AUTHOR: Michele Steinberg


National Public Radio interview features Jack Cohen speaking on embers as culprits when homes ignite during wildfires

A short NPR interview aired today that included perspectives on home destruction during wildland fires. A Colorado firefighter who experienced the loss of his own home during the Fourmile Canyon Fire near Boulder in 2010, was a first-hand witness to the power of embers to take down a home. Dr. Jack Cohen, a preeminent fire scientist recently retired from the US Forest Service, spoke to his own years of research on the home destruction phenomenon, particularly his home destruction assessment as part of the Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings published by the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.​ For nearly three decades, Cohen's research findings have belied what we see on the screen. As firefighter Rodrigo Moraga observes in the interview, "In Wildfires, Big Flames Attract Attention, But Watch Out For The Embers," the big wall of flames is what catches our attention on television, but it is not usually the culprit in home destruction. Rather, as Cohen points out, because firefighting resources are stretched thin and embers are igniting homes ahead of the flames through wind and spot fires, nobody is on the scene when the small ignitions start - and hours later, homes are destroyed. For more about what you can do now to protect your home from flames and embers before a fire ever starts, visit To bring top wildfire experts to your region to train you to spot home ignition hazards and assist residents with sound wildfire safety advice, visit our page on NFPA Home Ignition Zone training.

Incident commander on Cold Springs Fire credits pre-fire mitigation with save of home

​ According to a story from 7News Denver from the burn area of the Cold Springs Fire near Boulder and Nederland, Colorado, late yesterday, the local incident commander praised local fire mitigation work as the key to his crew's ability to save a number of homes. Incident Commander Michael Smith spoke on camera to reporter Mark Boyle, emphasizing that although the wildfire was smaller than some in recent Colorado history, it was burning hot and fast and headed for subdivisions, which required significant fire response resources. Smith's remarks in a news article posted by CBS Denver make it clear that the conditions of this fire caused him to fear a repeat of the disastrous Fourmile Canyon Fire of 2010, which destroyed 169 homes. Although 8 homes were destroyed in the current incident, Smith pointed out an important factor in the success of firefighters in saving others. In Boyle's report, Smith said, "What we need is people to do mitigation around their homes, the mitigation on this house is what saved it, they thinned the trees, they built with proper materials and they really did their homework before they left." Find out what those homeowners knew and what firefighters want to see by reviewing the Firewise principles and homeowner checklists available on the Firewise website. Whether mitigation allows firefighters a chance to save a home or whether its features and preparation prevent ignition of the home and its surroundings without human intervention, the result is the same positive outcome.

Want extra credit? New ISO rating schedule gives points for fire prevention and education

Fire departments around the country have eagerly awaited the most recent update to the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) developed by the Insurance Services Office. This system classifies communities according to performance in emergency communications, fire response and suppression and water supply, and has provided these ratings to insurers for more than 30 years. Insurance companies purchasing this data use it to develop underwriting practices – so improved ratings can lead to lower insurance premiums for homes and businesses in many instances.What's new with this long-awaited revision? First, ISO is referencing many more NFPA codes and standards than in the past. This means that as the NFPA documents are revised, the rating schedule will be revised – a great way to ensure that the ratings keep up with new technology and changing practices. Communities all over the US will also be happy to learn that for the first time, they can earn “extra credit” – up to 5.5 points – for demonstrating fire prevention, education and investigation programs. In other words, the ratings – and thus many insurance companies – will begin to account for fire mitigation programs in a quantifiable and creditable way.NFPA has developed a resource list of all the codes and standards referenced in ISO's rating schedule, along with a wealth of resources for fire departments and communities to consider when updating or initiating fire prevention and education programs. Check for a list with links to each standard and much more on Firewise®, Learn Not to Burn®, Remembering When® and other fire prevention tools that might give your community a leg up on improving its fire safety ratings.

Exemplary Firewise Lessons from South Africa

Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” In that spirit, let me share with you some of the wonderful examples I observed from South African communities applying Firewise. From the affluent Western Cape coast to the poorest of villages in the central part of the country, South Africans are overcoming language and cultural differences, extreme poverty, high unemployment and high fire risks to use Firewise principles to their advantage. The government-sponsored Working on Fire program has used Firewise principles from the U.S. to help community residents take ownership of their fire risks, to train people on the safe use of fire, and to turn both fire problems and some of the economic problems around. Working on Fire piloted Firewise concepts in a handful of communities and were provided with seed funding last year for wage incentive programs to train wildland firefighters. This year, the government has seen the results and tripled their investment these successful, community-based programs.  Thankfully, Working on Fire has documented these pilot efforts in a series of short and powerful videos available on the Firewise South Africa website as well as on their YouTube channel, WoFAfriFireNet. Watch and learn what these folks have done in a country with far fewer financial resources than the United States. Hear from community “sparkplugs,” like Levy  Majikijela of Queen's Mercy, and from Working on Fire outreach staff like Zanele Nxumalo from KwaZulu Natal.  I hope the good examples in these videos can inspire communities in the U.S. to work together to become safer from wildfire threats.
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