Topic: Wildfire

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.
A stormy sky

September is National Preparedness Month: Is Your Community Ready to Respond to a Severe Weather Event or Emergency?

While the warmer months of the year signal a time when we can indulge in vacations, beach days, and outdoor activities, the summer and fall are also when hurricanes, thunderstorms, wildfires, and other natural disasters make their impressive mark across many areas of the U.S. often disrupting the rhythm of our daily lives. If you've seen the news lately, you’re aware of another record year for wildfires in California, and hurricanes Fred, Henri, and most recently, Ida, which made landfall in August along the east and gulf coasts of the U.S., have left much damage in their wake across many coastal communities. Hurricane season began June 1 and ends in late November, but according to the National Weather Service, most storms peak in late September and October. And it's not just hurricanes or wildfires that make the news: the Plains and Great Lake regions often start their battle with freezing conditions and snowfall during the fall months.  Ready, a national public service campaign, has earmarked September as National Preparedness Month and urges those of us tasked with protecting people and property from fire, electrical, and related hazards, to work together, help educate, and empower the public to prepare, respond to, and mitigate emergencies before they become tragedies. The theme for this year's campaign, “Prepare to Protect,” reminds us that being better prepared before, during, and after an emergency is key to getting our lives back to normal as quickly as possible. NFPA has a wealth of information to help guide building owners and facility managers, first responders, health care facility managers, electrical professionals, and public educators, as they prepare ahead of weather events and other emergencies in their area. These resources are free and can be easily shared: For facility managers and business owners: For answers to bigger emergency planning challenges and questions, NFPA 1600, Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity/Continuity of Operations Programs is a vital guide for the development, implementation, assessment, and maintenance of disaster/emergency management and continuity of operations programs.  Business owners can also utilize NFPA's Emergency Preparedness Checklist, which helps people identify where to focus their emergency preparedness efforts. With the peak of hurricane and wildfire seasons upon us, government agencies and aid organizations may need to shelter potentially thousands of storm and fire evacuees. A recent episode on the NFPA Podcast, Disaster Planning During a Pandemic, introduces two emergency management experts who share lessons learned from responding to past incidents during the pandemic, including several new strategies that will likely remain in place long after the pandemic is over. For first responders: First responders face many hazards when working with vehicles that have been submerged in water, particularly with hybrid or electrical vehicles. NFPA's Submerged Hybrid/Electrical Vehicle Bulletin breaks down the safety issues to help keep first responders safe when working in flooded areas. A free toolkit is also available for first responders, which provides the information and resources needed to help local residents prepare ahead of weather events. For electrical professionals: Electrical professionals are often tasked with equipment maintenance for electrical, electronic, and communication systems and equipment found in multi-family residential complexes, industrial plants, and commercial buildings to prevent equipment failures and worker injuries. NFPA's Natural Disaster Electrical Equipment Checklist builds off recommendations in Chapter 32 of the 2019 edition of NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance and provides a useful framework for recovering electrical equipment and systems after a disaster. For healthcare providers: New criteria requires healthcare providers to have extensive plans in place for numerous types of events including hurricanes as part of an emergency preparedness rule passed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in November 2017. Requirements for emergency and backup power supplies as well as consideration of other logistical needs for long-duration events are an important part of the rule. Find information that can help medical providers with their emergency preparedness needs.  In September 2019, a NFPA white paper was introduced to help healthcare facilities meet the requirements of the CMS emergency preparedness rule. Learn more. For the public: A fact sheet and related information provides residents and businesses with easy wildfire risk reduction steps they can do around their homes and buildings to make them safer from wildfire and blowing embers. An escape plan activity sheet helps families prepare and practice an escape plan in case of a fire in the home. An emergency supplies kit checklist provides a list of items a family may need in case of an evacuation due to an emergency weather event. A tip sheet provides the facts and steps homeowners can take to safely use portable generators in the event homes lose power after a storm.  With so much “weather” happening across the country, the time to start preparing communities is now. Make Preparedness Month the jump start you need to put plans in place. For these and other related information sources, visit www.nfpa.org/disaster and ready.gov/September.   
Home on fire

Add these 3 videos to your community's next online gathering

In many places, COVID-19 and its Delta variant continue to make in-person meetings difficult, but that doesn't have to stop your wildfire educational outreach with your fellow residents.  Reach your neighbors online with these three quick videos from Firewise USA® on YouTube to spark the conversation about how they can reduce the risk of wildfire around their homes. For an introduction, the 2-minute video, “If Your Home Doesn't Ignite it Can't Burn”, introduces viewers to the ember risk and explains that there is something they can do to protect their home from wildfire.  The video helps to focus the resident on the “immediate zone” of 0-5 feet around their property where debris clearing can make a big difference.  The video can lead to a discussion about the effects of recent wildfires and what their property conditions are right now.   Next, dive into the “immediate zone” of 0-5 feet around structures with the 2-minute video, “5 Key Areas Around the Home you Must Examine when Assessing Wildfire Risk.”  The video reminds us that where the wind piles up leaves and seasonal debris is also where the embers from a wildfire will pile up too.  The video's walking assessment quickly addresses areas next to the home, gutters, roofs, vents & screen meshing, and any vegetation near the structure.  Residents sharing examples of the work they do around their own homes can strengthen this video's message well.     Finally, step out to the “intermediate zone” of 5-30 feet around structures with the 4-minute video, “Your Home and Wildfire, Choices that can Make a Difference.”  Learn from a homeowner's testimonial about the value of mitigation work around the property and the discuss their message that this work does not mean clear-cutting, but is about making wise choices about grasses and ladder fuels. Host an online meeting with your neighbors on one of the many video-conferences platforms and play these 3 videos during the educational outreach event.  Additionally, you can also link to these videos from your community website or social media page to spread the educational outreach message with neighbors and collectively reduce your risk from wildfire.  Follow NFPA's FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.
Wildfire with trees in the foreground

The breaking of yet another wildfire record calls for a holistic approach to solutions now

On Sunday, the Dixie Fire in California became the state’s second largest wildfire in history, having consumed 463,000 acres across northern California and destroying over 400 homes.  It has impacted the lives of many and as firefighters work valiantly to confront its spread, it stubbornly rages at 21% contained.  If there is a familiar sound to this record achievement, it’s because the last, “2nd largest wildfire in California’s history”, was the Mendocino Complex extinguished in January 2019.  Then it was when the SCU Lightning Complex and the Creek Fire contested for the “2nd largest” record in late 2020. Much like the recent Olympics, we can’t be surprised anymore when wildfire records are also routinely broken.  This plain reality lead NFPA to develop Outthink Wildfire™, a policy initiative that outlines five tenets for all levels of government to greatly enhance protection from wildfire. It is rooted in two facts - wildfires are going to happen, and the fire service will not be able to extinguish these fires at a pace to save people and property in their path going forward.  This isn’t a knock against fire services.  In many cases, they need more resources, but it’s a realization that they need all of us to not expect them to shoulder the burden alone. Outthink Wildfire™ calls for a holistic-approach solution, spanning where and how we build, fire service needs, land management, and public education.  It is simply unfair and increasingly unrealistic to expect firefighters to “just put out the fires”, while we continue to live in places without reflection of the risks, allow lands to go unmanaged, and leave wildfire education only for those with the time and resources to engage at their own pace.  This holistic-approach solution seeks a balanced wildfire response ecosystem to achieve the goal of eliminating the loss of communities from wildfire in the next 30 years.  It means: Getting all homes and business in the wildland urban interface (WUI) more resistant to ignition from wildfire embers and flames. This means incentivizing retrofitting, providing support to those residents most at risk but least able to build resiliency, and ensuring a fire ground for the fire service that is safer and less likely to become an urban conflagration. Using and enforcing current codes and standards, as well as sound land use practices, for new development and rebuilding in wildfire-prone areas.Local leaders and planners can make sure the loss of communities from wildfire is a part of our past and not the next event of our future. Ensuring fire departments for communities in the WUI, especially rural and volunteer departments, are prepared with the right equipment, training, and operational funding, to respond safely and effectively to wildfire every time. Working with Federal, state, and local governments to increase resources for vegetative fuel management on public lands and maintaining robust cross-boundary, cooperative, data driven agreements to maintain healthy forests and natural lands. Building and sustaining a public that understands its role and takes sustainable action in reducing their risk. As records continue to be broken, we can no longer lean upon a few to solve the problem alone for everyone else.  A holistic-approach solution is needed in policy development and regulatory action at the Federal, state, and local levels.  Learn more about Outthink Wildfire™’s call to action and play your part in the solution. Photo Source: Pixabay
Firefighters at a wildfire

As Wildfires Burn Across Parts of the US, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association Endorses Outthink Wildfire, an Initiative Aimed at Significantly Reducing Risk to Communities

The relentless tally of wildfire losses makes it increasingly clear that the U.S. is facing a serious wildfire problem. During the first week of August, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported seven new large fires, bringing the total number of fires currently burning in the U.S. to around 91. As wildfires continue to seriously affect much of the west, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) in its latest resolution action, unanimously approved support of Outthink Wildfire™, an NFPA initiative aimed at eliminating the destruction of communities by wildfire in 30 years. The resolution emphasizes the fact that the U.S. has witnessed a steady increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires, a trend that experts predict will continue. The number of homes lost in wildfires per year has increased by 163 percent and wildfires now cost the U.S. billions of dollars each year in losses. In the past three years alone, metropolitan fire departments in the western U.S. have seen over 100 lives and thousands of structures lost to wildfire, and these fires have caused billions of dollars in direct damage to property and local economies. Launched in February 2021, Outthink Wildfire lays out five policy changes that must occur at all levels of government that will make it easier for communities to foster collaboration, enact change, achieve resilience, and protect themselves from wildfire. Leveraging this information, the resolution calls for support of the five tenets that form a complete wildfire mitigation approach, including the need for more and better training and protective equipment to ensure fire departments are properly prepared to respond safely and effectively to wildfire.  According to an NFPA report, Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, 88 percent of U.S. fire departments—some 23,000 departments—provide wildland and/or WUI firefighting services. Of those, 63 percent have not formally trained all their personnel involved in these activities. Only 32 percent have all their responders equipped with appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), and 26 percent do not have any of the necessary PPE at all. For the years 2011 to 2015, wildfires caused an average of 1,330 fireground injuries to local fire department personnel each year. “Metropolitan fire departments are continuing to face the threat of wildfire to their communities and the residents they serve,” said Chief Don Lombardi, President, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, in a recent press release from NFPA. “While wildfire response efforts have increased significantly, spending on resource management and community preparedness activities has not. We endorse Outthink Wildfire and its five tenets as a holistic approach to end the destruction of communities from wildfire.” As the average number of acres that burn in wildfires each year rises over time, it is imperative that communities in wildfire hazard zones put into action practices to lower the risk to lives, homes, businesses, and overall prosperity. Through collaboration that begins with policy implementation in the U.S., we can work to better protect our neighborhoods, citizens, and our first responders. Learn more about Outthink Wildfire at nfpa.org/wildfirepolicy.
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