#NoFuelNoFire – We Can Stop Wildfire Before It Starts

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

Golden Gate Estates in Southwest Florida east of Naples looks quite a bit different than it did back in 1985. Today there are four lane roads, strip malls, housing developments, and, of course, traffic. Thirty years ago, the roads were two lanes that faded into dusty streets with a few homes scattered amongst the Pine trees and cabbage palms. Heck, I don’t recall a traffic light, just stop signs at intersections. NoFuelNo Fire Facenook

January of that year brought with it bitter cold and a nasty biting wind. Couple that with drought conditions and you had an ideal recipe for a wildfire. We got the call January 30, “Get over to Golden Gate.” A young Forest Ranger had been killed when he was plowing a fire break and the head of the fire blew up around him.

None of us had ever covered a wildfire before. That night you could see the embers jumping from tree to tree and swirling in the cold wind. I stood in the high dead grass at the edge of a dirt road with my back to the woods. I had just started my on-camera presentation when Steve Sonnenblick, our engineer, saw it coming. He yelled to watch out, grabbed my winter coat, and pulled me onto the gravel. The fire swept across the dry brush where I had been standing. The heat was like opening an oven door. That’s the nature of wildfires. They are like living, breathing organisms consuming everything in their path. When there is nothing left to devour, they move on. And in an instant, a place you thought you were safe was NOT.

I was reminded of that night in 1985 while watching coverage of the fires raging in Southern California, New Mexico, and Arizona. While the American West sees more than its fair share of fires, every state is at some risk. Remember the headlines “Florida on Fire” back in 1998? More than 2,000 fires scorched half a million acres causing $600 million in losses. Three hundred homes were engulfed. At one point, 100,000 people were evacuated. In 2002, the Hayman fire outside Denver consumed nearly 140,000 acres and destroyed 130 homes. Annually, there are 75,000 wildfires that burn an average of 7 million acres and destroy thousands of homes and structures. And get this. Many fires are caused, firefighters have told me, just by people who throw cigarette butts out their car window.

During those 1998 Florida fires, one woman apparently in shock spilled her heart about losing everything, “Every baby book. Every hair lock from when they were young. Everything. All their clothes and all their toys.” That doesn’t need to be you. There are things you can and should do to easily make your home a defensible space. Here are a few:

  • Clean leaves and debris from gutters, eaves, porches, and decks.
  • Remove dead vegetation from under your porch and deck and within 10 feet of your home.
  • Move flammable material like firewood piles and propane tanks to no closer than 30 feet from your home.
  • Cover exterior attic vents with metal mesh to prevent hot embers from entering.
  • Keep your yard watered and maintained.
  • Prune trees so the lowest branches are no less than six-to-10 feet from the ground.

And, by all means have an evacuation plan. You may have to get out in the face of a wildfire, but if you do the simple things to protect your property, chances are you will still have a home to go back to. There are many other invaluable tips and videos you can find at www.flash.org.

I went to California for the Anderson Cooper show in 2007 to cover the horrible fires outside Los Angeles and in San Diego. The first night, we flew in a helicopter over the foothills. You could see pockets of fire in all directions. While some of them were caused by lightning strikes, others were, sadly, the result of arson. At least five people were arrested. FLASH documented one homeowner’s journey during these fires in the video Tale of Two Homes – Wildfire.

Whatever the cause, why risk losing everything when just doing the little things could save your home and more importantly your life? Take a good look at those wildfires burning out west. Do you need any more of a wake-up call?

Links of Interest:

Fight Wildfire Before it Starts

Tale of Two Homes – Wildfire (video)

Wildfire Protection for Your Home (video)

#NoFuelNoFire (wildfire photo gallery)

Wildfire Safety and Home Protection Reminders

As the threat of wildfire continues, The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® is providing families with critical actions to take before, during, and after wildfires.

Before

  • Create your disaster safety kit to prepare for possible evacuation
  • Know your family’s fire disaster plan
  • Know what is covered in your insurance policy, and what additional coverage you may need
  • Check landscape for fuels that could lead flames to your home or that can become ignited, and take time to create a fire-resistant landscape
  • Clean your gutters, eaves, and roof regularly
  • Install spark arrestors in all chimneys
  • Install metal screening that blocks embers from entering your buildings
  • Identify an emergency water supply within 1,000 feet of your home

During

If under a wildfire threat,

  • Heed the warnings of local officials regarding when to evacuate
  • Only remove dead leaves or vegetation when local garbage collection services will have time to pick up the debris
  • Burn vegetation only while following local requirements to do so

After

When returning to your home after a wildfire, keep the following in mind:

  • Only return when local officials permit you to do so, the area may still be under the threat of wildfire
  • Contact your insurance company regarding any possible damage, and take pictures of any and all damage

Disaster Savings Accounts Would Help Shore Up Homes and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Residents of Oso, Washington were traumatized on March 22 when a massive mudslide swept through the area engulfing homes and claiming lives.  Months later, residents are still handling the aftermath of this tragedy as best as possible, but the financial burdens of rebuilding often become as traumatic as the disaster itself.

Help could be on the way in the form of proposed federal legislation allowing homeowners and renters to set aside up to $5,000 every year in a disaster savings account – tax-free if the money is used for post-disaster repairs or pre-disaster mitigation.  The money rolls over every year and there’s no limit to how much can be accumulated.

If the Disaster Savings Accounts Act which is still wending its way through Congressional committees passes, homeowners and renters alike could establish accounts to use for future natural disasters.

“Disaster Savings Accounts would provide people the opportunity to protect their belongings and families,” says U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the bill with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies provide limited relief to disaster victims, “… recovery assistance is after the fact,” Ross says. “We want to equip homeowners so that they can protect themselves before a disaster strikes and not when they’re forced to rummage through the remains of their homes after a flood, hurricane or earthquake.”

Ahead of a disaster, the pre-tax savings can be used to pay for home fortifications such as a safe room, wind resistant windows and doors, or elevating structures in flood zones.  After a disaster, savings can be used to help close the gap between insurance deductibles and other recovery funds.  In that case, the event must be a state or federally declared disaster and the homeowner or renter must have uninsured losses totaling at least $3,000.

“Insurance doesn’t cover all losses or cleanup expenses, particularly personal losses,” says former FEMA director James Lee Witt, Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas.  For example, if the bill was in effect at the time of the mudslide, Oso residents with accounts could have used them to cover uninsured personal casualty losses above $3,000 because they are in a formal disaster area.

Supporters for the bill come from all sectors, e.g. FLASH, The Home Depot, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy and leaders like Moore, Oklahoma Mayor Glenn Lewis and former FEMA director James Lee Witt.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

 

Make wildfire protection your burning desire

By: Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Jeff Shapiro admits he should have known better about wildfire precautions. He is, after all, a fire protection engineer. Shapiro got his wakeup call in 2011.

The catastrophic Bastrop County wildfire of Labor Day weekend in 2011 burned 32,400 acres and destroyed almost 2,900 buildings – most of them homes – southeast of Austin in central Texas. It’s described as the most destructive wild land urban interface wildfire in Texas history.

During the same weekend, wildfire destroyed 23 homes in the Steiner Ranch community on the northwest side of Austin. Shapiro lives just five miles away in Jester Estates.

Before Bastrop, it had been decades since the last wildfire in the canyon behind his house, Shapiro says. “When I purchased my lot in 2000, everything was wet and green,” he adds. No one in his neighborhood really thought about wildfires, including him.

But the hot, dry climate change and Jester’s position atop a plateau surrounded by fire-friendly wild land raises the community’s burn potential. So Shapiro got to work.

He installed a fire sprinkler system in a home already constructed of fire-resistant concrete board and stone, and Class A fire-retardant asphalt shingles on the roof; trimmed low-hanging branches on trees to make “fuel breaks” that slow a fire’s upward climb; and created open spaces between pockets of trees instead of having continuous vegetation that would feed a fire.

But wildfire protection requires community action to be most effective. Though Jester Estates is now a “Firewise Community,” a designation by the National Fire Protection Association, not all homeowners have embraced the effort.

“People are apathetic if there hasn’t been a fire recently and, if there has been, there’s a denial factor,” says Shapiro, chairman of Jester’s Firewise Community safety committee. “There seems to be an expectation that the fire service will save you.” But depending on the number of fires and fire-fighting resources, that protection may not arrive, he adds.

From a firefighter’s perspective, Justice Jones says homeowners who followed recommendations to protect their homes during the Bastrop fire had a greater ability to survive the fire without firefighters’ help.

“That’s not to say that firefighters won’t make every effort to defend homes. But applying these tactics improves the chances of protecting  the structure,” says Jones, Fire Adapted Communities coordinator for the Austin Fire Department’s Wildfire Division.

In addition to Shapiro’s precautions, Jones offers these tips to protect your home.

  • Embers are the biggest danger.  Install ember-resistant roof and foundation vents or 1/8-inch metal mesh behind the openings. Check local building codes first.
  • Remove leaves, pine needles and other combustible material from gutters.
  • Create a barrier surrounding the house, and decks and porches, that’s free of mulch and other combustible material.
  • Protect your home with non-combustible roofing and siding material.

Find more information about wildfire protection here :

http://www.flash.org/peril_wildfire.php

http://www.firewise.org/?sso=0

Editor’s Note: Celebrate National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 3, a national effort to reduce wildfire risk through volunteer cleanup and clear-out projects. Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

Wildfire Safety Tip

Be your home’s hero and clean your gutters, eaves and roof to make sure they are clear of debris.

Wildfire Safety Tip

Additional Wildfire Safety Tips

Protect Your Home

  • Clean your gutters, eaves and roof to make sure they are clear of debris
  • Make sure your street number is legible and clearly marked for emergency responders
  • Remove fuels that can lead flames to your home or that can become ignited from windblown embers, including:
    • Dead grass, leaves, etc. (fine fuels) and dead twigs, branches, etc. (coarse fuels) within 30 feet of buildings
    • Dry leaf/pine litter from roofs, rain gutters, decks and walkways
    • Dead and dry litter at the base of plants
    • Tree branches (ladder fuels) within 6-10 feet of the ground
    • Firewood within 30 feet of buildings
    • Continuous beds of combustible vegetation (on the ground or in tree tops) that can bring large flames within 100 feet of your home
    • Identify an emergency water supply for firefighting within 1,000 feet of your home through one of the following:
      • Community water/hydrant system, and/or
      • Drafting site on a lake
      • Cooperative emergency storage tank with neighbors
      • Swimming pool

Prepare Your Family

 

For more information on wildfire prevention visit www.flash.org.  For mobile wildfire alerts and mitigation tips, download FLASH Weather Alerts at www.flashweatheralerts.org.

Wildfire Safety

Create a defensible space by landscaping with fire-resistant plants and removing other fuels. Follow us on pinterest for more tips during National Preparedness Month.

Wildfire safety

You can help protect your home and property from wildfire by doing yard work and home maintenance before fire season.

Remove fuels that can lead flames to your home or that can become ignited from windblown embers, including:

  • Dead grass, leaves, etc. (fine fuels) and dead twigs, branches, etc. (coarse fuels) within 30 feet of buildings
  • Dry leaf/pine litter from roofs, rain gutters, decks and walkways
  • Dead and dry litter at the base of plants
  • Tree branches (ladder fuels) within 6-10 feet of the ground
  • Firewood within 30 feet of buildings
  • Continuous beds of combustible vegetation (on the ground or in tree tops) that can bring large flames within 100 feet of your home

Plant species that retain moisture and resist ignition, including:

  • Native, fire-resistant vegetation (check with local forestry agency)
  • Fire prone trees and shrubs away from your home and far enough apart, so they won’t ignite one another

Maintain

  • A lean, clean and green landscape at least 30 feet around buildings
  • A legible and clearly marked street number for emergency responders
  • Storage sheds containing items including lawn mowers, grills/gas cans and tanks away from the home

Install metal screening that blocks embers from entering your buildings, including:

  • Noncombustible 1/8 inch on attic/crawl space vents, and around low decks
  • Noncombustible (metal, etc.) skirting around mobile homes

Identify an emergency water supply within 1,000 feet of your home through one of the following:

  • Community water/hydrant system, and/or
  • Drafting site on a lake
  • Cooperative emergency storage tank with neighbors
  • Swimming pool

If under a wildfire threat; only remove dead leaves or vegetation when local garbage collection services will have time to pick up the debris. Do not burn vegetation without following local requirements.

REMEMBER severe wildfires move fast and embers can be blown more than a mile from the flames so be ready.