Topic: Wildfire

A wildfire burning at night

Burn Survivor Shares Her Story About Importance of Being Prepared for and Living Safely with Wildfire

In just the past few years, the U.S. has seen the average number of acres burned in wildfires rise exponentially. The country has watched as 40,000 structures have been destroyed, 100 lives were lost, and countless families were impacted as a result of a wildfire event in their community. Allyson Watson knows first-hand what it means to suffer at the hands of a wildfire. Forced to evacuate her home during one of the worst wildfire seasons in the history of southern California, Allyson was involved in two separate car accidents trying to flee her family home when a wildfire engulfed her community. Suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 85 percent of her body as a result of the accidents, Allyson spent years recovering from her injuries. The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors recently shared Allyson’s story on their website. As a burn survivor her journey is one of perseverance and resilience, and she credits her family and friends with helping her through the emotional and physical aspects of her recovery. As she grew stronger, Allyson’s bravery and passion spurred her on to advocate for wildfire safety, raising awareness and educating others in wildfire-prone areas about the importance of being prepared for a fire including having an evacuation plan and initiating retrofits and maintaining ignition-resistant properties. Allyson’s story is a powerful reminder about the need for better policies if we want to lower community wildfire risk. NFPA recently launched Outthink Wildfire™, an initiative that aims to drive more policy change across all levels of government to stem the tide of losses from wildfire. With so much loss, it is time for the country to take a stand, demand a new approach, and pursue a better course of action that will help us live more safety with wildfire. NFPA believes if the policy actions laid out in Outthink Wildfire are followed, we can end the destruction of communities from wildfire in the next 30 years. We are grateful to Allyson for sharing her story with us.  Read more about her journey and Outthink Wildfire on the Phoenix Society’s website.

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 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. 

State Policymaking Key to Widespread Adoption of Wildfire Mitigation and Hazard Reduction Measures

With wildfires slated to remain persistent and destructive, state governments must chart a course to risk reduction. The overwhelming nature of some recent fires, like California’s one million acre August Complex, means that course cannot simply rely on bumping up fire suppression efforts. Instead, communities in harm’s way urgently need changes to the built environment, resources for first responders, attention paid to the landscape, and a public that better understands how to reduce risk to their own homes. Bills that have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year show some policymakers are grappling with these goals. Fittingly, legislators in California are perhaps the boldest. According to researchers, over the past 50 years—excluding the last four—wildfires have cost that state roughly $1 billion per year, adjusted for inflation. For each of the last four years, that cost has jumped to at least $10 billion per year. SB 55 aims to cut down on new risk by calling for a construction moratorium in all high-risk areas. However, while we must stop adding to the problem, the bill doesn’t address the bulk of the risk—homes that already exist. Two other proposals, though, do attempt to address that risk. SB 12 would make a number of big changes to the state’s land use planning regime—requirements to push local governments to mitigate wildfire risk for both new and existing developments. In addition, it would enable Cal Fire to turn to certified third parties to assist with inspections and property assessments. Historically, Cal Fire has only been able to inspect a fraction of the properties within their jurisdiction. Boosting their capacity to educate, inspect, and enforce, especially with California’s new standards to clear flammable materials from the space immediately by the home, would greatly help their efforts to reduce risk. SB 63 would also help Cal Fire in their duties to educate the public and assess properties by allowing qualified entities to perform property assessments and report the data to the agency. And, it would expand the use of California’s wildfire building codes to areas beyond just those with the most severe risk. This, and SB 12’s requirement for Cal Fire to update maps that determine building code requirements, are necessary to provide an updated picture of risk in the state and to reflect the fact that some places that have burned recently, like Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, did not appear on high severity zone maps. In Oregon, the legislature is set to consider wildfire legislation, too. Regrettably, Governor Kate Brown’s 2020 proposal for a robust wildfire building code program for the state did not advance. However, like last year, the proposal the Governor is expected to put forward this year will also direct the development of statewide maps of wildfire risk. That $50 million proposal would also spend $25 million on expanding the state’s firefighting capacity, but only $8 to $10 million on community mitigation programs. Legislative sessions are fleeting. It’s already mid-February and Oregon’s session will wrap up in June; California’s in September. Arizona, which also experienced one of its most active wildfire seasons in 2020, has taken scant legislative action to address the growing problem and its session will be over by the end of April. With millions of homes at risk across thousands of communities, mitigation will take time. But, as we learn more about how homes burn in the wildland/urban interface and how to prevent it, the time to start applying those lessons is now. State policymaking is key to widespread adoption of mitigation and hazard reduction measures. State lawmakers cannot afford to continue to set this topic aside. Learn more about issues related to wildfire preparedness policy on page 66 of the spring edition of NFPA Journal.
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