Group 2 in Lake County, California, hosted a, “ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the newly restored bridge and a drive-thru contest where participating residents decorated their own vehicles or golf carts and drove them across the bridge.”  This, among other events held this year, helped Cobb Firewise Group 2 renew and continue their active status in the Firewise USA® Program.  I caught up with the site's organizer, Cindy Leonard, who shared with me that they, “have been hard at work on fire preparedness and emergency preparedness, while we are also still in the midst of disaster recovery from the Valley Fire National Disaster in 2015.” Adapting to the realities of 2020, Cindy explained that, “The Emergency Preparedness Committee of the Cobb Area Council started doing two annual preparedness events a few years back.  When it came time to do our Spring event we needed to pivot to the drive-through model due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  We are used to pivoting around here, due to PSPS [public safety power shut off] events, evacuations, smoke days, it seems like every year something new gets added to the list!” To help host the event, Cindy noted that they, “received some funding through the EPIC/Listos program that North Coast Opportunities is administrating, as well as funds from the Rebuild North Bay foundation to do the spring drive-through event.” We applaud Cobb Firewise Group 2's commitment to the Firewise USA® program through their innovative community outreach and to building resident empowerment around wildfire risks in Lake County, California.  Learn more about what you can do around your home by taking a drive over to   Photo Credit: Cindy Leonard, 21 October 2020.  As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage. Follow NFPA's FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.
Cedar Fire 2003 Firewise Photo Library

Recent op-ed explores burned homes near green trees

A recent op-ed picked up by many small-town papers reminds us that amidst the all too frequent scenes of burned out homes following a wildfire are neighboring green trees. The op-ed challenges our perception of wildfire impacts and its authors, Professor Stephen Pyne and Forest Service Fire Scientist Dr. Jack Cohen, have a lot of experience to share on the topic.In the piece, they explore why the “tsunami of flame” narrative is so appealing but also why it is not reflective at all of how wildfire spreads in a community, nor of the urban conflagration that unfortunately follows. In reading it myself, I find Pyne and Cohen bring a wealth of historical context to the current wildfire risk discussion. As we develop again in rural areas with new “wildland urban interface”, it's a lesson worth hearing again too.The op-ed is part of the “Writers on the Range” initiative that helps support local and rural newspapers in western states with journalism pieces that discuss the region's natural resource diversity. I encourage you to read some of the other pieces on their site and, of course, in local papers across the west. As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.Follow NFPA's FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

New podcast explores how wildfire evacuation meets COVID-19

Evacuating large groups of people with little notice during an evolving wildfire event is challenge enough in any other year.  But in 2020, the added risk to evacuees and responders from COVID-19 exposure hangs ominously over an already difficult effort.  So what is being done to balance this current reality?  The latest NFPA Podcast talks with Luke Beckman, a director at the Red Cross Pacific Division, to learn how the organization revamped its response plans and operations ahead of the massive wildfires now striking Northern California. I caught up with Jesse Roman, Associate Editor of NFPA Journal and the host of The NFPA Podcast, to learn what stood out to him from the conversation.  Jesse shared, “It was amazing to learn how the pandemic forced the Red Cross to completely change so many aspects of its disaster response. Even things like feeding and sheltering evacuees—stuff the Red Cross has been doing a very long time—suddenly had to be completely re-imagined in just a few months because of the virus." Jesse went onto explain that, “It's incredible how quickly they were able develop new strategies, train their huge staff of volunteers, and be ready to jump right into action when the fires hit.” This conversation, "Disaster Planning During a Pandemic", has additional insight about similar evacuation planning for late July's Hurricane Isaias, and can be found under the “Latest Podcasts” from August on The NFPA Podcast page.  Previous editions are also worth your time and you can listen and subscribe to it on Apple, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.  As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage. Follow NFPA's FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.
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