Wildland Fire Issues for Fire Prevention

During much of our conversations around the country, particularly around smaller fire departments, we often ask, "What do you do or how do you handle problems with your interface?"This year's fire activity has already been pretty severe in the number...


During much of our conversations around the country, particularly around smaller fire departments, we often ask, "What do you do or how do you handle problems with your interface?"

This year's fire activity has already been pretty severe in the number and magnitude of events we have experienced in the northwest. California is just starting to ramp up for their fire season.

While operations folks are getting geared up, are our prevention bureaus doing the same?

During much of our conversations around the country, particularly around smaller fire departments, we often ask, "What do you do or how do you handle problems with your interface?"

Much of the time we get a blank stare and then a follow-up question "What do you mean?" or "What interface?" Okay, maybe our question is ambiguous or unclear, but to some degree, we see a lack of awareness or concentration on terminology surrounding the risk.

While there are lots of definitions for interface, in the fire prevention world we are generally speaking of the wildland interface. This is the area where forested or vegetated land abuts residential and/or commercial development.

We can get more specific with regard to occluded interface and intermix, but the point we are emphasizing is where buildings mix with forested or heavily vegetated land. This can be found in Anywhere, U.S.A.

We have seen serious wildland fires in Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and Kansas, not just in the Rocky Mountains.

Wherever there are large amounts of combustible vegetation, there is concern for fires damaging crops, timber, houses or businesses. In fact, some of the more dangerous fires are in light flashy fuels such as grasslands.

The speed at which fire will move through this fuel bed is astounding. As in our last two articles, firefighter safety is an issue that should be dealt with more proactively than reactively.

How can fire prevention bureaus deal with wildfire issues and provide a higher level of firefighter safety and community support?

The first element is wildland risk public awareness. In nearly every public meeting we attend where residents or business owners show up for the first time to discuss wildland fire risk, they have an underlying impression that a fire truck will show up in front of everyone's building as soon as they call 911. We know that is just not true.

It is important to engage them in a dialog about assumptions and expectations. Let them know your firefighting forces will be severely limited and that much of their outcome in a wildfire event is left up to them.

The next element is to provide citizens ways to protect their property through the proper separation of grass, brush and combustible items such as firewood from their homes or buildings.

Explain what survivable space means and what they can do to achieve that. Let them know what they need to do to assist your department in protecting themselves. Involve them as part of the firefighting force of sorts, not through direct suppression but by providing mitigation techniques to assist the overall suppression efforts.

Next, educate them on the need to be prepared. Evacuations are frequent occurrences during major wildfire events. An evacuation, large or small, is not an easy task. Help the homeowners or businesses understand what will be involved and the timelines that may be established.

Help them prioritize things to take such as medication, important papers (birth certificates, insurance policies, photos, wills, etc.), money, valuables (jewelry, guns, etc.), data from computers, which cars or autos to take and preplan how to deal with their pets. Small animals may be taken with while large animals may need advanced transport and relocation or some preparations for them to remain behind and survive on their own.

Lots of emotion can be stirred during these conversations. Some may not take it serious. The best you can do is make them aware and hopefully think of evacuation issues before they are needed.

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