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Predictive services shows significant changes for the southeastern U.S.

The National Interagency Fire Center, (NIFC), has released its latest Predictive Services product giving us an idea on what the seasonal outlook is for wildfire potential. Covering August through November, the report's findings are somewhat expected until we get into October/November for the Southeastern U.S. August is pretty much as expected with above normal potential for most of California, southern Idaho, Montana, western Wyoming and the Great Basin.  As we move into September, those northern areas will transition back towards normal potential while southern California will remain high and central southern Texas will climb towards above normal. However, October and November will see almost the entire southeast and much of the eastern seaboard all the way to New Jersey climb to above normal due to increased drought conditions.  Southern California will remain high withexpected Santa Ana wind conditions.  For the full report see here.​ Much of this change will be driven by a waning El Nino as we transition towards La Nina conditions into next year.  Gary Wood, Southeast Regional Coordinator for the National Cohesive Wildland Strategy says that drier conditions in fall are not unusual for the Southeast, but are increased as La Nina conditions develop. For specific predictive information on the southeast, see here. Most of central and southern Florida will be at normal potential during this time, however, some reports of central Florida having twice the number of brush fires this July and August may counter what the prediction is currently calling for. (see article here).​ So, while most areas of the nation will start to see fire potential decrease, the Southeast may be in for an interesting fall season.

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.
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Chile provides wildfire lessons to NFPA

A trip was successful when you find it nearly impossible to describe all that was learned in 400 words and four pictures. So, I shot past the word count and added a fifth to share the Wildland Fire Division's visit to Chile this past March. NFPA went to expand its knowledge of wildfire operations in a new environment and to see how these communities are bringing their experience to preparedness planning. Not surprisingly, there were both similarities and new factors not familiar to the American experience that help us better craft our role in wildfire safety advocacy. NFPA was also fortunate to spend time with those making a difference in Chile and to build relationships for the future. Chile's experience with wildfire provides lessons from time spent around the capitol, Santiago, and in the central region around Concepción and Chillán. About a quarter of Chile's land is forested but the majority is privately owned, with nearly half of that utilized for commercial forestry operations for timber export to the world market. The visit exposed us to their developing WUI and existing intermix that would be at home in Colorado or Tennessee. Where state and federal forest management often influence our U.S. experience, multi-national forestry plantation companies play a larger role in Chile's land management. These homogeneous tree stands are on 12-24 year growth cycles and command a different focus in fire discussion. In many places, communities are next to, or within, these managed lands. These corporations are also involved in providing the fire operations and community outreach on their lands. In Chile, nearly 80% of fires are arson caused. This makes public fire prevention education, forestry understanding, and community engagement programs a major emphasis for the national forestry agency, CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), in the schools and in developing communities in each of its regions. Climate change is also altering their wildfire experience. Lightning storm activity and number of days over 86 Fahrenheit have increased over 2010-2015, while annual September-March rainy season accumulation has fallen. Similar to us, their “fire season” gets longer. With population growth, developing areas are now dryer and more at risk than before. In Concepción, we visited communities developed by the state for affordable housing goals that are on former plantation lands. This interface brings challenges to design and new resident understanding of the fire threat. The visit began with our partners from South Africa who are bringing their wildland firefighter training efforts to new areas. Working on Fire – Chile, operating with the commercial forestry company, ARAUCO, trains over 1,500 wildland firefighters annually that respond to over 2200 fires each seasonally. Special emphasis is focused on personnel actions both in training and in deployment.  This provides tremendous operational “near-miss” research, leading to a strong culture of safety and injury prevention in the field. At week's end, the visit brought us back to Santiago to see first-hand, community workshop outreach achieved by CONAF's Communities Preparing for Wildfire (Comunidad Preparada Frente a los Incendios Forestales). This expanding program presents fire education and steps residents can take to increase preparedness and community engagement. As we continue to build beneficial relationships, trips like this to Chile help us see how Firewise Principles and NFPA's wildfire safety advocacy can become part of this truly global effort.

Firewise in South Africa making a world of difference to residents at risk

Wildfire is a global issue and Firewise is playing its part around the world by enabling residents to make a difference, wherever they live. In early February, NFPA had the great privilege to meet with its wildfire partner in South Africa, the Kishugu Non-Profit Company (NPC), and others in fire and emergency services in Cape Town to learn from them about their experiences with wildfire and how NFPA can be a part of their preparedness outreach. Since 2006, Kishugu NPC has worked with NFPA in adopting the Firewise Community model to help at-risk residents with wildfire educational materials and empowering community action. South Africa has 11 official languages and socio-economic hurdles that make such positive outreach all the more valuable.  Kishugu NPC, implements the South African Government's Working on Fire Programme, utilizing Firewise as a job creation public benefit.   Each Firewise Community has a committee that delivers neighbor-to-neighbor educational outreach, risk assessments, mitigation project work, and even evacuation response as trusted voices in their community.  Working on Fire also trains and employs wildland firefighters across South Africa for response efforts, while building their fire professional abilities.While there, NFPA attended a beneficial meeting hosted by the Western Cape Government Disaster Management staff which highlighted the common wildfire issue and challenges we all face to public perception and education.NFPA visited with Chief Fire Officer Ian Schnetler, City of Cape Town Fire & Rescue, to learn about the department's experience with wildland fire response across the Cape region and its work with residents on WUI fire understanding.  NFPA also spent time with Chief Director Colin Deiner, of the Western Cape Government Disaster Management and Fire & Rescue Service, to learn about their fire public education and preparedness efforts with populations at risk.  NFPA's Learn Not To Burn and other initiatives have been used by them for fire safety messaging to school children.  Out in the field, we were honored to visit the Kishugu - South Africa Firewise Community of Goedverwacht, north of Cape Town, and applaud their Firewise board members who received fire training certification from their regional Fire Protection Association.  Goedverwacht, like many others, utilize a Firewise Garden to explain less fire-prone succulent plant use around structures.  NFPA also spent time visiting with the Firewise Community of Sir Lowry's Pass east of Cape Town (committee pictured above) to learn from their experiences in community outreach. We look forward to the work ahead with Kishugu NPC and all those addressing wildfire risks in South Africa.  Opportunities like these provide NFPA great learning experience in the field and illustrate where we can positively work with international partners to provide influence to the truly global conversation on fire safety. 

Redesigning landscape with the right mulch in the right place

With drought on our minds in many parts of the country, mulching is something many homeowners are incorporating into landscape design with other methods to reduce water consumption.  I was looking for mulch to freshen up the yard for next year and there are so many options and colors available, making mulch shopping fun.  A great article from Mulch Masters lists some reasons to mulch:Reduce surface evaporation from the soilImprove water penetration and air movementModerate soil temperature fluctuationsProtect shallow-root plants from freeze damage and frost-heaveDiscourage weed growthImprove soil structure and nutrient availability as they decomposeOther reasons to mulch are to control soil erosion, control dust, prevent soil compaction and to create a more visually pleasing landscape design.I remembered a Firebreak blog that a good colleague previously wrote about mulches and I decided to take a look at some of the choices out there with their flammability in mind. Picture of damage to a home's front porch from the Middletown Rhode Island Fire DepartmentWhen choosing mulches close to the home, especially in wildfire prone areas, it is important to take care to make a mulch choice that will help you use less water and be Firewise. The NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations Division has developed a helpful virtual workshop on research about the ignitability of mulch.There have been some very interesting studies about types of organic mulches and their flammability including recycled rubber.  Some organic mulch types studied in a University of Arizona research project included pine needles, bark nuggets, shredded bark, grass sod, garden compost, wood chips, and wheat straw. In this study, pine needles, straw and wood chips have the greatest flame length.  In yet another study by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, The Combustibility of Landscape Mulches, all of the mulches evaluated were combustible under the test conditions of dry, hot and windy weather and more than 2½ months of outdoor exposure.  The mulches in this study that produced the top 3 flame lengths were recycled rubber, pine needles and shredded Western Red Cedar.Wildfire simulations at the IBHS Research Center demonstrate that the location of the mulch within the first 5 feet of the home that can contribute greatly to a home ignition. On the Wildfire Demonstration page of their website, IBHS states, "The mulch and vegetation in the re-entrant (interior) corner was ignited by embers, and subsequently ignited the combustible siding, resulting in rapid flame spread to the soffited eaves." The dictionary definition of a re-entrant corner is where the angle points inward. It is here where embers can easily collect and cause mulch to ignite other flammable materials, ultimately catching the home on fire.  After doing research, I decided to use a different alternative type of mulch within the first 5 feet of the home.  Some beautiful alternative mulch choices for this area include river rock (round rock), recycled glass, recycled porcelain, recycled concrete, crushed shells, gravel, paver stones and DG (degenerated granite).  The beautiful organic mulch that is located away from my home will be kept wet and thinly spread to help prevent ignition.  You can mulch with Firewise landscape design in mind.   It is the little things that we can do to embrace changes to the home and landscape surrounding the home that can help us have a Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire. Image of beautiful recycled glass and rock landscaping from the Joyful Glass Landscaping website
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