A History of Fire Prevention
National Fire Prevention Week is October 4-10, 2020 and is always observed during the week of October 9th to coincide with the Great Chicago Fire that started on October 8, 1871 causing widespread destruction, death, and homelessness. This is a week set aside for firefighters to provide fire and life safety education to the public to lessen the casualties and devastating destruction caused by fires.
The initiative to educate the public has motivated homeowners to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes, have fire extinguishers available, and has resulted in many subscribing to alarm companies to monitor for fires inside the home, and installing residential sprinklers during construction.
During this week, we want to take the opportunity to also bring attention to wildfire; to bring awareness to the reality of wildfire in the Southeast and to share what residents can do to prepare and protect their family, home, and communities from the devastating effects of wildfire.
Knowing Your Wildfire Risk
Most people believe wildfires only occur in the western United States because of the high visibility in the media, but the Southeast has more wildfires start than any other region. Statistics show that over 50 percent of all wildfires in the U.S. occur in the Southeast each year. In fact, North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia are the top three states for acres in the wildland urban interface, with California ranking fourth.
While the Southeast experiences wildfires year-round, most states experience an increase in wildfire occurrence between October and December. This can be contributed to the fall usually being dry, and early frost and annual leaf fall add an abundance of new fuel to feed a fire.
The wildland urban interface (WUI) is defined as an area where structures and other human development meet and or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation. Texas, Florida, and North Carolina follow California in the number of houses in the WUI.
Is your community at risk to wildfire? The Southern Group of State Foresters has an online portal called SouthWRAP to help identify and educate communities on wildfire risks in their area. To learn more about wildfire risk where you live, visit SouthWRAP. One of the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is to create Fire Adapted Communities where homeowners and communities can learn to live safely with wildland fire with minimal impacts.
In wildfire mitigation, it is oftentimes the little things that cost the least that end up providing the biggest impact at lessening the effects of a wildfire.
The most immediate area to focus on around a home is the area within 30 feet of your house. The goal is to eliminate anything flammable within this area to avoid fire spreading to the house. Clearing leaves, pine straw, and dead vegetation away from your home and from underneath your deck or porch can lessen your homes risk to wildfire. The type and arrangement of shrubs and bushes planted in this area has a direct impact on the survivability of your home during a wildfire. Avoiding having a privacy fence attached to a home or in direct contact can eliminate fire spread to the house. A task as simple as replacing a flammable gate on a privacy fence with one that is made of non-combustible material will prevent fire from spreading.
These are just a few of the tips that can be done at minimal cost to lessen your homes risk to wildfire. There are many more things that can be done to your home and yard to minimize your homes risk to wildfires.
Mitigation Assistance Programs
There are national wildfire mitigation programs that provide information to guide homeowners to learn to live with wildland fire. The Firewise USA Program is a voluntary program administered by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) which helps educate communities and homeowners on how to increase the ignition resistance of their communities and homes. This program has over 1,500 recognized sites that have taken action and mitigated their risk to impacts from wildfires. Visit the Firewise USA site to learn more.
The International Association of Fire Chief’s has developed the Ready, Set, Go program to provide resources for educational outreach for fire departments to better inform their residents on wildfire risk and to provide guidance on actions and activities that can help individuals lessen their risk. This program helps better prepare residents in the event evacuations are ordered to provide for public and first responder safety. Information on this program can be found at Ready, Set, Go.
The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net) is a nationwide network that helps educate residents and communities so they can prepare and take actions to better allow them to co-exist with wildfires. The FAC Net promotes identifying partners and stakeholders who, through collaboration, can collectively plan, take action and prepare to live safely with wildland fire. Visit Fire Adapted Communities to learn about this program.
Each of these programs help educate residents on actions that can be implemented and taken to lessen the risk of wildland fire to their homes and communities. Using information from these three programs can guide residents to make informed decisions on how to live safely with wildfires. Actions taken well in advance of an approaching wildfire can result in minimal impacts to property and lives and allow for safer and more efficient fire operations for fire responders.
Contact your State Forestry Agency for additional information on programs for your specific State. For more information on the history of wildfire in the Southeast visit http://www.southernwildfire.net/about.