Is Your Community Prepared for a Wildfire? Find Out How Your Department can Help
Nearly 68,000 wildfires burned over 9.3 million acres in 2012, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. With more homes being built in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) every year, it is critical that fire departments help their communities become more fire adapted and ready for the next wildfire.
While widlfires are a natural occurrence, their effects can be devastating to a community as demonstrated by this video from the Douglas County Fire District #2 (Pateros, WA) of the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire. Homes in the WUI can survive, like a few in the video, when residents take a proactive approach to make their property fire-adapted by creating defensible space around their homes and planning before a wildfire strikes.
Local fire departments play a critical role in educating residents on how to best protect their homes and property. According to the Science You Can Use Bulletin, a publication from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station (September/October 2013, Issue 7), “In a two-county survey in Colorado, it was found that the most important sources of information for WUI residents that were related to taking action were ‘informal social networks’ (such as talking with neighbors) and guidance from local fire departments and county wildfire specialists.” To help local fire/EMS departments reach out to residents about wildfire mitigation, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to create the Wildland Fire Assessment Program (WFAP).
WFAP provides volunteer firefighters and non-operational personnel, such as Fire Corps members, with training on how to properly conduct assessments for homes located in the WUI. This is the first program targeted to volunteers that specifically prepares them to evaluate a home and provide residents with recommendations in order to become a more a fire-adapted community.
Resources available through WFAP include:
- a four-part train-the-trainer course that covers understanding the WUI problem, identifying the zones, evaluating the home, and available resources;
- the WFAP Toolkit, which provides information and resources in a train-the-trainer format that can be used to teach the fundamentals of performing home assessments for residents living in communities that are susceptible to wildfires;
- online assessment tools like a checklist and data-tracking system for a fire/EMS department to record how many assessments have been performed and what recommendations were made to residents;
- supplemental resources such as customizable documents to help implement and market the WFAP program in a community.
Your department can make a difference by reaching out to residents in your community with this life- and property-saving program. Find the above resources and more on the NVFC web site.
The NVFC is also currently offering in-person classroom training for WFAP at no cost to local fire and emergency departments/agencies. If you are interested in hosting a WFAP class or have questions about WFAP resources, email Lori Moon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-887-5700.
Simple steps can be taken to prepare a home for wildfire, such as the following tips from Ready.gov. Relay these tips to your community members as part of your wildfire preparedness program.
- To begin preparing, build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
- Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it.
- Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking, or trim with fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus, or fir trees.
- Regularly clean roof and gutters.
- Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. Clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211. (Contact your local fire department for exact specifications.)
- Use 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof, and attic.
- Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
- Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it's kept.
- Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chain saw, bucket, and shovel.
- Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
- Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
- Clear items that will burn from around the house, including wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, etc. Move them outside of your defensible space.
The NVFC is part of the Fire Adapted Communities Coalition. A Fire Adapted Community incorporates people, buildings, businesses, infrastructure, cultural resources, and natural areas into the effort to prepare for the effects of wildland fire. Learn more about Fire Adapted Communities and access supplemental resources to reduce the risk of wildfire. Learn more about the NVFC at www.nvfc.org.