AUTHOR: Michele Steinberg

Wildfire Prep Day toolkit
Paradise RIdge destruction

The rush to rebuild: Local reaction to disasters perpetuates a vicious cycle and sacrifices safety

The truism that things only change after a disaster is once again proved false. While it is comforting to believe that following the destruction of thousands of homes – in northern California, in southern Oregon, in the Front Range of Colorado – that rebuilding will happen carefully, with all precautions against future wildfires put in place, it simply isn’t happening. Why not?  A recent op-ed by a resident of Talent, Oregon, points to the ugly truth. Along with many others, he was evacuated during a major wildfire that entered town. In mourning the devastating loss of more than 600 homes, he noted that the wildfire became an urban conflagration – a disaster fueled by structures, not trees – when it entered the town. He wrote “As an evacuee, it’s only natural for me to feel angry about the abject neglect for public safety that could have been avoided with proper planning by elected officials in a region that is feeling unprecedented pain.”  State and local officials in wildfire-prone areas have kicked the regulatory can down the road for so long, it’s almost as if they don’t realize there are alternatives to the brutal cycle of build, burn, repeat. The stale, unsupported arguments against sound safety standards and land use planning come down to this: it costs too much. But who is it costing? And how much is too much? Has anyone calculated the cost to future generations of building substandard housing intended to last 50-100 years, that may burn to the ground in a decade or two?  Recent articles have revealed that communities devastated by disaster aren’t rebuilding safely because state and local officials have abdicated their responsibility for public safety, bowing to pressure to maintain the increasingly hazardous status quo. As soon as special interests from the building industry raise the specter of “too expensive,” it shuts down any meaningful debate or change. These articles ponder the failure of governments to enact sensible building codes and zoning, highlighting the arguments put forward by builders. They warn of tens of thousands of dollars added to the cost of building a new home but provide no basis for these figures. They preach that Americans have the right to build where and how they want, and that people are smart enough to figure out how to build safely without “onerous” or “draconian” rules governing new home construction and siting. Research by NFPA and others demonstrate how off-base these kinds of statements are. In 2018, Headwaters Economics and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety demonstrated that new homes built to meet wildfire safety codes cost no more than – or even less than – the same type of home built with combustible materials and elements. In 2017, NFPA commissioned an independent survey of 1,000 Americans, showing that 8 in 10 adults assume their homes met the most up-to-date codes when constructed, and even more of them (86%) were confident that if they built a newly constructed home, it would meet the most up-to-date fire and electrical safety codes. What a shock, then, for people who lose everything they own to wildfire to learn that the government they trusted with their safety has done absolutely nothing to secure it.   NFPA and other code-making organizations have sound, science-based standards available for local jurisdictions to address the serious and growing threats that wildfire poses to life, property and the fabric of our communities. But these standards do no good unless they are used and enforced. In the aftermath of wildfire disasters, when the desire to rebuild and “get back to normal” is overwhelming, new regulations are an extremely hard sell. But to end the vicious cycle of rebuilding with inadequate safety measures, state and local governments must act now. The security of our children and grandchildren depends upon it.   Photo: Michele Steinberg, Paradise Ridge Destruction
Wildfire Community Preparedness Day

What you do makes a difference: Wildfire Community Preparedness Day 2021 launches to help protect homes and neighborhoods

Now more than ever, it’s vital that people take steps to protect their homes from wildfire. That’s why NFPA and State Farm® are hosting the eighth annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day event on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Financial support from State Farm will once again enable NFPA to provide 150 applicants from across the country with $500 awards to complete a wildfire risk reduction project. Research show there are proven methods to prepare properties to withstand the devastating impacts of a wildfire. NFPA encourages project award applicants to focus on eliminating ignition hazards in the Home Ignition Zone – the home and everything right around it. Simple, low cost projects such as clearing dead leaves, debris, and pine needles from roofs and gutters, keeping lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches, removing anything stored underneath decks or porches that could burn, and other similar actions are being actively supported by NFPA and State Farm on Preparedness Day and can be easily undertaken by most homeowners. Given the current challenge to holding large in-person gatherings, Preparedness Day can be the ideal time for individuals and families to focus on improving fire protection and safety where it can make the biggest difference – around your home and property. Get ready to make a difference and get involved in wildfire risk reduction where you live. Plan your project and apply now through February 26, 2021 for an award.  
HIZ Class26 TX 2015

FEMA's Fire Prevention & Safety Grant to support creation of a digital wildfire risk reduction program

To meet the needs of homeowners and business owners at risk from wildfire, and the fire departments that serve them, NFPA will develop a digital wildfire safety hub containing online learning modules, 3D simulations, educational videos, and other essential resources, all thanks to a generous FEMA grant. The Fire Prevention & Safety Grant was awarded to NFPA for a two-year project to transform its classroom-based wildfire risk reduction training into a comprehensive digital learning experience that reaches millions of Americans living and working in the wildland/urban interface (WUI). While the past few years of devastating wildfires in California have captured national attention, it's not only California communities that are vulnerable. The recently released Wildfire Risk to Communities data shows that 24 states, nearly half outside the Western U.S., have a significant risk to homes.With nearly 44 million properties identified as vulnerable to the impacts of wildfires nationwide, the potential for future structure damage and loss is enormous. NFPA chose a digital experiential approach to ensure the widest possible dissemination and implementation of critical wildfire mitigation measures to these high-risk areas. The project will be conducted in partnership with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization, and overseen by a technical advisory panel of experts. NFPA will develop three curricula: one each for homeowners, business owners/property managers, and fire service and public safety personnel. Each will provide the appropriate knowledge for each audience regarding WUI fire mitigation practices, using interactive web-based training and engaging simulations in a 3D virtual environment. The experiential training modules and additional tools will be readily available, along with NFPA's rich wildfire safety content, on the planned website hub. NFPA believes the courses and tools we will build with the support of this grant will help spur much needed risk-reduction measures at the property and neighborhood levels, buoying the voluntary efforts of residents and firefighters who engage in fire adaptation including NFPA's Firewise USA Recognition Program and its annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day campaign. Image: An in-person classroom training, Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire. The new training and resources will use the information and knowledge this class is based on to expand NFPA's wildfire safety education to millions of Americans through digital delivery.

Colorado wildfires break records, and it's not over yet

Even as wildfire weather conditions continue to plague parts of California, October has seen wildfire activity erupt across Colorado. In recent days, fires that have been burning in more remote areas of northwest and central parts of the state for more than two months have been joined by fires closer to populated areas including the city and county of Boulder and the celebrated resort town of Estes Park. At the time of writing this blog, the National Weather Service is predicting cold and snow moving in – but the cold front is bringing strong winds first, that will make controlling the spread and movement of these fires all but impossible. It's hard to get a handle on all that's happening, but reports include thousands of people evacuated from developed areas all around the Front Range region. In our current pandemic situation, sheltering thousands of people together presents real concerns about virus transmission. The East Troublesome wildfire has grown in just a couple of days to the second-largest wildfire in the state's history (the Cameron Peak fire north of it near Fort Collins, still burning after starting in mid-August, is the largest at more than 200,000 acres). There are real concerns that these fires will spread and join. It's mind-boggling to watch as week by week and day by day, “largest fire” records are shattered. NFPA's Firewise map includes the data on fire perimeters and hotspots for you to track the location and growth of these fires. There have been homes destroyed, but while the fires are still burning, firefighters and county sheriffs are focused on fire response, not yet on damage assessment. Many community safety leaders are sharing information about safe evacuation, safe return, and disaster recovery. As my NFPA colleague Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan posted back in September, it's time to be prepared, especially to evacuate, if you're in an area with a fire weather watch or warning happening. See her post for the tips we provide to keep you and your family safe. If you are in an area under these warnings, keep aware of the news and check your local sheriff's or emergency management agency's website or social media pages. As the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association advises, be sure to take steps to protect your finances by knowing your insurance policy, keeping your receipts, and contacting your agent whether you've been evacuated, are under a pre-evacuation alert, or if you've suffered a loss due to wildfire.

Second major insurer offers California homeowners discounts for reducing wildfire risk

In recognition of the value of wildfire risk reduction, including participation in NFPA's Firewise USA Recognition Program, Mercury Insurance is the second major insurance company in recent years to offer discounts to its California customers who have taken steps to protect their homes. Wildfire season in California has gotten progressively worse in recent years, lasting longer and growing in severity. It's increasingly important for homeowners to actively reduce their wildfire risk to better protect their homes, families, and property.   Mercury Insurance now offers wildfire mitigation discounts to California homeowners living in wildfire-prone regions. Homeowners who take one or more steps to harden their homes against wildfires or live in a community recognized by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as a Firewise USA site will be eligible to receive discounts of up to 18%.   “We're in this together, which is why Mercury is engineering solutions to encourage proactive actions that better protect homeowners from wildfires,” said Jane Li, Mercury Insurance's director of product management. “It's important for homeowners in these areas to take proactive steps to help shield their property from fire, and it's just as important for everyone in the community to work together to reduce their shared ignition risks, which could save them money and improve their insurance eligibility.” Mercury joins auto and home insurer USAA in rewarding homeowners for their active participation in wildfire risk reduction via the Firewise USA Recognition Program. USAA began offering a homeowners insurance discount to its members in Firewise USA sites in California in 2014 and has expanded this program to 10 additional states over the years. Mercury's community-level discount is for homes that are located in an NFPA Firewise USA Recognition Program site, shelter-in-place community, or are part of a community with an active annual fuel mitigation program in place. To learn more about eligibility, get an online quote or speak to a Mercury agent.  To learn more about Firewise USA and whether your community participates, please visit
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