Topic: Wildfire

Dead Fall

New NFPA resources for students in grades 6-12 about wildfire

With more than 8 million students in grades 6-12 living in at-risk communities National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Young Minds Inspired (YMI) have teamed up to provide 3 no cost virtual field trip videos and accompanying lesson plans for teachers to help students better understand wildfires as well as empower them with the knowledge that they need to lessen that risk.  These videos and downloadable lesson plans meet Common Core requirements for English Language Arts, and can be used by educators (teachers and fire and life safety educators in fire departments) to help students learn more about wildfire and wildfire-related risks. The video series examines the aftermath of three major wildfires in the United States and short and long term impacts.  The purpose of the series is to help students understand why homes burn and learn what they can do to do to lessen their family's risk of loss due to a wildfire event. The first video from homeowners Peggy and Noble Kelly's perspective talks about what their experience was one year after the Okanogan County, Washington Fire and how they protected their home.  The next video features Wildland Urban Interface Specialist with Texas A&M, Kari Hines five years after the wildfire in Bastrop, Texas.  She informs students about how low-intensity wildfires are a part of the natural process, and steps people can take to mitigate or lessen their risk of loss to a wildfire.  The third features Kendall Bortisser, fire captain with CAL FIRE, ten years after the Cedar Fire in San Diego, California and Glenn Barley a Region Resource Manager for CAL FIRE in San Bernardino County. This story focusses on lessons learned after the Cedar Wildfire Event included the importance of homeowners maintaining the home ignition zone and damage a high-intensity wildfire event can cause to a watershed. The final video defines steps teens can take to reduce their family's risk of loss due to a wildfire event as well as the no-cost guide about potential community service projects available to youth as part of NFPA's TakeAction Initiative. Help students better understand wildfires and how wildfire events are a natural part of our ecosystem and empower them with knowledge to help their families become better prepared before an event occurs.  This science-based knowledge will help them understand how they can be a part of making their homes and communities safer during a wildfire event.

Why is terminology important in fire research?

Wildfire and wildland fire are often interchangeable words heard on the news during the fire season but it can be important to differentiate in the fire research community because of their meaning. The National Wildland Coordination Group (NWCG) provides a glossary of terms for the fire community (link).Wildland Fire: any non-structural fire that occurs in vegetation or natural fuels. Wildland fire includes prescribed fire and wildfire.Wildland fire describes the overarching concept of fire in natural fuels. These fuels do not need be in the wildland, but can include other areas such as plains, prairies, fields and green-spaces.All fuels will burn given the right conditions, and many natural habitats require fuels to burn for a healthy ecosystem. This understanding has led to the concept of natural fire, where vegetation fuels become dependent on and thrive because of fire events.Wildfire: an unplanned, unwanted wildland fire including unauthorized human-caused fires, escaped prescribed fire projects, and all other wildland fires where the objective is to pull the fire out.Wildfire describes a situation where the fuels are burning creating an undesirable condition. They may start as natural fires but grow to a point where they become unmanageable and threaten things we do not want to burn, referred to in the research community as highly valued resources and assets.Prescribed Fire: any fire intentionally ignited by management actions in accordance with applicable laws, policies, and regulations to meet specific objectives.Land managers use prescribed fire to support natural habitats that depend on fire. By introducing fire in a controlled manner the ecosystem can reap the benefits and the fuel loading reduced to prevent high-intensity fires.Using the correct terminology helps to understand that not all fire is bad and that, in some cases, the lack of fire can be harmful. This is important for fire research as we explore the causes and effects of fire in natural fuels and communicate our findings to the public.
Chelan County

A documented Firewise save in Chelan, Washington

A great story rises out of the ashes of a recent Washington State Wildfire.  A home survives a wildfire because residents invested themselves in faithfully completing Firewise maintenance projects over the years.  They worked on simple things like removing dead grass and weeds in the 100 foot zone around their home and liming up trees.  As Brian and Rochele Shugrue shared on the Chelan County Fire District 3's Facebook page, “Preparing for wildfires takes time but as you can see below, it is well worth the effort.” When the wildfire was first noticed only a half a mile from their home, they only had 30 minutes to evacuate.  That does not afford residents much time to make last minute changes to their property. In fact unless you have prepared a homeowner's checklist of items to take with you before a wildfire, it gives little time to gather precious possessions and pets and evacuate.  Imagine watching from a distance as the wildfire rages and an ember storm rains down upon your home. They also noticed their local fire department working hard to save their home. Their fire department shared with them, “We want to thank you for the hard work you have done on your property to prepare for the wildfire.  Your work allowed us to safely work.  A prepared home is not only a home that lowers our risk, it is a home that buys time.  Time for you to evacuate safely, time for firefighters to better prepare your property or even time for us to help your neighbors.  We are very grateful.” What would a fire department write to you about your home if a wildfire occurred in your area?  Learn about steps that you can take today to protect your home and family in the event of a wildfire.                                                                                                                                                    Photo from the Chelan County Fire District 3 website with their permission.

Why do homes survive during a wildfire? New study released about the 2016 wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada

A new preliminary report about the wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray was just released in August of this year.  “Why Some Homes Survived: Learning From the Fort McMurray Wildfire Disaster” published by the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction and written by principle researcher, Alan Westhaver examined in the aftermath of the wildfire that destroyed over 2,400 homes why some homes survived while so many others were lost.  With the increasing losses from wildfire and the continued growth of new communities in the wildland urban interface, gaining knowledge about what worked and what did not is not only helpful to communities as they rebuild but is also helpful to existing and new communities so that loss due to wildfire can be reduced through mitigation efforts. The research was completed by using a methodology of completing on-site visual inspections made from the perimeter of surviving and burned homes and systematic hazard assessments were completed on 85 homes and adjacent properties using Home Ignition Zone and FireSmart® ( FireSmart® the Canadian counterpart to Firewise®) guidelines. The study concluded that the majority of home ignitions appeared to be started by embers, which then created a sequence of home to home ignitions. According to the report: “• On average, surviving homes in urban and country residential areas rated with ‘Low' to ‘Moderate' hazard using FireSmart® criteria, whereas homes destroyed rated ‘High' to ‘Extreme' hazard. • In 89% of the side-by-side comparisons conducted (where one home survived and the other did not), the surviving home rated with substantially lower risk. • 100% of homes/home groups that survived extreme exposure without igniting rated ‘Low' hazard. • 81% of all assessed homes that survived had a FireSmart rating of ‘Low' – ‘Moderate' whereas 56% of homes that were destroyed had a FireSmart rating of ‘High' to ‘Extreme'. • All of the isolated homes that survived amidst heavily damaged urban neighborhoods rated with ‘Low' hazard when vegetation further than 30m from the home was discounted. • All of the isolated homes that ignited amidst otherwise undamaged neighborhoods were either rated with ‘Extreme' hazard, or had critical weaknesses making them immediately vulnerable” We all can take action today to make changes to our homes and the landscape surrounding our homes to improve resilience in the event of a wildfire.  The Firewise website offers a free downloadable toolkit, no cost on-line learning opportunities and no cost Firewise® resources.  It is the little things that can help a home survive a wildfire.  Learn how you and your neighborhood can become more resilient today.                                                                                                                               Picture of FireSmart Home that survived in Fort McMurray by Alan Westerhaven
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