Topic: Fire Protection Systems

Wildfire Worries in California: Recent Actions to Address the Crisis

With bone-dry conditions across the state, the talk among Californians is wildfire. How many fires will burn this year? Will 2021 top the four million acres that burned last year?  Will my community be hit next? If any of my fellow Californians didn’t know “fire season” is now year-round, early April’s Spring Fire in the Angeles National Forest is here to remind them. With over 10,000 homes and structures burned last year, predictions from scientists and fire experts is that 2021 may be just as bad, or worse. People here are worried. Seemingly, our politicians are too.  Earlier this month, Governor Newsom signed an early spending bill with just over a half a billion dollars solely for mitigation.  That bill, The Wildfire Prevention and Resiliency Early Action Plan, will spend $238 million on fuel reduction and other landscape resiliency projects, $198 million on wildfire fuel breaks, $27 million on community hardening, and $25 million to strengthen the state’s forestry sector. An estimated 15 million wildland acres in California are in need of some type of restoration treatment to reduce wildfire risk, making this funding sorely needed. But, as even the Governor’s February 5 2021-2022 wildfire resilience proposal—the framework for Tuesday’s spending bill—acknowledges, these funds will “address only a small share of estimated need.” With at least three dozen wildfire bills in the legislature, lawmakers are debating proposals to move the needle out of the red zone.  For example, at the end of the month, the Senate Committee on Housing will look at several bills intended to reduce risk now and in the future. One of those, SB 63, aims to expand Cal Fire’s capacity to assess properties and enforce the state’s defensible space requirements.  Another, SB 12, steps-up the state’s land use planning requirements for wildfire. That bill requires local governments to develop comprehensive retrofit strategies that will reduce the community’s wildfire risk. While wildfire is a top topic in Sacramento, lawmakers are also dealing with the pandemic and the state’s other perennial crisis—affordable housing.  Despite these other pressing issues, the state does not have time to wait for action on all five Outthink Wildfire™ fronts: retrofits, use of codes and standards, increasing local fire department capacity, land management needs, and public education. Unfortunately, California cannot dig out of this crisis over the course of one state budgetary cycle, but it can undertake comprehensive action that will turn the tide. Learn more about Outthink Wildfire and its key action policies at nfpa.org/wildfirepolicy. 
Wildfire Community Preparedness Day

Wildfire preparedness is in the cards…the social media cards, that is!

May 1 is Wildfire Community Preparedness Day and people all over the country are organizing projects and activities for that day and throughout the month. One great way to help people get excited for what kinds of activities they can do to reduce their wildfire risks is to share the great examples highlighted on our social media cards.  The “cards” are images with a message about a wildfire preparedness or pre-fire action someone can take that will make a real difference around their home and in their community.  To use them, simply click to open and save, or right-click on the image to save, and post them on your Facebook or other social media platform. Then, include the suggested link that goes with each image so when your friends and neighbors click on the image, they can learn from pages on NFPA’s website that provide more detailed information. These key tips to prepare for wildfire include: Clear and dispose of debris in your yard, as well as lawn cuttings, to reduce fuel for a wildfire. Move firewood piles at least 30 feet from any buildings. Know two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place before wildfire threatens your area. Protect from embers by installing metal mesh screening in attic and crawl space vents. Remove needles or leaves from roofs, gutters, porches and decks to prevent ignitions. Pets are part of the family. Make sure your evacuation plans include your pets. Using social media is a great way to spread the word about wildfire preparedness. When you post them, be sure to also include the social media hashtag #wildfireprepday to help spread the word!

Oregon Lawmakers Moving in the Right Direction on Wildfire

In 2020, wildfires in Oregon killed nine people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes and businesses. In response, legislators in 2021 are considering a number of measures to help those impacted, like bills to limit tax liability of victims and aid local governments with expenses incurred because of the fires. One bill though, aims to help the state prepare.  In early April, a bipartisan trio from the Oregon Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery voted to advance a comprehensive wildfire preparedness bill. If passed by the full legislature, SB 762 will lay the foundation for wildfire resilience in the state. SB 762 covers a lot of ground, from requiring wildfire mitigation plans from electrical utility providers, to helping small land holders tackle vegetation management, and establishing smoke mitigation programs for vulnerable populations.  Importantly, the bill also directs the Oregon Department of Forestry to develop and maintain a comprehensive statewide wildfire risk map.  With wildfire prone lands detailed on a map, state agencies will be able to act on SB 762’s requirements to pass wildfire safety building codes for those areas and develop recommendations to enable the state’s land use planning laws to address wildfire risk mitigation.  In 2020, as state officials were considering improving building codes for wildfire safety, the chairperson of their residential building code board asserted that “Oregonians” want “the freedom to choose where they want to live” and can take “the personal responsibility to construct their homes [according to] that choice.” In contrast, the authors of SB 762 rightly recognize that Oregonians, like everybody else, want safe homes built to the latest codes and standards. As emphasized by the bill’s sponsor, Natural Resource Committee Chair Jeff Golden, the bill was the culmination of thousands of hours of input from experts and individual stakeholders around the state, including those who worked developing the recommendations for the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response 2019 report.  Moreover, as state agencies move forward with the defensible space requirements, the land use recommendations, the building code changes, and other parts of the bill through advisory committees and public hearings, citizens will have many opportunities to provide input that reflects the state’s diverse landscape. Having passed out of the Natural Resources Committee, it is now up for the whole Senate to consider SB 762, and for the Oregon Joint Committee on Ways and Means to debate whether to fund the measure’s current price tag of $150 million. Surely, when the appropriators consider that cost, they will weigh it against the half a billion dollars that wildfires can cost the state each year. $150 million is a down payment on Oregon’s future needs.  An estimated one third of all Oregonians, 1.2 million people, live in areas at risk from wildfires. The Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response estimated that the cost to reduce wildfire risk across the state’s heavily forested landscape will be at least $200 million per year alone.  Of course, funding for land management and wildfire response is a mix of state and federal tax dollars. However, if Oregon policymakers fail to act on this wildfire crisis that sees harrowing evacuations, homes destroyed, and businesses interrupted, it’s Oregonians who pay the true price.   SB 762 is in line with NFPA’s Outthink Wildfire™, a call to end the destruction of communities by wildfire in 30 Years. SB 762 advances the right policies needed to begin retrofitting at-risk properties, constructing to wildfire safety codes, evaluating local response capacity, prioritizing land management needs, and educating the public on their role in reducing risk.  Oregon lawmakers should act to make sure it gets over the finish line this session.
Man varnishing a chair

As warmer weather approaches, NFPA offers 6 key tips to safely tackle spring cleaning

Melted snow, budding trees, longer days: they’re all signs that the warmer months are fast-approaching -  and for many of us, these seasonal hallmarks are reminders to start spring cleaning in and around our homes. As people power up their lawnmowers, rake up debris, touch up chipped paint, and take on myriad projects to get their homes and yards ready for the months ahead, following are six key practices and supporting recommendations to help minimize the risk of fires and associated hazards: Properly use and store gasoline Use gasoline only as motor fuel, never as a cleaner or to break down grease. Only store gasoline in a container that is sold for that purpose and never bring it indoors, even in small amounts. Never store gasoline containers in a basement or in the occupied space of a building. Keep them in a detached garage or an outdoor shed. Make sure the container is tightly capped when not in use. Carefully dispose of rags with paint and stain The oils commonly used in oil-based paints and stains release heat as they dry. If the heat is not released in the air as the rags dry, the heat is trapped, builds up and can cause a fire. Never leave cleaning rags in a pile. When you’re finished using the rags, take them outside to dry, keeping them well away from the home and other structures. Hang rags outside or spread them on the ground and weigh them down so that they don’t blow away. Put dried rags in a metal container, making sure the container is tightly covered. Fill the container with a water and detergent solution, which will break down the oils. Keep containers of oily rags in a cool place out of direct sunlight and away from other heat sources. Check with your town for information on how to properly dispose of them. Use/store flammable and combustible liquids with care Flammable and combustible liquids should not be used near an open flame. Never smoke when working with these liquids. If you spill liquids on your clothing, remove your clothing and place it outside to dry. Once dry, clothing can be laundered. Keep liquids in their original containers. Keep them tightly capped or sealed. Never store the liquids in glass containers. Feel free to use and/or share our Safety with Oily Rags tip sheet (PDF), which includes the above tips and more. Inspect grills to ensure they’re in good working order Inspect your grill (PDF) carefully and make sure it’s free of grease or fat buildup. Clean out any nests, spider webs, or other debris you may find. For propane grills, check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year. Keep debris well away from your home Every year, wildfires (PDF) burn across the U.S., with more and more people living in communities where wildfires are a real risk. Dispose of branches, weeds, leaves, pine needles, and grass clippings that you have cut to reduce fuel for fire. Remove leaves, pine needles, and other flammable material from the roof, gutters, and on and under the deck to help prevent embers from igniting your home. Remove dead vegetation and other flammable materials, especially within the first 5 feet of the home. Move construction material, trash, and woodpiles at least 30 feet away from the home and other outbuildings. Clean out your clothes dryer Make sure the air exhaust vent pipe for your dryer (PDF) is not restricted and that the outdoor vent flap will open when the dryer is operating. This includes making sure the outdoor vent flap is not covered by snow. Move things that can burn, such as boxes, cleaning supplies and clothing, away from the dryer. Clothes that have come in contact with flammable substances like gasoline, paint thinner, or similar solvents should be laid outside to dry, then can be washed and dried as usual.
National Wildfire Preparedness Day

Strengthening the safety net: a healthy insurance market will help us Outthink Wildfire

A new policy brief by NFPA highlights insurance as a key component required for all of us to collectively Outthink Wildfire™ and eliminate the loss of communities to wildfire in 30 years. NFPA’s recent launch of a bold policy initiative, Outthink Wildfire™, describes five areas we must address to end the wildfire destruction of communities by 2050: making existing homes ignition-resistant; building new structures to safer standards; equipping our fire service with training and protective gear; managing the nation’s fire-prone landscapes; and educating the public on risk reduction. A healthy insurance marketplace is vital to achieving these actions. Property insurance is the primary and largest financial safety net for recovering from disaster-caused property damage, including wildfires. Some 70 million home insurance policies are in force across the country. When wildfires destroy hundreds, even thousands, of homes, the payout of these policies is key to rebuilding communities and reducing the demand on taxpayer-supported disaster relief. Yet many Americans don’t carry enough insurance to allow them to recover after a wildfire. Recent disasters have also meant rising insurance rates in some cases, and denial of insurance coverage for high-risk properties in others. Until the nation’s high-risk areas have many more communities with mitigated homes and safer newly built structures, there is still a significant risk of repeating the multi-billion dollar property losses we have seen in recent wildfire disasters. That’s why people need to understand how important it is to carry enough property insurance to cover their potential losses, and to support the tenets of Outthink Wildfire. To keep insurance affordable, available, and able to help people recover from wildfire disasters, people must take risk reduction steps on private property, and local and state governments must enforce sound land use and construction standards for buildings in high-risk areas. Read NFPA’s latest policy statement on insurance to understand more and visit the Outthink Wildfire webpage to see how these and other actions will go a long way to helping end the loss and suffering of wildfire disasters.
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