The time to act for wildfire safety is now, according to national experts. The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise® Communities Program together with members of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) brought wildfire safety messages to a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, October 11, sponsored by Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (AZ-7) and Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30).
The three organizations, which have partnered nationally to promote individual and community wildfire preparedness, delivered “Wildfire Safety – What We Can Do to Protect our Homes and Communities” to approximately 25 congressional staffers. The briefing took place during NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week, a national public awareness campaign established in 1922 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, and to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention and safety.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), excess drought and fuel build-up that has plagued much of the southern and western U.S. is blamed for the 2011 wildfire season being one of the worst in history, with close to eight million acres burned nationwide. The extensive destruction of homes in Texas in the past month has increased the urgency of wildfire safety messages.
Panelist Jim Karels, Florida State Forester and chair of the National Association of State Foresters’ Fire Protection Committee, pointed out that nearly two-thirds of American forests are protected by state and local fire services, who also respond to three-quarters of the nation’s brush, grass and forest fires.
“I can’t say enough about the importance of local fire departments,” stated Karels. “Federal fire assistance programs including the Federal Excess Property Program enable states to help build capacity among small rural and volunteer departments. We support them so that they can support us in wildfire suppression and management.”
Lucian Deaton of the International Association of Fire Chiefs illustrated how the national “Ready, Set, Go!” program is working to reach fire departments with preparedness messages they can use to help educate their own members and residents in their districts.
“Ready, Set, Go! helps get NFPA’s Firewise message to local fire departments, and adds important components such as situational awareness during a fire and evacuation planning,” said Deaton.
NFPA’s manager of the national Firewise Communities Program, Michele Steinberg, implored participants to bring wildfire safety messages home to their constituents and to use the resources made available at the Firewise Web site at http://wwwfirewise.org.
“Firefighters, who are at risk when fighting brush, grass and forest fires, cannot always save every home from a fast-moving wildfire, particularly in rugged, often hard-to-reach areas,” said Steinberg. “By learning how homes ignite and using simple inexpensive Firewise steps to modify and clean up their homes and landscapes, residents can play a huge role in helping reduce wildfire damage in their area and preventing home destruction. The Firewise program is accessible for anyone seeking information on how to be safer from wildfire.”
Wildfires in 2011 include some of the largest in our nation’s history, such as the Monument and Wallow fires in Arizona and the devastating Bastrop Complex fire in Texas. These and other events have prompted communities to act now to reduce losses before more homes and lives are lost. The Firewise Communities and Ready, Set, Go! programs emphasize local solutions for homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters and others working together to create a safe community with effective emergency response.