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
Wildfire Prep Day toolkit

Firewise USA® sites staying resilient in 2020

Firewise USA® is a program built on the concept of people connecting and working together. What that means to a community was flipped on its head in 2020 as in-person gatherings were not allowed or were greatly limited. Community workdays had to navigate health and safety recommendations that limited size and required additional personal protective equipment. Yet, with all the challenges presented by COVID-19, the participants of Firewise stayed committed and accomplished some amazing local risk reduction tasks. Reviewing Firewise site annual renewal reports, it was inspiring to read how communities adapted and overcame challenges in meeting the annual educational outreach criteria.  They adopted new technology, switching to virtual meetings instead of in-person. One community hosted a drive-thru event to celebrate a newly restored bridge and shared information about wildfire preparedness. Another community hosted a "safari" where residents traveled to different locations to learn about the efforts in their community and gained stamps in their passport (social distancing and masks were required).  These are just a couple of examples of the creative and adaptive solutions people found to keep local focus on wildfire preparedness going. A shift in 2020’s focus was from popular community work days to individual efforts that emphasized the importance of work on individual properties, on the home itself, and the different areas of the Home Ignition Zone. We always say that wildfire does not recognize boundaries, but it does not recognize pandemics either.  Residents across the country stepped up and far exceeded expectations.  2020 Risk Reduction investments by Firewise USA® Sites Included: 2.4 million volunteer hours worked, with more than half of those at the home and home ignition zone level; Over $54 million spent on chippers, contractors, and home improvement costs, etc; In 2020, the combined volunteer hours and project monies spent generated over $115 million. At the end of 2020 we had a total of 1,750 participating communities that were In Good Standing, with 200 of those new to the program.  We at NFPA thank all of you and your local supporting partners for your acknowledgement of the role you play in wildfire preparedness and commitment you show to being a part of the solution.  Congratulations on your continued forward progress. We cannot wait to see what you accomplish in 2021! Is your community ready to take the next step on its wildfire journey?  Visit Firewise.org to learn how you can get organized and become a Firewise USA site. You can follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics. Photo credit: Ken Light, Orinda Firewise Committee members handing out How to Prepare Your Home For Wildfire brochure and other information at local farmers market. 

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. 
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
Firewise Risk Assessment tutorial
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