This is a pretty effective video from FireAdaptedCommunities.org
The Fire Adapted Communities Coalition has prepared an excellent report titled “Lessons Learned from Waldo Canyon”. Written by representatives from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, U.S. Forest Service, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the NFPA, it documents factors that affected the destruction or survival of structures during the Waldo Canyon Fire, a fire that destroyed 346 Colorado Springs homes in June of 2012. This document, along with the Texas report, “Common Denominators of Home Destruction”, could be very useful resources for communities and home owners that desire to mitigate potential damage before wildfires threaten their wildland-urban interface.
Often you will see media reports using words like “random” or “miracle” to describe how some homes are burned while others survive a wildfire that burns into a community. It is neither — it is science — and fuel reduction, building materials, screening off vents, plugging holes between roof tiles, a lack of combustible decks, the actions your neighbor takes or does not take, and many other factors. And did I mention fuel reduction?
While the city of Colorado Springs and their fire department has received criticism for their lack of operational preparedness and training for wildfires, as well as their actions during the Waldo Canyon Fire, this report indicates the city had a program that resulted in some positive outcomes related to fuel mitigation and home owner education about how to reduce the chances of structures burning during a wildfire event.
Here is a sample of some of the conclusions identified in the report:
Observations on building design and materials improvements and maintenance could have reduced losses:
- Ember ignition via ignition of combustible materials on, in or near the home was confirmed by the surveys. This reaffirms the serious risk posed by ember ignitions to properties during wildfires. This reinforces the importance of maintaining an effective defensible space and regularly removing debris from areas on and near the home.
- Home-to-home fire spread was again a major issue, as with prior post-fire field investigations. When it occurred, it was dependent on at least one wildland fire-to-home ignition and then home spacing and slope / terrain. Home-to-home fire spread was attributed to a relatively large number of home losses in this survey.
- Wildland fire-to-home ignition was influenced by location of home on slope and fuels treatment(s) or lack of on the slope leading to the home.
- A building can be hardened with noncombustible materials, for example, but it is also necessary to incorporate appropriate construction details, which will help ensure that the protections offered by those materials is not by-passed.
- Individual homeowners must take responsibility for fortifying their property against wildfire damage by taking appropriate measures to incorporate noncombustible building materials and construction details.
Observations on the role of fuels management and landscape vegetation and features:
- Past fuel treatments by mastication in heavy, continuous, mature Gambel oak retained multi-season effectiveness for reducing wildfire spread. Two- and three-year-old oak treatments did not carry fire. Oak leaves were scorched, but did not typically burn.
- Hardened landscape barriers such as noncombustible retaining walls, paths and gravel borders were effective in stopping fire in lighter fuel types.
- Pruning and thinning of ladder fuels in Gambel oak clumps, as a Firewise practice by homeowners, appeared to be effective in keeping fire on the ground and reducing crown fire potential.
- Firewise landscape plants, primarily deciduous trees and shrubs, were scorched but did not burn when exposed to heat from adjacent crowning fuels.
- Landscaping fencing contributed to fire spread from adjacent native areas to structures. Split rail and cedar privacy fencing both led fire to structures.
The video below is very well done.
Our friends in Australia seem to do a better job than we do in the United States of educating the public about being prepared for wildfires, or bush fires as they are known down under.
The Rural Fire Service of New South Wales in Australia has an interesting publication titled Myth Busters, covering some of the common myths about bush fires and bush fire safety. “Not knowing the facts can be life threatening for you and your family”.
- There will always be a fire truck available to fight a bush fire threatening my home.
- It won’t happen to me.
- Fire travels slower up hill.
- I’ll be fine; the bush is a few streets away.
- Standing on my roof and hosing it down with water will help.
- Filling the bath tub when a fire is approaching is to sit in.
- If I know the back streets in my suburb or town really well, it will be okay for me to leave at the very last minute.
- A house can explode if it catches on fire.
UPDATED January 7, 2012. Scroll to the bottom to see how Wildfire Today was called the “balloon lobby” by Senator McConnell’s Chief of Staff.
The Smokey Bear hot air balloon has been flying over crowds of people since its first public voyage in 1993 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. In 2012 the U.S. government spent $31,000 to help the aerial image of Smokey appear at venues across the country.
Most of the $200,000 annual budget for the 97-foot tall balloon comes from sponsorship and donations.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to permanently ground it, saying on Thursday at the opening day of the new Congress:
…If we can’t stop spending taxpayer dollars on robo-squirrels, and dancing robot DJ’s or hot air balloon rides for Smokey the Bear, then there’s no hope at all.
Here is an excerpt from an article at krqe.com:
New Mexico State Forestry spokesperson Dan Ware says the balloon ultimately pays for itself.
“The balloon much like Smokey Bear himself is a symbol and it’s a teaching tool,” Ware said. “It’s an intangible. If one wildfire isn’t caused because someone remembers the message of Smokey Bear from when they were a child or when they were an adult, if one person contributes to not causing a human-caused wildfire then I think it’s worth it.”
McConnell isn’t the first GOP senator to be critical of the balloon. In his annual “Waste Book”, Sen. Tom Coburn (R – OK) listed the $31,000 in federal funding spent on the Smokey Bear Balloon in 2012 as a needless cost, saying the money would be better spent towards more DC-10 tankers to fight wildfires.
If we can assume that Smokey Bear actually does help to prevent forest fires, then an annual budget of $31,000 is an extremely good investment, and is about equal to three hours of flight time for a BAe-146 air tanker or 1.5 hours for a DC-10.
UPDATE, January 7, 2012:
Our January 4 tweet about Senator Mitch McConnell’s desire to permanently ground the Smokey balloon got the attention of Josh Holmes, apparently the same Josh Holmes who is Senator McConnell’s Chief of Staff. Mr. Holmes appears to be calling Wildfire Today the “balloon lobby”.
Mr. Holmes’ Twitter photo is similar to the photo on the Josh Holmes LinkedIn page where is is identified as “Chief of Staff at U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, Washington D.C.” as you can see below:
The Washington Post has more information about Mr. Holmes.
Two men have been charged with starting the Dump Fire near Saratoga Springs, Utah that burned more than 5,500 acres and cost $2.1 million to put out. About 2,500 people were forced to evacuate.
Investigators say the men were shooting on June 21 when they hit an explosive target that started the fire in nearby vegetation. Identified as 37-year-old Kenneth Nielsen of Washington, Utah, and 42-year-old Jeffrey Conant of Woodinville, Washington, they were charged with misdemeanor reckless burning and using prohibited targets,
We first wrote about the surge in popularity of exploding targets and the increasing number of wildfires caused by these devices on October 11, 2012. In that article we listed 21 fires that were either confirmed or suspected to be caused by exploding targets since the first of June, 2012. And these are just the ones that we were able to find using Google.
These devices are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed at the site by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport. The manufacturers claim that the only way they can be detonated is by striking them with a high-velocity bullet fired from a high-powered center-fire rifle. At least one company has recently started offering targets that will explode when hit with a much less powerful .22 caliber rim-fire rifle.
Most of the wildfire community is only beginning to learn of of this disturbing trend.
Laws regulating the devices vary from state to state. CAL FIRE investigator Capt. Gregory Ewing, issued a safety bulletin following a June, 2012 fire in Riverside County that was started by exploding targets. He suggested that users of the targets could be charged with multiple felonies.
Possessing it with the intent to mix the two parts (thus creating an explosive) is a felony. Actually mixing the two parts is also a felony, and detonating it is yet another.
John N. Maclean, the author of several books about wildfires, in an October 18 OP-ED article on the New York Times’ web site, wrote about penalties that have been assessed against arsonists and others who have started wildfires. He briefly mentioned exploding targets:
Some practice shooters fire at exploding targets — store-bought canisters that blow up when pierced by a bullet. These are largely legal, but they should be banned immediately.
I agree with Mr. Maclean. It is ridiculous that these incendiary devices which have been demonstrated to be extremely dangerous in the hands of the average shooter, are legal. They should not only be illegal to transport after the two chemicals have been mixed, the kits to assemble them should not be legal to sell or possess.
Specific legislation is needed so that a person starting a fire with an exploding target can be charged with a crime that is more punitive than misdemeanor reckless burning or using prohibited targets, as was the case in the brain dead shooters that started the $2.1 million Dump Fire.
The protection of people and structures during a wildfire is usually the primary focus of planning for fires as well as during the suppression of the fire itself. But livestock producers also need to protect their investments — their cattle, horses, or sheep. Planning and preparation can prevent the loss of top quality stud animals or the entire herd.
Australian Pump Industries has provided some guidelines that could reduce the losses during a fire. It includes some Aussie terminology, but most of us will be able to translate. Here is an excerpt:
Safe havens need to be marked out for the livestock to escape to, in the event of a fire. The area needs to be centrally located, easy to access and strategically placed, not adjoining timbered or brush area.
There are a few factors to be considered when planning the safe haven.
A paddock containing green summer crops will offer good protection, as it will not burn as readily as a paddock that has dry long grass. The DPI (NSW Department of Primary Industries) recommends a paddock that has been systematically grazed in spring and early summer to reduce dry feed.
Sufficient drinking water
Animals are susceptible to radiant heat, stress and dehydration during fires. The paddock should have a source of sufficient drinking water such as a dam or a stream to enable stock to remain in the area during periods of high to extreme temperatures.
Adequate amount of feed
Livestock may need to stay in the paddock for an extended period of time, which would require a sufficient supply of feed to avoid sickness and maintain health levels.
The paddock needs to have at least a 20m wide cleared or ploughed perimeter, which is completely clear of any unnecessary combustible material such as leaves, bark or branches.
Speed is of the essence
A plan needs to be in place in advance to ensure the livestock can be moved quickly to the safe area.
Sufficient fire fighting equipment
Spot fires should be put out immediately and danger areas wetted down to prevent the fire from spreading further. A trailer or ute mounted fire pump and tank will provide a mobile option. The pump should also be capable of delivering sufficient water.