AUTHOR: Lucian Deaton

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.
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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.

California's current wildfires are different than previous for two reasons

Today's LA Times article about the numerous wildfires north of San Francisco, CA, and in Northern California highlights in stark terms their current challenge.  “…The sheer magnitude of what has already burned is sobering: about 1.3 million acres this month alone, with four more months of potential fire season to go. Only 2018 saw more land scorched in California — over an entire year.”  Wildfires in California are a normal occurrence, but two factors make the current situation more severe then we're used to hearing about at this time of year.  One is a tremendous amount of lightning and the other is that August's dry weather creates a much different landscape then what meets the usual wildfires of October and November.  As of Monday, August 24, there are over two dozen major fires and multi-fire event “lightning complexes”.  The San Francisco Chronicle has a very good live-map of the current wildfires and their status information.  The LA Times explains that, “the blazes include the LNU Lightning Complex fire, which at nearly 350,000 acres is the second-largest fire in California history. The SCU Lightning Complex fire, at more than 347,000 acres, is the next largest.  Combined, they dwarf the Thomas fire, which at 281,893 acres shattered the records just three years ago.” The majority of the roughly 1100 residential and commercial structures lost and evacuations seen thus far have occurred since August 15, “which marked the start of what officials are calling a “lightning siege” of about 12,000 strikes that started an estimated 585 fires…” in the state, as noted by the LA Times.  I spoke with NFPA's Wildfire Field Representative, Dave Shew – also a long-time California resident – about the role lightning is playing in ignitions and he explained that usually at this time of year, weather that is generating lightning is more north in the Sierra Nevada Mountain areas, not down towards San Francisco, and never this concentrated.  He stressed, “the widespread lightning siege in the Bay area is unheard of at this time of year.”  Lightning is also connecting with a landscape full of dry vegetation baking in August's heat.  There is also little respite delivered by over-night lower temperatures that one would usually see in the fall months.  From his vantage point in Napa County, CA, north of San Francisco, Dave shared with me that these current wildfires, “seem to have a very different feel from our typical fall wind event fires.  With those, we get hurricane force winds blowing everything up, but as soon as the wind stops blowing, the fires essentially go out.  With these, we are still in the summer, with longer, hotter days, and very little or no cooling at night to allow for a “recovery” period.” Dave went onto explain that these current fires, “appear to be largely topography driven, and yes, there are significant winds, but much more influence from dry vegetation and topography than normal.”  As lightning findings this fuel, he explains that it is, “not uncommon for them to smolder for a week or more before they start really burning.  So unfortunately, we are nowhere near out of the woods yet.” Photo Credits: 1) Dave Shew, NFPA. 8-17-2020 PM Hennesey and Gamble Columns.   2) Dave Shew, NFPA. 8-24-2020 current smoke obscuring views from a similar perspective.  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.

Provide your insight to NFPA's wildfire preparedness and management standards

One of the most notable features about NFPA standards is that their development process is open and consensus-based.  That means anybody can participate in the development of these important documents and the standards reflect the professional insight of their various stakeholders and end-users.  This goes for NFPA's wildfire standards as well and their current revision process is underway.  This process includes a consolidation effort, review of term definitions, and technical updates.  Below is an overview of that current process by Barry Chase, NFPA Standards Lead for Emergency Response and Responder Safety.  Barry is also the Staff Liaison to the NFPA technical committees on Wildland Fire Management and Wildland and Rural Fire Protection.  He explains the consolidation effort and technical changes the committee are examining.  Their process is public and you can both learn more about their deliberations (narrative below) and submit your own comments for official consideration (steps described at end).     Barry shares, "By far, the largest and most obvious change in this revision cycle is the consolidation of four wildland standards: NFPA 1051, NFPA 1141, NFPA 1143, and NFPA 1144 into a single, new document, titled, NFPA 1140 Standard for Wildland Fire Management. This consolidation is part of a larger plan to eliminate redundancy and align content across all of the emergency management, emergency response, and responder safety standards.  The consolidation will also simplify the standards-buying experience, which is something that our stakeholders have requested. I should mention that NFPA 1142 Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Fire Fighting and NFPA 1145 Guide for the Use of Class A Foams in Fire Fighting are also being revised at the same time, but they will remain as separate, standalone documents. One area where the consolidation of four standards into one will have a noticeable impact is the definitions of terms. Because the four standards were developed by different groups of people at different times, the definitions for several key terms were not consistent across all four books. Going forward, we will have a single definition for: defensible space, fire hazard, fuel, incident action plan (IAP), jurisdiction, risk, slope, wildland fire, and wildland/urban interface. While most of the focus has been on editorial adjustments and technical alignment of the consolidated material in NFPA 1140, some topics that could see significant technical changes include the following: [Note: These are shared with the standard number, followed by its referenced chapter] Building separation and setback distances [1140: 12.2] Automatic protection of one- and two-family dwellings and residential apartment buildings [1140: 14.1] Planning for physical space as an element of the community's emergency operational plan [1140: 17.7] Planning for backfill costs as an element of the wildland fire response plan [1140: 20.2] Building construction design and materials specifications [1140: 2.2] Guidance on air operations for wildland fire incidents [1140: Annex J] Minimum water supply and delivery rates [1142: 4.6.1] Water availability studies [1142: 7.1.7, along with several new definitions] Water supply strainer clearance [1142: 8.5] Guidance on the use of floating submersible source pumps [1142: E.5.5] Class A foam mix tables [1145: 4.2.1] I encourage anyone with an interest in wildland fire management to review and comment on the first draft reports by  following the "submit a public comment" option. The comment period ends on October 9, 2020.” Photo Credit: Firewise USA Photo Library 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.

Add these 3 "Immediate Zone" resources to your community's next online gathering

COVID-19 has made in-person meetings difficult, but that doesn't have to stop your educational outreach with fellow residents.  Move those gatherings with your neighbors online with these three “immediate zone” resources from Firewise USA to spark the conversation about how they can reduce the risk of wildfire around their homes.   For an introduction, share your screen and talk through the, “How to Prepare your Home for Wildfires” 1-pager (available in English and Spanish) that will help your fellow residents better understand the wildfire home risk.  The document reviews vegetation management needs.  It gives guidance on reducing the risks from embers on roofing, vents, decks, porches, sidings, and windows.  It also addresses emergency responder access, their safety, and tips for your wildfire emergency action plan.   Next, dive deeper into the “immediate zone” of 0-5 feet around structures with the most recent wildfire research fact sheet from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and Firewise USA, which focuses on the “Immediate (Noncombustible) Zone”.  The document provides key observations and actionable recommendations from the latest wildfire science research on how to create and maintain 5 feet of noncombustible space around the exterior of a building.Finally, call on your neighbors to put this knowledge into action by agreeing to do simple activities around their homes on their own that can reduce wildfire risks.  These include:1) Raking and removing pine needles and dry leaves within a minimum of 3 to 5 feet of a home's foundation. And if you have the time, continue raking up to a 30-foot distance around the home. Dispose of collected debris in appropriate trash receptacles.2) Cleaning pine needles from your roof and gutters and paying attention to maintaining the home ignition zone.3) Getting out your measuring tape and seeing how close wood piles are located to the home. If they are closer than 30 feet, relocate them to at least 30 feet away from structures.4) Sweeping porches and decks, clearing them of leaves and pine needles. Raking under decks, porches, sheds, and play structures.5) Mowing grasses to a height of 4 inches or less.6) Removing items stored under decks and porches and relocating them to a storage shed, garage, or basement. Gasoline cans and portable propane tanks should never be stored indoors and should be located away from the home. As an additional resource, IBHS has a series of “Weekend Wildfire Preparedness” projects that highlight what residents can do to create defensible space, maintain their roofs & gutters, seal garage doors to protect against ember intrusion, maintain decks, assess their overall wildfire risks, and most importantly, promote the value of talking with neighbors. Their corresponding image cards can become slides that continue the conversation amongst your fellow residents on your video call.  Now, go host an online meeting with your neighbors on one of the many video-conferences platforms and show these 3 (plus one more) “immediate zone” resources during your educational outreach event. Additionally, you can also link to these resources from your community website or social media page to spread the educational outreach message with neighbors and collectively reduce your risk from wildfire.    Want even more? Check out our recent blog that shares 3 videos for your community's next online gathering.   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.

Learning from wildfire losses in the 2019 NFPA Firefighter Fatality report

In the July/August NFPA Journal, a feature section shares the completed 2019 NFPA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States report. While the report highlights the lowering trend of line-of-duty-deaths in the United States, those occurring on wildland fires continue.  The report's selected on-duty firefighter fatality case studies provides insight on these loss-events and affords all of us a moment of reflection on how these tragedies could be avoided in the future.  As the Journal article shares, “An important milestone was achieved in the United States in 2019: For the first time, fewer than 50 deaths of firefighters occurred while they were on the job. The article continues that, “Other important achievements included the lowest number of deaths of volunteer firefighters, the fewest deaths in road vehicle crashes, and the lowest number of cardiac deaths. There were no multiple-fatality incidents in 2019, the only time that has been the case since NFPA began conducting this study in 1977.” While these trends are lower, 48 firefighters in 2019 gave the ultimate sacrifice while on duty related to injuries and illnesses.  Of that count, six died while engaged or responding to a wildfire or prescribed burn and one in wildland firefighter training.  Two were firefighters who had heart attacks while responding; one from fatal burns when their vehicle was overrun by flames; one in a water tanker trash responding to a wildfire; one from heat exposure during a training exercise; and two while engaged in prescribed burns.   You can read about some of these and others in the report's selected on-duty firefighter fatality case studies.  Rita Fahy, NFPA Applied Research Manager and lead author of the 2019 report, shared some historic context with me on wildfire firefighter losses over the past 10 years.  She explained that, “Of the 670 U.S. firefighters killed on-duty over the past 10 years (2010-2019), 90 were killed on wildland fires or during prescribed burns, and at least 20 others were killed while responding to or returning from such fires. These included volunteer and career firefighters as well as employees and contractors with federal and state wildland management agencies, inmate firefighters and supervisors, and military firefighters.  In addition to those fatalities directly related to fires, another 21 wildland firefighters were killed while on-duty.” In addition to the NFPA Journal article summary, you can read the entire 2019 NFPA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States report.  As always, our thoughts are with the families of the fallen and we are again reminded of the sacrifices firefighters give to ensure the safety of others.  Photo Credit: Firefighter Fatalities report NFPA Journal article screen shot pulled 30July2020.  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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