Oct 25, 2018
Does Wildfire Mitigation Work? 16 Examples and Counting!
By: Allison Jolley
We recently published a story highlighting six examples of wildfire mitigation paying off in 2018. You asked for more, and I’m happy to report that just for 2017 and 2018 alone, we now have 16 examples of why investing in wildfire mitigation is a smart move — for residents, local governments and public land agencies alike.
1. Fifteen Hundred Structures Gone, but Not This One (California)
Randall Hauser knew that building in the Redding, California, area meant that his family’s dream home, to be located in a blue oak and pine forest, would likely one day see a wildfire. Consequently, when they began construction in 1994, they kept fire in mind and paid close attention to the home’s design and construction. Fast forward 24 years, to the Carr Fire. Over 1,500 structures were destroyed in that fire, 17 of which were Randall’s neighbors’ homes. But his remained standing, unharmed. What made the difference? Here are a few of my observations after visiting his home.
- The house includes a well-maintained, simple, “Class A” metal roof (factsheet by NFPA-Firewise USA®/IBHS, PDF, 1.15MB). The house did not have dormers (i.e., small rooms that project from the roof) or other, more complex roof designs. I’ve seen several homes, that despite having metal roofs, did burn. In many of those instances, accumulated leaf litter in the gutters gave fire an entry point into the home.
- The Hausers incorporated and maintained a non-combustible zone (3–5 feet wide) around the outside of their home. There are cement and crushed-rock walkways adjacent to the house, and they regularly rake leaves and cut the dry grass. During the Carr Fire, this helped prevent an ember landing in vegetation adjacent to the house and bringing fire to the house.
- The landscaping closest to their home is well maintained. Tree limbs are pruned, and vegetation is open structured and includes low-growing cactus and succulents.
- They designed the house with boxed-in or soffited eaves with the venting located at the outside edge, making it more difficult for embers to enter the attic. Note: The latest research suggests that homeowners should replace ¼-inch attic and foundation vents with ⅛-inch mesh screen. Download the NFPA-Firewise USA®/IBHS fact sheet on vents (PDF, 1MB) to learn more.
- Their siding is well-maintained stucco, rather than horizontal plank siding with lap joints. Similar to metal roofs not being a guarantee for wildfire resilience, resilient siding is not as simple as stucco versus wood; a resilient home depends on the design, installation and maintenance over time.
- They provided water for firefighters, and their fire hoses are labeled with reflective signs. This made the water accessible to firefighters.
Review the University of California’s Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas: Building Materials and Design or the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s wildfire research archives for more information. While replacing the roof may not be in next year’s budget for you, upgrading the venting and maintaining the vegetation around the house could be a good goal for 2019.
Thank you, Randall, for showing us how to have a resilient, aesthetically pleasing and functional home in a fire-prone region.
Editor’s Notes: Yana Valachovic is a county director and forest advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension. She recently delivered a version of this webinar presentation to Carr Fire survivors. Afterwards, and much to her surprise, a gentleman approached her said, “my house survived, and I implemented many of the elements you just talked to us about.” That gentleman was Randall Hauser. In September, Yana visited his home to record his successes. After touring the North Bay, Mendocino and Carr Fires, where many homes with metal roofs and stucco siding did not survive, it’s clear to Yana and her colleagues that fire resilience is more than just defensible space or having a specific building product . Or as Yana puts it, “Fire resilience is about understanding and recognizing the vulnerabilities of your home and landscape, and making modifications so that the home and landscape are complementary to each other. Yes, defensible space is important, but equally important is the condition of the house!”
FAC Net acknowledges that the loss of lives and homes during extreme wildfire behavior is not as simple as whether the homeowner “did the right thing,” and we send our deepest condolences to everyone who suffered losses this summer.
2. The Carr Fire: The Landscape Lens (California)
In the five years before the Carr Fire, about 1,700 acres near the boundary of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area were treated with a combination of prescribed fire and mechanical thinning. Although the comprehensive Fuels Treatment Effectiveness Monitoring Study will take months, Eamon Engber — fire ecologist with Whiskeytown National Park — has already observed that two or three of the past mitigation efforts reduced the Carr Fire’s severity and allowed for a lower tree mortality rate. Learn more about the treatments and their impacts in this radio interview, Thursday Night Talk: California Wildfires, Is This the “New Normal?”
3. Homeowner Mitigation Leveraged by the State (Nevada)
Every year, Mr. Loyd reduces the fuels around his home. His house has a composite roof, a concrete border and a deck that is made from synthetic materials. The Nevada Division of Forestry saw so much promise to his efforts that they supplemented them with additional fuels mitigation work. In mid-August, you can imagine the thoughts that were racing through his mind as flames from the Berry Fire were within 20 feet of his front door. Thankfully, not only was his home spared, but it is believed that this preventative work allowed firefighters to safely engage the fire. Check out the Nevada Division of Forestry’s Facebook post for pictures and more information.
4. A Lack of Home Ignitions Point to Landscaping and Building Materials (Idaho)
Being in alignment with wildland-urban interface codes, clearing home-ignition zones and applying fire-resilient landscaping techniques all worked in two homeowners’ favor during a grass fire in Boise, Idaho. Hear more reflections from FAC Net member Jerry McAdams about this 2018 success in this news story.
5. The Tinder Fire’s Outcomes Reflect the Importance of Defensible Space (Arizona)
Homeowner mitigation efforts helped save some homes during Arizona’s 2018 Tinder Fire. Hear FAC Net member Mark Brehl’s reflections on the fire and the importance of defensible space in the Arizona Daily Sun’s article, Homeowners’ Work Helped Save Structures in Tinder Fire.
6. Big Potential, Bigger Fuels Treatment: The Timber Crater 6 Fire (Oregon)
Last July, the Timber Crater 6 Fire ignited near Crater Lake, Oregon. Models suggested that it could quickly surpass 20,000 acres. Thankfully, the fire intercepted areas treated for hazardous fuels and the fire quickly dropped from the canopy to the ground. These treatments allowed the fire to be contained at just over 3,000 acres, prevented the need for community evacuations, and helped protect old-growth trees that otherwise could have been torched.
7. The Fire That Wasn’t (Colorado)
“On June 4, lightning ignited a rash of fires throughout southwestern Colorado, including two that required multiple drops from airtankers [. . . ] But one, the 477 Fire, wouldn’t need aircraft, engine or even firefighters [. . .] To discover why the 477 Fire extinguished itself, we need to go back to 2013 and look at a series of prescribed burns, one unplanned wildfire, and how the fuel reduction from these projects prevented a lightning strike from becoming the next big fire.”
To learn more about the 477 Fire, read Jonathon’s entire post, which originally appeared on Fire Adapted Colorado’s blog, The Fire that Wasn’t.
8. An Investment Reveals a 1:5 Ratio Between Cost and Benefit (Utah)
A mere seven months before Utah’s Ellerback Fire of 2018, the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative, the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Conservation Commission funds facilitated a mastication and aerial seeding project. Consequently, the Ellerback Fire predominantly burned as a surface fire and road access was possible, safe and quick. A simulation showed that the fire could have burned 5,000 acres without this mitigation in place; instead, the fire only burned 16 acres. Economic models showed that for every dollar spent on this project, there was a $5 benefit. Get more details on the Ellerback Fire success by reading A Tale of Two Wildfires (PDF, 1MB).
9. Ten Acres of Treatment Save an Entire Town (Utah)
In the summer of 2017, a mere 10 acres of fuels treatment spared the entire town of Brian Head, Utah, from the Brian Head Fire. The project involved overcoming prior public resistance and creating value-added forest products (chip wattles). It also helped launch an even bigger interagency wildfire mitigation effort. Read the full story here: Timber Treatments Successfully Reduce Wildfire Risk in Utah.
10. A Prescribed Fire Success that Changed People’s Minds (Oregon)
The Milli Fire occurred in 2017, near Sisters, Oregon. Thanks to years of planning and implementing forest restoration activities, firefighters were able to contain the fire before it reached the nearby communities. Specifically, the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project performed a prescribed fire in that area earlier that year, which is at least partially why the Milli Fire ran a desirable, nonthreatening course. The video below explains how these efforts paid off. The landowner in the video initially opposed the controlled burn, but after this experience, she appreciates the purpose behind it.
11–16. Examples Highlighted in our August (2018) Post
- Colorado: Today’s feature image (displayed at the top of this blog) highlights yet another success story from 2018, which we wrote about in August. Thanks to the fuels treatments done by the Colorado State Forest Service and its critical partners, fire response crews were able to contain the Golf Course Fire before it entered nearby communities. Partners included the forest products industries, the Grand County Wildfire Council (a member of Fire Adapted Colorado), the Grand Lake Metropolitan Recreation District, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and adjacent landowners. Read the Colorado State Forest Service’s article, Fuelbreaks “Without a Doubt” Save Grand Lake Subdivision, for more details.
- Florida: The Indian Lakes Estates Community didn’t lose a single home during either of the two high threat wildfires they experienced in 2017. Get the full story from the National Fire Protection Association: Firewise USA® Site in Florida Takes on Two Wildfires and Survives.
- Colorado: Mitigation work completed by property owners facilitated the Vail Fire Department’s safe and effective response to the Lake Christine Fire earlier this summer. Many of our partners who participate in and steer Fire Adapted Colorado were involved in this success.
- Wyoming: In 2011 and 2012, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest created 339 acres of fuel breaks. The treatments cost about $1,000 per acre. This summer that investment saved two nearby subdivisions. Travis Pardue, assistant district forester for the Wyoming State Forestry Division, summarized it this way: “Not only did the fire move quickly, it was pretty unexpected given the time of year, so we didn’t have time to prepare subdivisions, much less the manpower to protect them while we evacuated 400 residences. Really the only thing protecting those subdivisions was the fuel breaks.” Learn more by reading the article by the National Association of State Forester article, State Coordination with Feds Saves Hundreds of Wyoming Homes from Wildfire.
- Colorado: One neighborhood’s investments in and culture of fire adaptation made a difference during the 416 Fire in Durango. A neighborhood ambassador with FireWise of Southwest Colorado reflects on the success in this article, Years of Fire Mitigation Pays off in Falls Creek Ranch.
- Colorado: Removing beetle-killed trees in-between two subdivisions helped keep the Buffalo Fire from destroying homes. Two good articles are listed below.
- How Defensible Space Helped Avoid Catastrophe as the Buffalo Fire Blew Up, Colorado Public Radio.
- Proactive Fuel Breaks Protect Nearly $1 Billion in Homes, Infrastructure During Colorado Wildfire, USDA Forest Service. Bill Jackson, district ranger of the White River National Forest put it this way: “The fuel breaks reduced the number of trees available to burn next to homes; gave firefighters safe spots to aggressively fight the fire; and provided for effective fire-retardant drop zones.”
Bonus: An Oldie but a Goodie:
In 2014, the Oregon Fire erupted northwest of Weaverville, California, and traveled east, until it met the footprint of a recent prescribed fire, where the fire dropped to the ground. Download this Notes from the Field (PDF, 908KB) for the full story. Building off this success, the Watershed Research and Training Center and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest are conducting cooperative burns in similar regions this spring.
Keep ‘em Coming!
We’re always looking for examples of when #wildfiremitigationworks. Whether it’s an example from the last year or the last decade, tell us about your successes in the comment section below!
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