Seattle, WA – The Pacific Northwest is coming out of one of its driest winters on record, and emergency responders are bracing for an early and possibly severe wildfire season. But even in the midst of a drought, spring rains and thunderstorms can trigger flash flooding as hardened soils fail to absorb sudden downpours. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service Forecast Offices throughout the Pacific Northwest is hosting the first region-wide Severe Weather and Wildfire Awareness Week (May 9-15, 2005) to educate the public on wildfire/severe weather hazards. According to FEMA Regional Director John Pennington, calendar observances like NOAA’s Severe Weather and Wildfire Awareness Week are invaluable tools in communicating disaster preparedness messages.
“We can’t stop Mother Nature, but we can influence human behavior,” said Pennington. “We can and must take action before disasters strike to mitigate their worst effects and remove some of the pain from the recovery process.”
To protect homes from wildfires, Pennington urges the creation of “defensible perimeters” by clearing flammable debris well-away from structures and outbuildings:
- Establish firebreaks around the perimeter of structures, power poles and property.
- Cut back flammable weeds and brush and remove tree branches to a height of 15 feet.
- Stack firewood away from your home.
- Store combustible materials only in approved containers, and well away from the house.
- Keep roofs, chimneys and gutters clean.
- Keep a non-flammable screen over the flue opening of chimneys or stovepipes.
- Use fire resistant materials when retrofitting or renovating structures.
- Install smoke detectors on every floor, and near sleeping areas.
- Have fire tools (shovel, rake, water bucket and a ladder that can reach the roof) handy.
- Plan and rehearse family evacuation plans.
“Wildfires and prolonged drought conditions strip slopes of groundcover and harden soils, increasing the risk of flash floods, allowing them to strike suddenly, with higher velocity and greater debris loads,” said Pennington. “You don’t need to live in a high risk flood zone to be at risk from flash floods – or to qualify for National Flood Insurance. The time to act is before floodwaters rise.”
Tips for reducing vulnerability to flood damage range from elevating or relocating vulnerable appliances, water heaters and furnaces, to installing backflow valves on sewer lines and anchoring in-yard fuel tanks.
According to Pennington, most floods are too small to qualify for federal assistance, but collectively still cause millions of dollars in damage. “Standard homeowner insurance does not cover flood damage,” said Pennington. National Flood Insurance pays off regardless of whether there is a disaster declaration or not. It’s affordable, and offers a comprehensive safety net against future flood losses.”
New policies do have a 30-day waiting period before they take effect, and Pennington recommends that at-risk properties be protected now.