Fire Regime

Five Years of Wildfires Devastate Lake County, an Insurance Risk or Opportunity?

With Lake County now holding the title of the largest fire in California’s recorded history, the Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex, it leaves one to wonder what exactly it is that’s producing the conditions for these enormous fires to thrive in this area. It has been estimated that in the last 5 years, over 55 percent of the surface area in Lake County has burned in wildfires. It has become an unfortunate understanding of the residents that have chosen to settle in this county that it is not if a big fire will occur, but rather, when will the next one occur. In regards to wildland fire, there are three main elements that are known to have the most impact on fire behavior: weather, topography, and fuels. Unfortunately for Lake County, the area has all three of these influential factors working against the fire regime of the area.

Fire History

This map displays all of the fires inside a 1 mile buffer of Lake County that reached over 100 acres since 2012.

Topography

Lake County is located in the Coastal Range of northern California, on the west side of the Sacramento Valley. Lake County resides in a mid-altitude area that is high enough above sea level to be above the influence of the marine layer, but not high enough in the mountains to feel impacts of the cooler upper atmospheric air. In  the center of the county rests Clear Lake, which is the lowest point in elevation throughout the entire area. Surrounding this geographic feature are seemingly endless mountains, hills, and valleys extending in every direction until they arrive in the northern reaches of the Mendocino National Forest. These areas of tremendous elevation variation are where fires tend to thrive. Fires are able to take advantage of these slopes to preheat the fuels up-slope from the fire, while simultaneously utilizing the convection column of hot gasses being funneled through these drainages to fuel the fire’s spread.

Weather

The local weather patterns of Lake County tend to have a negative impact on fire behavior in the area. During fire season, the predominate winds blow from the northwest, with the occasional shift coming from the northeast, bringing the warm and dry air from the northern portion of the Sacramento Valley into the area. On the extreme side of the spectrum are Foehn Wind events that cause extreme fire behavior when they occur. Foehn or “sundowner” winds bring hot, dry air into the area, with an uncharacteristic down-slope flow that allows fire to spread at unfathomable rates. When these events occur, fires can continue to burn actively through the night which is usually the time when fire behavior begins to moderate.

Fuels

Lake County is relatively diverse in terms of the vegetation species throughout the county’s boundaries. Nearly every major fuel type that exists is contained within the county including grasslands, oak woodlands, brush, mixed conifer forests, and hardwood forests. Due to the wide spectrum of vegetation species here, fires can range from low intensity grass fires, to extremely high intensity forest fires. The map below depicts the vegetation classifications throughout the entire county. Starting in the southern areas of the county, the predominate fuel type is comprised of annual grasses and oak woodlands. As you move up in elevation on both the east and the western side of Clear Lake, the fuel type primarily changes to a chaparral-based fuel bed. Progressing further north into the Mendocino National Forest, the dominant fuel type changes once again to one of a heavy timber, mixed conifer, and hardwood forested area.

Vegetation

This map depicts the vegetation types throughout Lake County. Visualizing this data clearly shows the predominant vegetation type shifting as you progress north, from the southern border of the county.

The reasons above are all variables in what seems to be a devastating half-decade of fire history for the Lake County region. The complicated wildfire situation in this area has been influenced by the recent years of drought, which has decreased the available moisture in the region, drying out the vegetation and furthering their susceptibility to fire. Lastly, Lake County has had an increase in residency due to increasing interest in the Napa/Sonoma Wine country. With more human influence comes the increased probability of fires igniting.

Insurance risk or Opportunity?

Will this information impact insurance companies when considering existing policies, writing future business, or even adjusting premium rates in this county? Does this amount of fire activity in such a small time frame deter insurance carriers from writing new business in these areas? These recently charred areas should be considered as an opportunity to obtain new clientele due to the diminished risk from wildfire in the upcoming years based off the lack of vegetation. Some factors to take into account would be the return interval rate of fire in each of these fuel types. This knowledge would give an estimation of how long that specific site will have before it is ready to burn if the new vegetation is the same species. For example, Chaparral brush which, is a large portion of Lake Counties fuel, has a highly variable fire return interval ranging from 10 to over 100 years. If properly managed an individual could easily keep fire from returning to the landscape for a long period of time. Another advantage of insuring homeowners in recent burn areas, is the opportunity to educate them with advice on how to manage the vegetation around their home as it begins to regrow. This would in turn, promote defensible space around the structure, and give the client a piece of mind that their insurance company cares for their home, while simultaneously protecting the insurers investment.

Sources

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Assets/County+Site/Fire+Safe+Council/cwpp/eco.pdf

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Government/Boards/lcfsc/LCCWPP.htm

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-lake-county-fire-epicenter-20180814-story.html

http://www.californiachaparral.com/fire/firenature.html

https://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/The-Foehn-foehn-wind.htm

https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Training/certification/CWMS/S-190-Intro-to-Wildland-Fire-Behavior.ashx?la=en

ember zone waldo

Five Areas with Higher Wildfire Risk Than You Might Think

RedZone has highlighted five lesser-known areas where homeowners have increased wildfire risk

  1. Mid-slope areas
  2. Areas Adjacent to Wildland Fuels
  3. In the Ember Zone
  4. In Urban Canyons
  5. Proximity to Highway Grade

Mid-Slope

Mid-slope is an area commonly thought of as midway up a hillside, in this case, were using in terms of how it’s viewed in a wildfire-prone area. Homes are built and bought in these areas which are one of the least safe places to be during a wildfire. Typically, wildfires burn up a slope faster and more intensely than along flat ground. The steeper the slope the longer the flame lengths and faster-moving the fire.  Any slope can potentially increase the amount of heat a structure will be subject to during a wildfire, enhancing wildfire risk.

Not only is a home in this area more at risk, fire-fighting operations there are increasingly dangerous as well. Just one example from a few years ago, a mid-slope fatality is now a lesson learned from the Coal Canyon Fire in Fall River County, South Dakota. Essentially, firefighting orders will not allow for crews to work mid-slope assignments above a fire without large defensible space or a barrier/structure. Due to the adherent wildfire risk, both Fire Prevention Divisions and Underwriting guidelines suggest an aggressive vegetation modification and maintenance plan if the home or business is located mid-slope or at the top of a steep slope. The insured must also be aware of building materials used, especially if the structure is set back less than 15 feet.

mid-slope home is a wildfire risk

A worrisome home built along a mid-slope road near Lake Elsinore, CA


Adjacent to Wildland Fuels

It is well known that neighborhoods in or bordering the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), have a greater risk for impact by wildfire. In depth studies have learned that within those neighborhoods, homes on the outskirts have a higher risk than those located more interior. One of the main reasons why homes bordering the natural vegetation are at a higher risk of ignition is the lack of any buffer between the structure and the surrounding vegetation. These homes are located in extremely close proximity to the natural vegetation of the surrounding area and, thus, vulnerable to more direct flame impingement. This effect is exacerbated if the individual property owner has not taken the time to prepare his or her land for the occurrence of a wildland fire threatening their property.

Conversely, homes within the development have defensive barriers surrounding them. The inner structures have roads separating them from the structures bordering the surrounding natural vegetation and topography. These interior homes also are more likely to have moisture-rich vegetation such as, lawns, gardens, and manicured brush, making for more difficult sources of ember ignition.

The Sage Fire, near Simi Valley, CA is a good example of the homes located on the outskirts of these neighborhoods being at higher risk than the ones located within. As the fire made a push upslope to the ridgeline, it also spread out following property barriers on the outskirts of the neighborhood. The homes bordering the flame front were at a very high risk of the fire finding an ignition source to endanger it. Homes deeper into the neighborhood were less vulnerable because of the barriers aforementioned and those provided by the outlying homes. In the case of the Sage fire, no homes were impacted due to a small fire break in the vegetation immediately bumping the properties.

sage fire map wildfire risk

2016 Sage Fire burned between dense neighborhoods in Simi Valley, CA


In the Ember Zone

The “Ember Zone” can be defined as the area that could potentially have ember fall out due to a fire burning in the near vicinity. This zone can be up to a mile away from an active wildfire, depending on the size of the fire and wind speed. These embers are thrown from the fire and carried by the wind in the direction that it is blowing. If embers are hot enough and land in a receptive fuel bed, this can lead to an ignition of a spot fire ahead of the active fires edge. Spot fires caused by embers pose a threat because they sometimes go unnoticed for an extended period of time by fire personnel. This is especially the case when spot fires ignite at a distance away from the head of the fire.  The longer the new start has to become established, the harder it is for firefighters to respond effectively to save structures in the path of the newly ignited spot fire.

Another way the Ember Zone can pose a threat to a homeowner would be the process of the embers being blown into uncovered vents on the home, or an ignition source located near or inside the home, resulting in a fire starting in the structure itself. An example of how the Ember Zone proved catastrophic is in the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado. This fire experienced a drastic wind shift during the second operational period. This wind shift threw embers upwards of half a mile in the direction of the structures located in Colorado Springs. 346 homes were lost in the tragic fire of 2012, some of these were a direct result of ember fall out. Others were lost because of their direct contact with the active fires edge.

waldo 2013 wildfire risk

Embers contributed to many of the 346 homes lost on the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2013 in Colorado Springs, CO


In Urban Canyons

San Diego is known for its mix of wild canyons in between urban, even historic, developed neighborhoods. Most canyons have homes butting up adjacent to the canyon walls, due to San Diego’s unique mesa and valley/canyon landscape. These canyons offer convenient hiking trails and a natural landscape that is unique in an urban environment.  They also provide heavy fuels, steep slopes, and human activity that lead to dangerous fires that often threaten homes. A relatively small wildfire can threaten many homes in these environments.

Examples of wildfires starting in urban canyons:
  • Poinsettia Fire – Destroyed 22 homes and burned 400 acres. Fire started on a golf course and rapidly spread up the canyon.
  • City Heights Fire – Less than 2 acres, but came within a few feet of homes within an hour of a fire being reported.
  • Manzanita Canyon – Several instances of homeless cooking fires getting out of control in the canyon.
urban canyon brings wildfire risk

Homes with little to no defensible space in a San Diego Urban Canyon


Proximity to Highway Grade

If you are considering buying a home near a highway grade, you may get a nice view but could also be at higher risk for wildfires. Steep highway grades add additional complexity and stress on vehicles. Traffic collisions, mechanical failure, electrical issues, and fuel system malfunctions can cause vehicle fires that can extend to vegetation as well. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there is an average of 152,000 vehicle fires per year in the United States. Poorly maintained vehicles, put under stress while climbing up or braking down grades, can break down. As the driver pulls over to the shoulder or off the road entirely, catalytic converters, brakes, dragging exhaust parts, or cigarette butts can ignite dry grasses along a highway. Also, improperly loaded trailers can drag chains; creating sparks that can ignite grasses as the vehicle passes by unknowingly. All of these things can happen at any point along a highway, but the added stress and heat generated by steep grades increases the likelihood of a fire starting and therefore wildfire risk.

Examples of large wildfires starting on major highways:
  • Blue Cut – Highway 15 along the Cajon Pass. Destroyed 105 homes and burned over 36,000 acres.
  • Springs Fire – Highway 101 along the Conejo Grade. Caused by an undetermined roadside ignition. Fire burned 15 homes but threatened 4,000 and burned 24,000 acres.  The fire burned until it hit the coast.
  • Grade Fire – Ridgewood Grade on Highway 101. Caused by a vehicle fire spreading to grass. Burned 900 acres.

SOURCES:

http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/redsheet/Jesusita/JesusitaReviewReport.pdf

http://www.firehouse.com/article/10469914/which-factor-is-present-in-most-wildland-firefighting-fatalities-and-burnovers

https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/detail?fatalityId=3935

http://www.firesafemarin.org/topography

http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Vehicle-Use/

http://www.nfpa.org/public-education/by-topic/property-type-and-vehicles/vehicles

http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/TechnicalNotes/NIST.TN.1910.pdf

https://books.google.com/survivingwildfire

WildfireIntel.org is Quickly becoming a Trusted Source

Late June and early July added several new ignitions to a wildfire season that was already off to an ominous start. So far in 2018 major fires have already igniting across Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southwest. The recent heat wave that swept Red Flag fueled wildfires across the US resulting in evacuations and structure loss in Colorado, California, Utah, and  As we move deeper into the summer months, increasingly warm and dry conditions will continue to fuel the threat of wildfires. The National Inter-agency Fire Center released their fire potential outlook for summer months, predicting an above average fire season for all of the twelve western states making wildfire intelligence gathering even more essential.

A New Source for Wildfire Intelligence

Understanding the need for real-time wildfire intelligence, a conversation started between group of devout users and former moderators. This group came together to revive a forum that once popular among the fire community. For a variety of reasons they ultimately decided it was best to spin-off a new website. This new website, branded wildfireintel.org, was created as a non-profit with the mission to create a free public forum for discussing “topics important to the fire community”. Relevant subjects include fire related “incidents, jobs, industry, safety, and health”.

Wildfire Intelligence Forum Example

An example of how the forum is structured based off geographic regions.

Recent Fire Activity Drives Traffic and Additional Users to the Website

Although it’s still in the initial stages of development, wildfireintel.org is up and running and gaining traction. WildfireIntel.org is quickly becoming a trusted source for accurate, real-time information. Recent fire activity is helping increase traffic to the forum, with the last 30 days adding over 200 new users and almost a million page views. Knowing that forums survive by the active participation of its users the founders of the website are encouraging the fire community to continue to contribute to the site. The founders hope that with increased participation an “active and sustainable wildfire community” will again foster and provide much need wildfire intelligence. For more information, please visit the wildfireintel.org website and/or become more involved by registering.

logo

Wildfire Intelligence Logo

Wildfire near home in Possum Kingdom, TX

Will wildfire risk impact my home insurance?

Over the last thirty years, the length of wildfire season has increased by nearly 20% around the world. In California, the idea of wildfire ‘season’ is nearly laughable as large growth, damaging wildfires happen year-round on a regular basis now. While wildfires can happen just about anywhere, the western US States are usually at greater risk for experiencing wildfires. Higher rates result from this increased risk and, in some areas, the insurance companies may not offer coverage at all.

Why is wildfire coverage important?

Home built in the WUI

Many communities are building farther into the wilderness (Credit: Google Earth)

As approximately one-third of homes in the United States are in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), insurance companies are updating what is and is not covered in cases of wildfire. Insurance companies may factor in wildfire history in the area, home construction materials, vegetation, and topography, for example. In a few of the highest risk areas in the country, some insurance companies have opted to avoid writing policy coverage at all!

When structuring your policy, be sure to ask questions to know what is covered and how you are protected in case of wildfire. Policies may cover additional living expenses (ALE, in case damages or loss make your home uninhabitable), fire department service charges, or repairs and debris removal after a covered loss. There may be an additional option for fire insurance specifically for your non-primary residence. Different carriers offer different protections and add-ons, so be sure to know what you need.

What property features are considered?

Construction materials, surrounding vegetation, and landscape features are a few considerations when determining wildfire risk. (Credit: Oregon State University)

Construction materials, surrounding vegetation, and landscape features are a few considerations when determining wildfire risk. (Credit: Oregon State University)

Vegetation, alone, on your property isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Insurers will typically take into account the location and type, as well as density, of the surrounding vegetation. Fire stations and hydrants near your home alleviate some levels of risk as there are preventative resources near the home should a wildfire emergency occur. Topographical features could play heavily on your potential extra costs. If you live in or near notable high risk areas, such as a canyon or the deep woods, additional insurance charges may be added to cover the increased risk to your home from wildfire. Roof type, along with eaves and siding materials, may also play a factor. For example, a wood roof (even if treated) is at much higher risk of catching fire from embers than a clay tile roof.

Homeowners can ensure they maintain significant defensible space that can help slow or stop a wildfire from spreading to your home and property.

Can I do anything to help protect myself?

Do not be discouraged! There are steps you can take to help make your home more fire-resistant. Programs like the Wildfire Partners Program out of Boulder County, Colorado, give homeowners a property assessment with specific tips, updates, landscaping, and removals that decrease their risk to a wildfire. Additionally, some insurance companies have specialists that perform consultations and provide the homeowner a report with recommended improvements to eaves, patios and decks, roofs, and vegetation. In areas with high wildfire risk, insurance companies may require this kind of consultation and follow up work in order to authorize writing the policy. As always, be your own advocate, and take the first steps to giving your home the best chance of survival from a wildfire. However, if you choose to live in a high wildfire risk area, be prepared to pay a bit higher premium to have proper insurance coverage in case of a destructive wildfire.

Source(s):

https://disastersafety.org/wildfire/preventing-fire-damage-other-roofing-tips/

http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Defensible-Space/

http://www.wildfirepartners.org/our-program/

 

CalFire Finds Cause for Fire Siege, But Questions Remain

The legal battles begin as California still reels and begins to recover from what became the worst fire season in living memory last year. CalFire released a report on the first of several fire investigations from 2017’s northern California fire “siege”. The investigation specifically covers the four fires in Butte and Nevada Counties: La Porte, McCourtney, Lobo, and Honey fires. Investigators determined that tree branches coming into contact with power lines caused all four fires. In three of the fires, with La Porte being the exception, CalFire found Pacific Gas and Electric in violation of Public Resources Code section 4293, which concerns tree clearance management along power lines.

The ramifications of these and future investigations could end in big payouts by Pacific Gas and Electric for structure losses caused by the fires. The Napa/Sonoma Fire Siege, which included about 170 individual fire starts, caused an estimated $15 billion in damages. If Pacific Gas and Electric is found responsible for the fire starts, they could be on the hook for a large chunk of those damages. Property law can get pretty tricky when dealing with privately run public utilities. In the past, utility companies were able to pass the cost of damages along to ratepayers as part of providing service, but a recent case with San Diego Gas and Electric may put an end to this practice.

Historical Precedent: San Diego Gas and Electric

2007 Witch Fire

Regulators, investors, insurers, and homeowner victims are closely following the now decade-long legal process following three massive fires in San Diego County in 2007. The Witch, Guejito, and Rice fires together destroyed 1,300 homes and left San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) with a $2.4 billion bill. The utility company and its insurers already paid the damage claims, but SDG&E is trying to recoup about $379 million of its losses through a structured increase in the ratepayer bill over 6 years. They argued that the wind event was unprecedented and so severe that the fires could not have been avoided. The California Public Utilities Commission disagreed and rejected the plan, stating that SDG&E was not a prudent manager of its infrastructure. CPUC was clear in their statements that their decision does not represent SDG&E’s current wildfire management. SDG&E has since invested heavily in wildfire planning, intelligence, and response.

The positive changes at SDG&E are precisely the reason that the California Public Utilities Commission does not want to allow utilities to pass the damages to the ratepayers. It would disincentivize the utility companies to invest in better wildfire prevention.

Investors worry that the SDG&E decision will set a precedent to determine if PG&E will be held liable and if they can force ratepayers to cover the cost. Whether Pacific Gas and Electric will be found responsible for a majority of the losses in the larger Napa/Sonoma fires is still unclear. Even if they are found liable, who will pay?

 

Source(s):

http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/newsreleases/2018/2017_WildfireSiege_Cause%20v2%20AB%20(002).pdf

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-utility-wildfires-20171017-story.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/for-a-look-at-pg-e-s-fate-after-fires-watch-this-san-diego-case

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-sdge-wildfirecaseruling-20171130-story.html

http://www.cbs8.com/story/37043932/lilac-fire-powerful-debate-over-sdge-cutting-off-electricity

 

A New Source for Wildfire Intelligence and Discussion

The 2018 wildfire season is already off to a strong start. So far this year major fires have already igniting across Texas, Oklahoma, and the southwest. As we move into the summer months, increasingly warm and dry conditions will continue to fuel the threat of wildfires. The National Inter-agency Fire Center released their fire potential outlook for summer months, predicting an above average fire season for all of the twelve western states making wildfire intelligence gathering even more essential. This foreboding outlook comes on the heels of an oft dubbed “unprecedented” 2017 wildfire season that shattered multiple records.

A Trusted Source Lost

2017 thrust the threat of wildfires back into the public spotlight. Numerous fires across the United States grabbed nationwide media attention but none more than the two most significant California fires; The October Fire Siege in Napa/Sonoma and the Thomas Fire in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area. With broadcast and social media flooding in, one trusted source of wildfire intelligence was surprisingly absent from the conversation. Without notice, during the late season chaos of the Thomas fire, the WildlandFire.com forum was taken offline and all the data was lost.

What was WildlandFire.com?

WildlandFire.com was conceived in the early nineties as a way to provide, “a quick, reliable system to allow firefighters and other employees (and their families) the ability to voice their thoughts, ideas, experiences, or even ask a few simple questions.”. By the late nineties the forum gained traction, soon becoming a trusted source within the firefighting community.

Wildfire Intelligence Forum

Understanding the essential role this type of web forum plays, a conversation started on how to revive the website. A group of “devout users and former moderators” ultimately decided it was best to spin-off a new website. This new website, branded wildfireintel.org, was created as a non-profit with the mission to create a forum for discussing “topics important to the fire community”. Relevant subjects include fire related “incidents, jobs, industry, safety, and health”.

Wildfire Intelligence Forum Example

An example of how the forum is structured based off geographic regions.

For More Information and How to Register

Although it’s still in the initial stages of development, wildfireintel.org is now up and running. Knowing that forums survive by the active participation of its users the founders of the website are encouraging the fire community to contribute to the site. The founders hope that with increased participation an “active and sustainable wildfire community” will again foster. For more information, please visit the wildfireintel.org website and/or become more involved by registering.

logo

Wildfire Intelligence Logo

fire on the horizon

Do the First Five Feet Matter Most?

Experiments, models, and post-fire studies have shown homes ignite during wildfires due to the condition of the home and its surroundings, up to 200′ from the foundation. The last couple of years, fire researchers have found more and more cases of homes burning down due to combustibles directly linked (first five feet) to the structure. Specifically, embers and small flames from low intensity surface fires are igniting adjacent combustibles which are, in turn, igniting homes. Therefore, the Home Ignition Zone receiving the most attention lately, is the area within 0-5 feet of the home.

H I Z

The Home Protection Zone as suggested in the Wildfire Home Assessment Checklist published by Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (Source: http://disastersafety.org/wp-content/uploads/wildfire-checklist_IBHS.pdf)

First Five Feet Defined

The actual home, including roof and deck, along with the area within five feet of the zone makes up what the NFPA refers to as the “Immediate Zone”. According to the site, science has proven that this is the most important zone to take action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers and therefore home ignition. The group also provides a few suggestions for this zone which will help the survivability of a home during a wildfire event.

  1. Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
  2. Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
  3. Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
  4. Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
  5. Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  6. Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches
six keys to the first five feet

The six keys to safety in the 0-5 foot zone


Sources:

Disaster Safety Organization

NFPA

NFPA Xchange Blog

RedZone Disaster Intelligence

9 Wildfire Mitigation Questions for Homeowners

Wildfires have increased in intensity and impact to both humans and infrastructure in the last couple decades. If you live in a forest or wildland area, you face the real danger of wildfire. To reduce the increasing risk, homeowners need to take more responsibility in preventative measures. RedZone suggests considering the fire resistance of your home, the topography of your property, and the nature of the vegetation close by. Here are nine questions for homeowners in wildfire urban interface areas that they should strive to be able to answer:

Image 1

Take some time to learn about the wildfire history of your area. Be aware of recent weather. History tells us that a long period without rain increases the risk of wildfire. Just because you do not live in the forest does not mean you are not at risk from embers and smoke.


Image 2

All vegetation is combustible; the best strategy for reducing risk is to simply reduce the trees and other vegetation near your home. The rule of thumb is, the greater the distance between your home and the vegetation, the greater the protection. Typically, two zones make up the required 100 feet of defensible space. The zones are: 0-30 feet & 30-100 feet, each warranting both vertical and horizontal vegetation clearance. Further guidelines are outlined here.


Image 3

Non-vegetation combustible materials are also part of the 0-30 foot zone. Combustible materials such as door mats, patio furniture, storage, etc can ignite homes just as often as vegetation.


Image 4

Any porch, balcony or overhang with exposed space underneath is fuel for an approaching fire. Overhangs ignite easily by flying embers and by the heat and fire that gets trapped underneath.


Image 5

Like porches and balconies, eaves trap the heat rising along the exterior siding. Enclose all eaves to reduce the hazard.


Image 6

Any attic vent, soffit vent, louver or other opening can allow embers and flaming debris to enter a home and ignite it.


Image 7

The roof is especially vulnerable in a wildfire. Embers and flaming debris can travel great distances, land on your roof and start a new fire. It’s almost important to keep roof, gutters of leaves and debris.


Image 8

Fire resistant materials such as stucco, metal, brick, cement shingles, concrete and rock in the siding of a home can help prevent home ignition. You can treat wood siding with UL-approved fire retardant chemicals, but the treatment and protection are not permanent.


Image 9

Windows allow radiated heat to pass through and ignite combustible materials inside. The larger the pane of glass, the more vulnerable it is to fire. Dual- or triple-pane thermal glass, and fire resistant shutters or drapes, help reduce the wildfire risk.


Sources:

https://www.fema.gov/pdf/hazard/wildfire/wdfrdam.pdf

 

RedZone Disaster Intelligence

RedZone Attends WUI Conference

Last week, a few of RedZone’s leaders attended the (Wildland Urban Interface) WUI Conference in Reno, NV. To kick it off, Pat Durland lead a featured course Sunday and Monday, teaching WUI mitigation techniques to a class of 40+ from all over the country. Pat prides himself on sharing the latest findings, lessons learned, and mitigation techniques each and every year. Mr. Durland touted the class as a success, citing a 40% increase in attendance from the previous year.

WUI Conference General Session area

Wildfire Urban Interface Conference in Reno, NV

WUI Conference: Day 1

The rest of RedZone and nationwide attendees arrived as the conference began Tuesday and ran through Thursday afternoon. The full conference opened with a General Session on the state of Wildland Fire from a policy perspective. CALFIRE Chief Ken Pimlott, the IAFC Head, and USDA Forest Service (USFS) Deputy Chief, Vicki Christiansen, spoke during the session. The group highlighted the trends seen in terms of growth for wildfire activity and spending as well as the decline in both personnel and budgets. It turns out that 2017 was the costliest year in USFS history with the 2.4 billion spent on last year (up from 1.6 billion in 2016). Chief Christiansen also suggested that a year-round fire season is the expectation of leadership at the USFS. Consequently, she stated, “Wildfire consumes the USFS budget.” Fortunately, their strategy to overcome this relies on further development of a separate fund to pay for the outlier, 1-2% of, fires whose wildfire suppression costs cause the majority of the disparity. In turn, the fund should help alleviate the strain on the shortfalls for the non-fire forestry programs (a $100 million deficit on average annually). Sounds like tough times monetarily.

October 2017 Northern California Fire Siege

Day Two began with the highlight of the conference for me, a detailed report on the October 2017 Northern California Fire Siege. Our team spent nearly two weeks following and responding to one of the worst wildfire catastrophes in human history. I followed the Sonoma fires’ every move that eerie night, so it was interesting to hear from the Santa Rosa Incident Commander on his experience that night on the ground. These fires have been covered well so here are a few things I learned from Chief Tony Gossner (Santa Rosa City Fire, Tubbs IC for Santa Rosa City).

  • On October 8th and 9th (2017) 172 different fires started, 21 of which went extended attack
  • 3,600 911 calls were received
  • Life Safety and Rescue were 100% priority for the first 12 hours
  • Tubbs fire travelled 12 nautical miles in 3+ hours
  • Learned a New term ‘mountain wave’, used to describe the wind pushing the fire down the mountain
  • 78 strike teams were requested before midnight
  • 150 elderly were left to shelter in place as evacuation of the facility became impossible, three engines were told “to not let this building burn”
  • “Sounded like a war zone” (hundreds of cars and propane tanks blew up)
  • There were more personnel than vehicles to respond, so firefighters used personal vehicles, rented vans, trucks, whatever they could get their hands on.
  • “One group actually cut a lock and stole one of Santa Rosa City’s Fire Engines” (Chief Gossner)
  • Alerting in the middle of the night was very ineffective

“One group actually cut a lock and stole one of Santa Rosa City’s Fire Engines” (Chief Gossner)

Other Seminars

We attended several other seminars during the next two days of the WUI conference. The next most relevant was an interesting discussion of the shortfalls of evacuation planning, terminology, and strategies for the different stages of an event. Lastly, Greg Miller, Chief of Gatlinburg fire then shared his department’s fight with the Chimney Tops 2 fire in late November of 2016. Similarly to the Tubbs fire, that fire devoured 2,501 structures in 8 hours due to another ‘mountain wave’ event. The deadly tale was yet another reminder that wind driven fires such as these are especially dangerous when they happen overnight.

wui quotes

Powerful quotes from Incident Commanders on two of the worst fire disasters in history

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

Book Review: “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America”

In The Big Burn, author Timothy Egan takes the reader through the beginning years of environmentalist and activist John Muir’s growing friendship with then Governor Teddy Roosevelt. The book builds by highlighting their growing, shared desire to preserve the frontier and forestlands of the West. During Roosevelt’s presidency, he leaned heavily on forester and politician Gifford Pinchot to manage and develop the nationally protected forestry lands. Pinchot, in turn, formed the US Forest Service, as we know it today. Egan provides in-depth historical accounts of the politics involved in the establishment of the protected areas and the fight against unregulated land clearing by logging companies.

 

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

As the story leads in to 1910, Egan sets the stage by depicting a newly established forestry service still developing its forestry management plan. Many areas had no trained or allocated firefighting groups. With little-to-no fire crew system in place, Egan tells how forest rangers would have to staff their crews with any able-bodied men in town when the need arose, oftentimes from the nearby saloon. The whole situation becomes harrowing when one day in late August, a wildfire began burning out of control in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. In response, a ranger named Ed Pulaski, was sent with a 45 man crew to work a part of the fire and ended up forced to find shelter in a nearby mine. Pulaski knew the area, was familiar with fire behavior, and was determined to save his men, even giving up his horse to an older fire fighter so the man could keep up with the crew. Pulaski kept his men sheltered in the mining tunnel overnight until the fire passed, keeping some of the panicked men inside the tunnel by force at gunpoint. The next day, he famously led them out of the forest into the nearby town to the hospital. Included in Egan’s relating of the Big Burn, as it came to be called, are many first-hand accounts and photos that pull the reader even closer into the events that occurred in the Coeur d’Alene area. The August 1910 fire across portions of Idaho, Montana, and Washington burned approximately 3 million acres of logging and mining land – nearly the size of Connecticut.

Image of mining tunnel where Pulaski and his crew stayed overnight - now called the Pulaski Tunnel

Mining tunnel where Pulaski and his crew stayed overnight – now called the Pulaski Tunnel

This book is recommended for readers interested in the historical account of the Big Burn and the inspiration for the development of the US Forestry Service and National Park Service. It is easily readable and engaging while giving an incredibly detailed and laid out history of the events surrounding this fire. Readers familiar with the wildland fire fighting world may know Pulaski’s name from the Pulaski tool credited to him (and likely created after this incident due to the need shown for better firefighting tools) that is a national standard.

For more information: