First National Legacy Award presented to Forest Service retiree

Above: Dr. Jack Cohen makes a presentation at the 2011 Fire Litigation Conference in San Diego. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Dr. Jack Cohen received the first National Legacy Award given by the U.S. Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters, National Fire Protection Association, and International Association of Fire Chiefs in recognition of outstanding career-long contributions to wildfire mitigation as an alternative to suppression. Dr. Cohen helped develop the U.S. National Fire Danger Rating System and developed calculations for wildland firefighters’ safe zones; created defensible space principles, which resulted in the Firewise program; the Home Ignition Zone; and conducted research on ember ignitions and structure ignitability.

His research laid the groundwork for nearly all of today’s work on wildland urban interface risk reduction. Until his 2016 retirement, he was a research scientist at Missoula Technology and Development Center. The award was presented at the IAFC WUI Conference in Reno, Nevada.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Robert.
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60 minutes: “Wildfires on the Rise”

Above: One of the homes that survived the Eiler Fire in northern California, August, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The CBS TV show 60 Minutes recently aired a story titled, “Wildfires on the rise due to drought and climate change“, concentrating on how to deal with the increasing number of wildfires, and particularly what homeowners can do to protect their investments.

Below is an excerpt from the transcript:

Events like [the Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots] add urgency to the work at a U.S. Forest Service lab. In this building in Missoula, Montana, scientists study how fires spread.

And one of them, Jack Cohen, made a specialty of how to better defend homes.

Jack Cohen: Clearly we’re not gonna solve the problem by telling people they’re gonna have to move their houses into a city from being out in the woods.

Steve Inskeep: Not gonna happen.

Jack Cohen: Right? It’s not gonna happen for a whole bunch of reasons, one of which is that the population who live there, including me– aren’t gonna do it.

Steve Inskeep: Is it reasonable for a homeowner in that situation, a fire bearing down on their neighborhood to just say, “Look, I pay my taxes. There are firefighters, there’s a fire department. The forest service, if it’s public land, has thousands of firefighters. It’s their job; put it out?”

Jack Cohen: So what if they can’t? Then the question becomes one of, “Well, if the extreme wildfires are inevitable does that mean that wildland-urban fire disasters are inevitable?” And my answer to that is no.

Nominations being accepted for Wildfire Mitigation Awards

wildfire mitigation awardDo you know of someone or an organization that has achieved success or set a good example for wildfire mitigation?

The October 30th deadline for nominations for a 2017 Wildfire Mitigation Award is approaching. If you know an individual or organization that is doing great work in wildfire preparedness and mitigation, please try to help them get the recognition they deserve by nominating them for an award.

Established in 2014 in response to an overwhelming number of great wildfire mitigation efforts across the nation, the Wildfire Mitigation Awards are the highest national honor one can receive for outstanding work and significant program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

The awards are jointly sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association, and the U.S. Forest Service. They are designed to recognize outstanding service in wildfire preparedness and safety across a broad spectrum of activities and among a variety of individuals and organizations. By honoring their achievements, the award sponsors also seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts.

Nominations can be can be completed and submitted online. Additional information about the Wildfire Mitigation Awards is available online, as are the criteria and guidelines.

For additional information, contact Meghan Rhodes, Wildland Fire Programs Coordinator with the IAFC, at (703) 896 – 4839, MRhodes (at) iafc.org.

Wildfire Briefing, February 5, 2016

The above image is from Headwaters Economics

Land use planning to reduce wildfire risk

Headquarters Economics released a report about how five cities have used innovative land use planning techniques as a way to adapt to the growing threat from wildfires. The authors met with city planners, elected officials, and firefighters in Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; San Diego, California; and Santa Fe, New Mexico—all communities with a recent history of wildfire and a reputation for being problem solvers.

wildfire planning map
Headwaters Economics

Prescribed fire escapes in Florida

In St. Johns County, Florida on Tuesday a prescribed fire intended to treat 140 acres off County Road 208 escaped control when an unexpected 20-25 mph wind gust scattered burning embers. About 270 acres later the Florida Forest Service was able to contain the blaze.

Spokesperson Julie Maddux said statewide in 2015 the Florida Forest Service burned more than 236,000 acres during prescribed fires and none of them got out of control.

U.S. Forest Service releases findings on the effects of drought for forests and rangelands

The U.S. Forest Service this week released a new report, Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis, that provides a national assessment of peer-reviewed scientific research on the impacts of drought on U.S. forests and rangelands. This report will help the Forest Service better manage forests and grasslands impacted by climate change.

“Our forests and rangelands are national treasures, and because they are threatened, we are threatened,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This report confirms what we are seeing, that every region of the country is impacted by the direct and indirect effects of drought conditions and volatile weather patterns. Sixty million Americans rely on drinking water that originates on our 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands. They support 200,000 jobs and contribute over $13 billion to local economies every year.”

Utah seeks jail time for drone operators that interfere with wildfire operations

Last year there were numerous instances across the West of drones flying into the airspace above active fires and interfering with the operations of firefighting aircraft.

From the AP:

..A new proposal in the Utah Legislature aims to address the growing problem by creating a possible penalty of jail time for people who fly drones within 3 miles of a wildfire.

A House committee was scheduled to discuss the proposal Tuesday afternoon but the hearing was postponed.

Republican Rep. Kraig Powell of Heber City, the proposal’s sponsor, said he asked to postpone the meeting so he could get more input from interested parties. He said he may add exemptions for certain entities, such as public utility companies that need to use drones to see if the fire will impact gas lines.

Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry said he hopes lawmakers back the bill…

“I really hope it doesn’t take a major mishap and somebody to lose their life for the public to take it seriously,” Curry said.

Washington state treats less land with prescribed fire than their neighbors

Washington prescribed fire acres

From the Seattle Times:

Washington lags far behind neighboring states in using controlled burns to thin out dangerously overgrown woodlands.

After back-to-back years of catastrophic forest fires, some state lawmakers want that to change.

“I’ve had it. I think it is time to delve into the policy,” said state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who represents a large swath of North Central Washington scorched in last year’s record-setting fires that burned more than 1 million acres.

Parlette is sponsoring a pair of “fight fire with fire” bills that would require more controlled burns on state lands and loosen smoke regulations to make it easier for federal and private land managers to conduct burns.

Experts say expanding the use of controlled burns is vital to restoring forests to health, leaving them less vulnerable to massive blazes when the summer fire season hits.

But some U.S. Forest Service officials and other critics say the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), led by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, has discouraged controlled burns in recent years because of fears over smoke drifting into communities.

Do residents in the urban interface expect the fire department to save their home in a wildfire?

save home in wildland urban interface

This article first appeared on the WiRe (Wildfire Research) blog. Republished with permission:

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Do people living in the [wildland-urban interface] WUI expect the fire department to save their home in a wildfire?  Many do, but maybe fewer than you think.

Over the past few years, WRWC surveyed nearly 1600 WUI residents in three counties in southwestern Colorado. These surveys asked: “If there is a wildfire on your property, how likely do you think it is that the fire department would save your home?” People could respond on a scale from 1 (Not likely) to 5 (Very likely).

As the graphic shows, about 25% answered that they did not think it was likely (12% for “1”, 13% for “2”), another 24% placed themselves in the middle (“3”), and the remaining 50% thought it was likely (21% for “4” and 29% for “5”). As we typically find, the results look different in different communities, but the overall pattern is fairly robust to community context.

It’s sometimes assumed that everyone living in the wildland-urban interface expects that, no matter how big a wildfire might be, firefighters will be there and able to protect their individual homes. However, fire behavior can get too intense for people to be in the area, and a lack of proper mitigation can increase the danger and/or difficulty of protecting a house. Beyond that, sometimes there’s simply not enough suppression equipment or personnel available for the number of houses exposed at once. This survey question helps get at whether residents think about these factors.

We find that although this expectation is indeed common, far from everybody living in the WUI feels this way. We should consider how this affects the way we communicate about risks with homeowners, and how this can inform broader discussions among the fire service about expectations of protecting homes during wildfire.

How to prevent homes from igniting during wildfires

ember shower on home
Ember shower on a structure. Screen grab from the NFPA video.

Jack Cohen, a research physical scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, has spent much of his career studying how structures ignite during wildfires. In this video produced by the NFPA, Mr. Cohen expounds on that topic and talks about the actions that homeowners can take to help their home survive the impacts of flames and embers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Daniel.