It Looks Like Another BIG Year for Wildland Fires! Let’s Prepare.
April 28, 2015
By Division Chief Ron Roy
The forecast for 2015 is looking like another precedent-setting year for wildfires across the nation. We should plan for moderate to severe drought covering nearly 37 percent of the United States, according to the Seattle Times. We continue to see signs for extreme fire danger year after year, and the magnitude of these fires is getting larger. So as we gear up for another year of firefighting, we need to ask the property and home owners – are you prepared? Encourage them to take the steps now to give their property a chance to survive should a wildfire strike.
Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is coming up on May 2. This is a great opportunity for fire departments to get out in their neighborhoods and encourage residents to be held accountable for the protection of their homes. It’s not likely that firefighting resources can be staged at everyone’s home when the fire crests the hill and starts baring down upon the community. Our home is one of the largest investments that we make; therefore, we need to take a personal investment in the protection of our dreams before the fire arrives. Some properties only need small amounts of work while others may need more, depending on factors such as construction, maintenance, and location.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) can help determine these factors through the Wildland Fire Assessment Program (WFAP). The WFAP was developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to train volunteer firefighters and Fire Corps members to offer personal home assessments to residents living in the wildland-urban interface. Once trained, these volunteers have the knowledge and skills to identify risks in and around a property. The program encourages homeowners to utilize suggestions provided by the department during the assessment process and make changes that will improve the chances of their home’s survivability when the next fire strikes.
WFAP has a curriculum, available both in-person and online, in a train-the-trainer format that walks department members through four modules that cover understanding the wildland-urban interface problem, identifying the zones, evaluating the home, and available resources. Participants are given a toolkit with supplemental resources and a check-list that will guide them through the process of identifying hazards – a copy is also given to the homeowner during the assessment so they can make the necessary adjustments to their property. Departments are provided with marketing resources to let residents in their community know that personal property assessments are available from the department. Take advantage of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 2 to get your department members trained, and publicize to residents that these invaluable assessments are free and available!
In a two-county survey in Colorado reported by the U.S. Forest Service’s Science You Can Use Bulletin, it was found that the most important sources of information for residents in the wildland-urban interface 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. It’s just a matter of getting out there and talking about it – letting folks know that they need to be proactive and what they need to do to prepare. Many times making a home safer is a matter of simply cleaning up debris and litter that can ignite when embers arrive from a fire in the area. If someone needs assistance in identifying the items that can be addressed at their home, your department can be there to help!
Fire departments are being stretched thinner and thinner as the wildfire season becomes longer and the fires become larger. Without mitigation of the lands, public and private, wildland fires will continue with the magnitude and intensities that we have experienced in recent years. The fire service can help by identifying the hazards and needs in their community in order to begin the process towards fire resiliency. Starting with one property owner, then to a neighborhood, and then to the community, the fire department can be the leader in getting homeowners to make their properties more fire resistive. If you advertise in your community that you can help the home owner with a home assessment, you will see rewards in fire season with a more prepared and resilient community.
Division Chief Ron Roy has been in the fire service for over 40 years serving in central Washington State as a volunteer. He currently serves with Douglas County Fire District #2 in East Wenatchee, WA. Ron is a Past President of the Washington State Fire Fighters’ Association (WSFFA) and serves as the Washington State Alternate Director to the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). He is the current chairman of the NVFC’s Wildland Committee.