NFPA receives grant to transform wildfire risk reduction training to a digital experience

NFPA training
An NFPA in-person classroom training session, Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire. NFPA photo.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has received a large grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to transform its classroom-based wildfire risk reduction training into a digital learning experience for Americans living and working in the wildland/urban interface (WUI).

The organization will develop three training programs — for homeowners, business owners, and public safety personnel. They will cover WUI fire mitigation practices using interactive web-based training and engaging simulations in a 3-D virtual environment. The training modules will be experiential, a process of learning through experience such as hands-on or simulations.

Some of the content from an existing conventional class, Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire, will be incorporated into the new experiential format. The two-day course is based on fire science research into how homes and other structures ignite during wildfires and covers wildfire behavior, structure exposure, and the concept of the Home Ignition Zone. Attendees learn how to analyze wildfire risks to structures and provide actionable advice to property owners through an activity-rich curriculum.

The transformation project will be conducted in partnership with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization, and overseen by a technical advisory panel of experts.

Michele Steinberg, Manager of NFPA’s Wildfire Division, said work based on the $950,000 FEMA grant began in September, 2020. “We anticipate having the main training module deliverable available by around October 2021, with additional elements being added through the first three quarters of 2022,” she said.

The NFPA has also received two other FEMA Assistance to Firefighter Grants grants to study the effectiveness of fire investigator personal protective equipment and to develop a strategic roadmap for the fire service while transitioning from fluorinated foam usage to fluorine free foam technology.

Live event to discuss wildfire wind tunnel studies

Above: The U.S. Forest Service tests burning pine straw in an IBHS wind tunnel earlier this year. Screen grab from IBHS video.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) will host a live wildfire-related event on Facebook Wednesday November 9 at 10:30 a.m. EST. They have not provided a ton of information about but it will “open up the curtain a bit on wildfire studies”. (Link to the IBHS Facebook Page.)

Dr. Steve Quaries will discuss the wildfire research that they have been doing in the huge wind tunnel. In 2011 using 105 huge fans and spark-generators, they launched embers at a structure to demonstrate what can happen when a wind-driven fire approaches a poorly prepared structure.

IBHS wind tunnel
The IBHS wind tunnel showing the 105 fans. IBHS photo.

The video below shows embers igniting flammable material on and around a structure in the IBHS wind tunnel.

Earlier this year the U.S. Forest Service used the facility to study the relationship between wildland fire rate of spread and wind speed used in the U.S. wildland fire behavior decision support systems. Previous experiments have been conducted in the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory wind tunnel that is more limited in size and wind speed than the IBHS wind tunnel.

This research is a collaborative effort with researchers at UNC Charlotte, University of Maryland, University of Texas Austin, and USDA Forest Service, and is funded by the Joint Fire Science Program.

Lessons learned about survival of structures during Waldo Canyon Fire

Lessons Learned from Waldo Canyon Fire
Lessons Learned from Waldo Canyon Fire, cover. Click to enlarge

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.

More information on Wildfire Today about the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Home wildfire preparedness on a budget

Five homeowner tipsThe Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety built a huge wind tunnel large enough to test how well houses stand up to very strong winds. Now they have put together a few tips for the homeowner who wants to reduce the chances of their home being destroyed during a wildfire without spending a lot of money:


Clean Roof
Not only does a clean roof look nice, but it can also reduce your wildfire risks. Embers can travel more than a mile from an actual fire, which can ignite combustible debris on your roof. Be sure to pay attention to areas where the roof meets a vertical surface, such as at a dormer. Also, be safe and never work on your roof if you are uncomfortable.

Clean Gutters
Have you cleaned your gutters lately? If not, they could be increasing your risk of wildfire damage. Gutters with combustible debris can be easily ignited by wildfire embers.

Clean Deck
Much like the roof and gutters, a deck full of combustible materials increases your risk of wildfire damage. Remember that patio furniture and lawn ornaments can also be combustible, so store them inside when you are not using the deck. In addition, removing combustible materials from under your deck is critical. If you do store combustible materials under your deck, enclosing the underside of the deck can be an option.

Carefully Position Yard Structures
Not only should combustible yard structures be placed away from your home, the area around them should also be maintained using noncombustible materials.

Relocate Propane and LP Tanks
Relocate your propane tanks at least 30 feet from your home. If this is not possible, create a 10-foot noncombustible zone around the tank.

“Fear the ember”

Demonstration of burning embers on structure
Screen capture from video. Credit: WSPA

The wind-blown burning ember test on an actual structure that Wildfire Today told you about on March 17 actually happened on Thursday. Setting a structure on fire is one thing, but doing it inside another structure is rather unusual, to say the least. Yesterday the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) Research Center in South Carolina, using 105 huge fans and spark-generators, launched embers at a structure to demonstrate what can happen when a wind-driven fire approaches a poorly prepared structure. The result is predictable, as you can see in this video from a local station, WSPA.

Below is another video, this time from NBC:

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Here is an excerpt from News Channel 7, WSPA, which includes  a few words from Jack Cohen of the U. S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, who has conducted a great deal of research on the ignitability of structures.

A 1200-square-foot test home was on the turntable for the wildfire demonstration. Part of it had vinyl siding, part of it cement-fiber siding and part had wood-fiber siding. Part of the roof was wood shakes, while the rest was asphalt shingles. There were also two kinds of rain gutters on the house: vinyl and aluminum.

The house had pine straw on the roof, in the gutters and surrounding the base of the home, as many homes have for landscaping.

For the simulation, metal tubes that look like tractor-trailer smoke stacks belched sparks as the fans blew the embers onto the house. Almost immediately, the pine straw around the house burst into flames.

The vinyl siding started to melt away from the house. The pine straw in the gutters was also on fire. The vinyl gutters also melted and fell, causing the ground beneath to burn even hotter. The aluminum gutters stayed in place, but that only kept the burning pine straw next to the wooden fascia boards of the house.

The wood shakes eventually caught on fire as the embers burned holes into them. The asphalt shingles were charred by the embers and burning pine straw, but they didn’t allow the fire to burn through to the wood beneath.

After the fires were doused, Julie Rochman, president and CEO of IBHS, said her main message for homeowners was to notice what happened. “That fire, which starts from sparks, from embers, burns very quickly, which is why my theme for today is, fear the ember.”

U.S. Forest Service official Jack Cohen said it’s important for homeowners to realize that it’s not always a wall of fire that destroys homes during a wildfire. All it takes is the embers. He suggested that homeowners near wooded areas remove any combustible materials from around their homes.

He also said they need to look at the building materials used on their homes and, if possible, replace wood shake roofs and wood or vinyl siding.

“The things that ignited on this structure are easily changed, but the only person that has authority, the only people that have authority to make that change are the homeowners. It’s private property,” he says.

Effects of airborne burning embers to be tested on structures


IBHS facility in Chester County, SC. Photo courtesy of Duke Energy

You may have heard about the huge wind tunnel testing facility operated by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) in Chester County, South Carolina that opened last October. Using 150 105 huge fans, it is capable of generating wind equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. A lot of wind tunnels can do that, but what makes this one different is that the interior test bed is large enough for nine two-story structures. It’s primary purpose is to test construction methods and materials in order to design structures that are more resistant to natural disasters. It can simulate wind, rain, and fire.

Now there are plans to use it to learn more about the effects of wind-blown burning embers on structures. Here is an excerpt from an IBHS press release:

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the U.S. Department of Energy’sSavannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology (DHS S&T) Directorate will hold a demonstration of the wildfire research being conducted at the IBHS Research Center in Chester County, S.C. on Thursday, March 24.


Equipment capable of injecting burning embers into the wind stream in the IBHS Research Center’s large testing chamber has been developed. Ductwork will allow burning embers to be injected into the wind stream throughout the 65-foot wide by 30-foot tall wind field created by the 15 groups of vane-axial fans. This system will enable the researcher to reproduce ember storms typical of wildfire events, replicating the along-wind and across-wind turbulence characteristics of natural winds occurring in wildfire conditions as well as the embers carried in those winds. These factors will allow IBHS researchers to produce much more accurate simulations of ember attacks on building components, including attic vents and complex roof shapes, and the gusty nature of the wind environment associated with an ember attack during a wind-driven wildfire event.

Here is a video that shows two homes being tested in the facility. One has conventional construction, and the other is “fortified”.

Thanks Dick