By Dan Bailey
Published Friday, October 1, 2010
| From the October 2010 Issue of FireRescue
The wildland fire season may be coming to a close in many parts of the country, but developments on the wildland/urban interface (WUI) front are as busy as ever. In this article, I’ll share a few updates that have national implications.
Black Saturday Report Released
On July 31, the final report on Black Saturday, the worst bushfire in Australian history that killed 173 people, was released from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
The report, which is broken up into a summary plus four volumes, provides a thorough account of the fire events that took place in January and February of 2009, particularly on Feb. 7 (Black Saturday) and includes recommendations, a description of how the commission compiled the report and information from key witnesses.
One key finding noted in the report was that the most severe of the Feb. 7 fires shared similar features, including:
- Rapid fire spread followed ignition, which responding crews could not contain.
- Fires crowned in forested areas, which made them impossible for ground crews to control.
- Powerful convection columns were generated above the fires.
- Extensive forward spotting occurred as a result of the fuel type, the weather conditions and the topography.
- Late in the day, a wind change altered the direction of fire spread and extended the firefront.
Revising Bushfire Policy
The commission described authorities’ response to the incident as “inadequate” and listed 67 recommendations. Yet despite its criticism of leadership, the commission recommends that the country’s controversial “Prepare. Act. Survive” bushfire policy be thoroughly overhauled but not abandoned. Suggested revisions include:
- Enhance the role of warnings—including providing for timely and informative advice about the predicted passage of a fire and the actions to be taken by people in areas potentially in its path;
- Emphasize that all fires are different in ways that require an awareness of fire conditions, local circumstances and personal capacity;
- Recognize that the heightened risk on the worst days demands a different response; and
- Strengthen the range of options available in the face of fire, including community refuges, bushfire shelters and evacuation.
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Introduce a comprehensive approach to shelter options that includes developing standards for community refuges as a matter of priority; designating community refuges—particularly in areas of very high risk—where other bushfire safety options are limited; and acknowledging personal shelters around their homes as a fallback option for individuals.
- Introduce a comprehensive approach to evacuation that encourages individuals—especially vulnerable people—to relocate early; includes consideration of plans for assisted evacuation of vulnerable people; and recommends “emergency evacuation.”
- At locations that meet preparedness levels A or B, there should be a full incident management team in position by 1000 hrs on days of Code Red fire danger and a core incident management team (eight personnel) in position by 1000 hrs on days of extreme fire danger.
- Require an incident action plan summary to be completed within the first 4 hours of an incident being reported.
- Provide to all Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers an identification card to facilitate their passage through roadblocks.
- Review and improve the CFA communications strategy and develop a program for identifying and responding to black spots in radio coverage.
The report also recommends appointing a new, independent fire commissioner to oversee the state’s firefighting operations, as leadership during the deadly blazes was found to be lacking.
To read the complete report, visit www.royalcommission.vic.gov.
New WUI Council Formed
As the U.S. population grows, housing, office buildings, schools and other structures needed to support an urban environment are being constructed closer than ever to wildland areas. One unwanted result is the increased number of wildfires and the danger those fires pose to life and property.
The just-formed National Wildland Urban Interface Council (NWUIC) will attempt to address those and other challenges associated with the growing threat from wildfires in urban neighborhoods that border wildland areas. The alliance was developed by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils (NARC&DC).
“With more than 70,000 communities, 46 million homes and 120 million people across the United States at risk from wildland fires, this growing crisis needs new emphasis to save lives, reduce injuries and protect property,” says ICC CEO Rick Weiland. “This is an important public safety and building safety issue.”
NARC&DC President James Sipperly agrees: “The new National Wildland Urban Interface Council blends a strong national emphasis to combat wildland fires. Our Council’s contribution to this effort includes an effective, existing grassroots organization with more than 32,000 local volunteers. It reaches more than 180 million people in 2,614 counties in all 50 states, as well as the Caribbean and the Pacific Basin.”
More than 120 organizations and agencies are expected to begin working together on this important issue, hosted by the National Association of Home Builders, at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 3–4 in Washington, D.C.
Cohesive Wildfire Management Strategy Due in November
The Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations Act requires the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior to submit a report to Congress in November of this year that contains a cohesive wildfire management strategy consistent with recommendations listed in recent General Accountability Office (GAO) reports regarding management strategies. Following its formal approval by the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Interior by November 2010, the strategy is to be revised at least once during each 5-year period to address any changes with respect to landscape, vegetation, climate and weather conditions.
The Cohesive Strategy is required to provide for the following:
- The identification of the most cost-effective means for allocating fire management budget resources;
- The reinvestment in non-fire programs by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture;
- Employing the appropriate management response to wildfire;
- Assessing the level of risk to communities;
- The allocation of hazardous fuels reduction funds based on the priority of hazardous fuels reduction projects;
- Assessing the impacts of climate change on the frequency and impact of wildfire; and
- Studying the effects of invasive species on wildfire risk.
In addition, Congressional requirements hold that the strategy address three GAO concerns:
- Lay out various potential approaches for addressing the growing wildland fire threat;
- Estimate the costs associated with each approach; and
- Describe the trade-offs involved.
For more information on the Cohesive Strategy, visit www.forest
New Global Fire Information Management System
The Global Fire Information Management System (GFIMS), hosted by the Department of Natural Resources of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, recently went online at www.fao.org/nr/gfims/gf-home/en. It integrates remote sensing and GIS technologies to deliver MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) hotspot/fire locations to natural resource managers and other stakeholders around the world.
The system derives from the Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) developed at the University of Maryland with NASA funds. It includes a global fire mapper and offers a free subscription for e-mailed fire alerts for the region of your interest. Under the activities you can also find country statistics on fires that occurred during the last 10 years.
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