Topic: Wildfire

Man raking

It's time to start working on your 2021 renewal application!

Did you know that being recognized by the Firewise USA® program requires annual commitment to action? Each year, participating communities engage in educational outreach and science-based risk reduction within their boundaries. This annual work improves the overall condition of homes and properties, increasing the odds of withstanding a wildfire.  Firewise USA sites share the work they've done through the annual renewal application, found on the Firewise USA portal. This sharing keeps them In Good Standing for the next calendar year. In 2021, renewal applications are due Friday, November 19, and can be started now. In addition to the regular criteria, some participants may need to update their Action Plan. The Action Plan is a prioritized list of risk reduction projects or investments for an induvial Firewise site, along with suggested homeowner actions and education activities that the community will strive to complete annually or over a period of years. The Action Plan should be broken down by year and reflect the community’s goals. This document is required to be updated at least every three years so that it best reflects your community’s needs and past accomplishments. As circumstances change (e.g., activities are completed, a fire or a natural disaster occurs, new construction in the community started, etc.), the action plan may need to be updated more frequently. The Action Plan update should be completed by the community's Firewise committee, which is comprised of residents and wildfire experts. The plan can be as short as one page but should address the components in the definition above. The plan should include some basic measurements for each goal, such as “Increase number of residents participating in meetings by 5 percent,” or “Increase number of homes completing all recommended actions in the 0-5 foot space by 10 percent.”  Some ideas to address in your plan can include, but are not limited to: Increase overall participation in risk reduction efforts within your community. Are there a few homes or sections of a neighborhood that are not participating? Increase the number of homes that have had a fire safety check-up or risk evaluation.  What percentage of homes have tackled the 0-5 foot space in making it non-combustible? Highlight those positive efforts, share with other community members, and work to increase the number of homes that have completed recommended actions in that area. What do your community’s gutters and roofs look like, are they covered in debris? Identify homes that are not doing annual cleanup work and find ways to encourage them – maybe they just don’t know, maybe the owners are older and need assistance, etc. What educational outreach plans do you have? Is there room for expansion of those plans?   The updated action plan is submitted with annual renewal application. Visit the portal today to check your status and get started.
Area in the mountains

From Washington, Big Investments in Wildfire Mitigation on the Horizon

Last week, President Biden visited the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho and then continued to California to see first-hand the devastation wrought by the 200,000-acre Caldor fire. Talking to press from a Cal Fire hangar, he touted the concrete actions taken by his Administration to tackle the 2021 wildfire crisis—raising wages for federal firefighters to the federal minimum, securing aircraft to fight fires from the sky, and using the Defense Production Act to clear manufacturing bottlenecks for hoses to fight fires on the ground. With millions of acres burned so far—and beloved landmarks like the General Sherman now in danger—these actions must be taken to protect lives and communities. However, in terms of mitigating the impact of these fires, there’s nothing yet the President can pull from the oven. But things are cooking. On Capitol Hill, Congress is considering two measures that would make substantial investments in wildfire mitigation. Earlier in the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that contains $1.5 billion for hazardous fuel treatments and a new $500 million program to help communities update and implement Community Wildfire Protection Plans. And now, the House is negotiating the budget reconciliation process—the other part of Biden’s Build Back Better Plan. As part of that 10-year, multi-trillion package, the House Committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources have included over $15 billion for hazardous fuel treatments, hundreds of millions to State, Tribal, and local firefighters to help them with equipment and training to tackle wildfires, and billions to help communities create fuel projects, do treatments on private lands, and clear defensible space around structures. These are all investments that will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and blunt their impacts on communities. In July, then U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, testifying before a Senate Committee, called for a “paradigm shift” in the country’s investment in land management for wildfire mitigation—a doubling to a quadrupling of current forest fuel treatments. After decades of neglect, forests full of burnable material, and now a more arid climate, the billions now under consideration in Congress answer that call. However, if the U.S. is truly going to get ahead of this problem, we need true paradigm shifts in all areas of Outthink Wildfire™, including retrofitting homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI), following the latest codes and best land use practices, and educating residents on steps they need to take to reduce their own risk. Every leader, from the President down to governors, county managers, and mayors, should echo these calls to action. Learn more about the five key tenets of Outthink Wildfire at nfpa.org/wildfirepolicy.    

Recognizing a need for clarification: Firewise recognition vs. certification

As wildfires ignite landscapes and communities during this active fire year, interest in community action to improve wildfire safety is at an all-time high. Folks are seeking out the Firewise USA® recognition program in greater numbers than ever before, with hundreds of new sites in the process of having their applications approved. This is great news, but when articles come out that a new site has met the criteria, the headlines often say that the community has become “Firewise-certified” or “earned their certification from Firewise.” What's in a name? And why doesn't “recognition” smell as sweet to copy editors as “certification?” Often, the brief articles I see celebrating a community's hard work to become safer from wildfire will use NFPA's information about Firewise verbatim, and will talk about the community being recognized for its efforts, even when the headline says “certified.” All this would be simply a fussy English major's headache, if it weren't for the real concern our program team has about what “certification” and “certified” imply. A quick web search showed a pretty consistent pattern that certification applies most often to people, not to groups, and implies a high professional standard of achievement that allows an individual to access a certain job role or professional qualification. Certified accountants come to mind. One of the few certifications I found applying to an organization had to do with the ability of organizations to access specific government funding. And of course, NFPA develops and provides certifications of various kinds to help fire inspectors, electricians, and others demonstrate technical competency in their fields. NFPA's national recognition of neighborhoods where residents organize and follow guidelines to become safer from wildfire doesn't apply to individuals (and certainly not individual homes). Yes, there are criteria that have to be met, but they are fairly flexible and are intended to encourage people living in high-risk areas to get started on a years-long, community-wide journey toward greater safety. Unlike a certification, Firewise USA recognition is not an end-point, nor the end-all-and-be-all of wildfire safety. The more we see “certified” and “certification” being tossed around in articles and online conversation, the more the perception of Firewise USA seems to become warped and conflated with individual homes meeting some mythical standard of safety or insurability. This perception is understandable, especially in California, where more and more people living in high-risk areas have experienced insurance rate increases or have had to shop for insurance when their carrier declines to continue covering their property. However, we simply can't claim that any given property is safer or its risk has been reduced just because the minimum community-wide criteria have been met on a voluntary basis. While we've seen positive effects on overall community safety over time, Firewise recognition is not a magic wand we wave to make a home with a flammable roof and overgrown vegetation safe from wildfire. Recognition is our encouragement and acknowledgment that communities have taken the first steps toward safety, and toward a sustained effort to change the results when wildfire strikes. Photo: Community members presented with Firewise USA Recognition sign, NFPA.
Wildfires happening in the US

What’s needed for wildfire safety? A briefing for Congressional staff

As wildfires continue to erupt in Western states this season, safety advocates teamed up to provide a briefing to members of Congress and their staff, hosted by the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). As NFPA’s Wildfire Division Director, I joined colleagues from the fire service and building code community to discuss trends in wildfire frequency and magnitude, and to discuss what federal policymakers and agency leaders can do to support loss reduction, community resilience, and safety for first responders. Participants heard from Chief Rich Elliott, the chair of the Wildland Fire Policy Committee for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and a deputy fire chief with Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue in Washington state, and from Karl Fippinger, VP of Government Relations on fire and disaster mitigation for the International Code Council. After I reviewed the current state and future potential of large, damaging wildfires across the country, my co-presenters highlighted the needs for fire service training and protective equipment, described the role of federal agencies and policymakers in influencing wildfire risk reduction and safety, and emphasized the need for support of the use and enforcement of sound building codes and land use plans. The briefing was a key opportunity to discuss the tenets of Outthink Wildfire™, NFPA’s wildfire policy actions we believe that all levels of government should embrace to influence a future where wildfire disasters become a thing of the past. You can view the webinar recording at CFSI’s website and learn more about their mission to educate members of Congress about fire and life safety issues.
Wildfire in the background of a community

What to do if your home insurance is not renewed: up-to-date information for California policyholders

For many homeowners, choosing and purchasing property insurance is often a “set it and forget it” scenario. Federally-backed mortgage loans require homebuyers to purchase insurance, but how many homebuyers shop around for the best deal, discuss coverage details with an insurance agent, or think about looking for a new carrier after 5, 10, or 20 years? Dramatic, frequent, and increasing property losses due to wildfire in California are forcing policyholders to think differently about their insurance, since a growing number of companies are discontinuing or “non-renewing” residential property insurance policies in areas deemed at high risk. More and more California property owners are being forced to seek out insurance that adequately covers their risks at an affordable price. A new resource from Stronger California, an insurance trade coalition, can help consumers do just that. A new fact sheet on non-renewals helps homeowners understand their consumer protections under California law and gives helpful links for finding a new insurance carrier through a website or by talking to an agent or broker. It also directs consumers to options such as the California FAIR Plan and surplus lines insurers. Since a homeowner needs insurance to keep their mortgage, and most people cannot afford to rebuild and recover from a wildfire out of their own savings, it’s critical that consumers take action to educate themselves and seek out the best coverage they can afford. NFPA recognizes that property insurance is the primary and largest financial safety net for recovering from disaster-caused property damage including wildfires. It’s vital that insurance remains available to support the recovery and rebuilding of homes, businesses, and communities. While the insurance market in California is challenging, insurance experts are working to educate consumers about their choices as well as the things they can do to reduce their likelihood of wildfire loss and the possibility of losing their insurance coverage. The Stronger California coalition is calling on regulators, communities and insurers to work together on a comprehensive solution to the wildfire crisis, that ensures homeowners in high-risk areas have access to comprehensive coverage at competitive prices. Californians can learn more about what they can do to stay physically and financially prepared on their website.
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