Increasing the Pace and Scale of Community Wildfire Mitigation
As we head into one of the hottest months of the year, daily news reports continue to broadcast stories of record high temperatures and severe drought conditions, both contributing factors to the increased wildfire activity spreading across the U.S. and Europe. France, Spain, Italy, and Greece are just a few of the many countries battling forest fires today. Here in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that nearly three million acres have burned from current fires. While wildfires may be a natural phenomenon, incidents like April’s McBride Fire in New Mexico, which killed two people and burned more than 200 homes and structures, demonstrate the danger they pose to communities. As president of an organization that has worked tirelessly over the last 20 years on ways to reduce loss of life and property from wildfire, this latest news only reinforces NFPA’s strong conviction that more decisive policy action must be taken on all levels if we want to reduce losses from these events. In May, NFPA hosted an Outthink Wildfire® summit in Sacramento, California that brought together 50 professionals to discuss steps to better prepare communities to avoid wildfire losses. Outthink Wildfire is a comprehensive NFPA policy initiative launched with the aim of fostering collaboration, promoting policy change, and to help communities better withstand the impact of wildfires. At the summit, representatives from the fire service, real estate and insurance industries, research and education, government agencies, engineering, and building organizations shared their knowledge to develop recommendations for the critical task of increasing the pace and scale of home retrofitting and other mitigation actions to reduce wildfire losses. The summit participants’ discussions and recommendations will be summarized and shared in a report to be issued later this month. Bringing together stakeholders to tackle the world’s leading fire safety challenges is at the heart of NFPA’s mission. Participants came to the table ready to identify topic areas in need of the most attention including more prevalent use of codes and standards in wildland/urban interface areas, clear, actionable educational messaging for residents, ease of accessing available funding, better alignment and coordination for mitigation policies and programs, workforce development, and closing knowledge gaps with research and data sharing efforts. Convening these experts was a key step in developing an overarching strategy to spread mitigation throughout the millions of homes and thousands of communities in wildfire-prone areas of the U.S. Moving forward, NFPA will continue to pursue strong stakeholder engagement toward building education campaigns, analyzing funding mechanisms, promoting coordination, investing in workforce training, and other necessary endeavors to reduce wildfire risk to people, homes, and communities. I am encouraged to see the federal government recently stepping up to increase the attention and resources not just for wildfire suppression, but also for catastrophic wildfire prevention. The increased funding for hazardous fuel in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Forest Service’s recent commitment to significantly increase the pace and scale of that treatment, and the newly created Wildfire Mitigation and Management Commission, on which NFPA Wildfire Division Director, Michele Steinberg, has been invited to serve, gives me renewed hope that the country is moving in the right direction. We know that given the size and scope of the U.S. wildfire challenge, reaching our goals will take time, but with continued investment and effort, will save lives and homes, and spare more communities from the devastating losses wildfires can bring. For more information about our policy initiative, Outthink Wildfire, visit nfpa.org/outthinkwildfire.