Report examines effectiveness of outdoor sprinkler systems during wildfires

wildfire sprinkler effectiveness

The University of Minnesota has prepared a report that examines the effectiveness of outdoor sprinkler systems to protect homes during wildfires. Following the 1999 wind event, or “the blowdown”, that instantly created thousands of acres of dead and down vegetation, FEMA provided grants that paid for the installation of sprinkler systems at private residences. In fact in one area, the Gunflint Trail community, 130 systems were paid for by FEMA, and there were an estimated 300 total in the area.

The report can be found here; a large .pdf file will download when you click on the link.

Here is an excerpt from the report.

The Ham Lake wildfire experience with the sprinkler systems as one component of wildfire preparedness demonstrated that the systems, when properly installed and maintained, can be extremely effective in protecting not only the built structure but also the trees and vegetation within the sprinkler area. Of the threatened structures on the Gunflint Trail that burned in the Seagull Lake and Saganaga Lake areas, only one had a working sprinkler. Of the threatened structures that survived, 72% had working sprinklers. All but one structure with a working sprinkler system survived the fire.

The report also has a handy guide that provides information about the installation and maintenance of sprinkler systems. Here is an illustration from the brochure.

sprinkler diagram

New Mexico prescribed fire escapes, burns into Colorado

A prescribed fire ignited on May 21, 50 miles west of Raton, New Mexico, planned to be 600 acres, escaped on May 23 when it was too windy to fly air tankers and has now burned 3,800 acres. It has crossed the state line and scorched about 40 acres in Colorado. The name of the fire is H12. The prescribed fire was on the Vermejo Park Ranch a few miles south of the Colorado border.

Today they are transitioning from Kyle Sahd’s Type 3 incident management team to Pruett Small’s Type 2 team. In New Mexico the fire is in the jurisdiction of the Cimarron District, New Mexico State Forestry.

Santa Barbara homeowners’ self-imposed taxes help mitigate the effects of wildfires

Santa Barbara houses after wildfire
Santa Barbara. Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo

In 2006 homeowners in the foothills area above Santa Barbara, California voted to impose a tax on themselves that helps to make their homes more likely to survive a wildfire. The families in the lower foothills pay $70 a year while the tax on the “extreme foothills zone” is about $90. The homes are part of a special district, the Wildland Fire Suppression Benefit Assessment District, that was approved and extended by the City Council in 2009 and 2010.

In 2008 and 2009 the Tea and Jesusita fires burned into the foothills of Santa Barbara. The number of homes lost would have been even greater if some of the homeowners had not maintained clearance around their properties. An ordinance requires homes in the lower foothills zone to have a 100-foot clearance, while the clearance in the extreme foothills zone is 150 feet.

The services provided in the special tax district include:

  • Defensible space inspection. If the homeowner requests it, a fire department  inspector will come to the site, inspect the property, and provide advice on what could be done to prevent damage during a wildfire.
  • Clearance of vegetation along roads.
  • Chipping services. The taxpayers can place cut vegetation along the road and the city will chip it for them.
  • Vegetation management, clearing brush-free zones in large open areas. This is done by fire hand crews, goats, and privately contracted brush crews.

The Santa Barbara Noozhawk has an article that provides more details about the program.

You can still “like” the WFF race car design

Wildland Firefighter Foundation

The contest to design the paint job on a NASCAR race car is over. The entry that featured the Wildland Firefighter Foundation received a lot of votes but did not make it to the second round of 12 finalists. At one point it was ranked seventh out of 78,000 entries.

But there is still a way to vote for the car and draw some attention to the WFF, an organization that assists the families of fallen and injured wildland firefighters. You can “like” the WFF car design by going to the “Most Likes” page at the contest web site and clicking the thumbs-up icon. The name of the car is “Wildland Firefighter”. Currently the WFF design is ranked THIRD most liked out of 98,484 entries. Not too shabby. Lets make it number 1!

USFS issues more policy guidance

James Hubbard, the U.S. Forest Service’s Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, recently issued another memo to the field about policies related to wildland fire and how they will be implemented. Mr. Hubbard said the USFS “will continue to improve our communication, coordination, assessing and managing risk, and decision making skills.”

A lot of the content in the memos is common sense, and much of it has been policy for a while. It makes you wonder about the motivation for sending this guidance out to the field, and brings to mind a few fires last year on which the outcomes were not ideal.

Here are a few highlights and excerpts from the documents:

Aggressive initial attack within a risk based approach on all human caused wildfires, and reflecting the objectives of the Land and Resource Management Plans is expected on all fires. Wildfires must have documented objectives for the protection of life and property with suppression strategies.

All wildfires must have, at a minimum, documented objectives for the protection of life and property with suppression strategies.

There are only two types of wildland fires: wildfires and prescribed fires. The terms “fire use fires”, “resource benefit fires”, or “suppression fires” will not be used. The agency reports activity on only these two types of fire. Manage natural ignitions to achieve desired Land and Resource Management Plan objectives when risk is within acceptable limits. A wildfire may be concurrently managed for more than one objective.

Approval levels for wildfire decision analyses are based on the agency’s projected cost and not the total estimated cost of the wildfire. The following approval thresholds apply as stated in FSM 5131.04 and subject to qualification and certification policies stated in FSM 5131.11 (note – prior certification thresholds are no longer applicable):

  • Up to $2 million – District Ranger
  • $2 to $10 million – Forest Supervisor
  • Over $10 million – Regional Forester

Oversight designations are based on the complexity level as determined using the methods in the Interagency Standards for Fire and Operations (aka Red Book, NFES 2724).

  • Type 3, 4, and 5 wildfire decisions/delegations are made at the District Ranger level with oversight by the Forest Supervisor.
  • Type 2 wildfire decisions/delegations are made at the Forest Supervisor level with oversight by the Regional Forester.
  • Type 1 wildfire decisions/delegations are made at the Regional Forester level with National oversight.

Critical long duration wildfire oversight roles include ensuring that:

  • Up-to-date decision analyses are completed and documented in Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS).
  • Hazards are identified and risk assessments are incorporated into decisions.
  • Coordination with partners and potentially affected parties is conducted (including smoke impacts). Unifed command is implemented early if necessary.
  • Resource capacity and availability are adequately assessed to meet expectations.

On all wildfires, but especially on long duration wildfires, develop specific protection objectives and suppression strategies to keep the fire from crossing property lines where it is unwanted. When all parties are in agreement with the course of action, they should agree that if events transpire that moves the fire across the property boundary, parties will engage in negotiating cost share agreements following direction in Chapter 80 of Interagency Incident Business Management Handbook (NFES 2160).

Plans should identify the necessary resources and timing of deployment as necessary to reasonably prevent fire movement beyond the planned perimeter.

It is important to learn from all unintended outcomes. We have a system of reviews, analyses, and investigations to assist in identifying, preventing, and understanding factors that may prevent future accidents and injury. It is important to select and apply the appropriate tool. Tools include Serious Accident Investigation (SAI), Accident Prevention Analysis (APA), Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA), and Administrative Investigations. To help select the right tool, refer to Organizational Learning “Lessons Learned” Analysis Options ( found in the letter of August 10, 2009.

USFS Fire Communications Guidance

On fires on National Forest System land the USDA Forest Service, even if they are not regular IIOs [Incident Information Officer] on incidents can respond to questions from all news media, including national news media, about the incident only.

Facebook pages are not approved for the Forest Service.

Tweets should alert followers that new information is posted on a website.

Personnel changes in the USFS Washington Office

James Hubbard, the Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry, sent out a memo on May 21 that listed quite a few personnel changes in the U.S. Forest Service’s Washington Office (WO):

I am pleased to announce a series of changes which will enhance the Fire and Aviation Management (FAM) program in the Agency.  These changes involve enhancing the focus of the Agency in our quest to become skilled risk managers in wildland fire, and filling critical vacancies in the FAM staff.

Marc Rounsaville, Deputy Director for Operations, will move to the Deputy Chief’s office as the Wildland Fire Management Specialist and provide additional capacity in our risk management journey.  Marc’s work in our “continuous improvement in decision making” quest will continue.  He will work closely with Associate Deputy Chief John Phipps.

Vicki Christiansen, State Forester for Arizona (and former Washington State Forester), will be joining the Forest Service in the Washington Office as the Deputy Director with oversight responsibilities for National Fire Plan, Partnerships, Fuels, Policy, and Budget.  Vicki’s energy, wisdom, experience, and insight will provide a significant boost to the Agency.

Patti Hirami, Regional Fire Director, R-9 [USFS Eastern Region], will be returning to the WO as the Staff Assistant to the Director.  Patti’s ability to coalesce thinking, her energy and internal relationships will bring significant experience to the FAM staff.

Finally, Rich Kvale, FAM Assistant Director for Planning, Policy, and Budget will replace Marc Rounsaville as the Deputy Director for Operations.