Firebomber Publications Blog

Wildfire News Of The Day (the Firebomber Publications blog) provides comprehensive international wildfire news. Subscribers include over 10,000 personnel from fire agencies, contractors, and government entities on five continents. "BEST NEWSLETTER I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY 32 YEARS IN THE FIRE SERVICE" - San Diego Fire Department Chief Brian Fennessy.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Newsweek's latest issue (Oct. 10, 2005) had an article on the California wildfires ("Wildfire: 'I Was Thinking About Katrina'") that burned thousands of acres, but claimed only a few homes. In the 2003 California wildfires, 743,000 acres were burned, 3,600 homes were destroyed, 22 deaths occurred, the fire suppression cost topped $120 million, and untold billions in damages resulted. What changed?

There are some technological innovations that are revolutionizing firefighting, both for the public safety agencies who fight the fires, and also for the ordinary homeowner. Since October 9-15 is National Fire Prevention Week, this seemed a good time to publish this article. Here are some details on this technology that is transforming firefighting.

I'm just wrapping up an article for HOME&fire Magazine on an audacious program initiated by several federal agencies and The Nature Conservancy to provide detailed maps of the ENTIRE country (including Alaska and Hawaii) for use in predicting fire risk areas. Using this data in Montana, firefighters were already able to save a town and hold a fire to just 20 acres, whereas in the past it would have probably destroyed the town and burned thousands of acres. Why the difference? Because the firefighters had detailed information about the conditions surrounding the fire (weather, fuel, terrain, etc) that allowed them to accurately predict right where the fire would go. When it got there, they were waiting with enough muscle to quickly take it down for the count.

There are also new firefighting chemicals being developed that are increasing the effectiveness of air-dropped retardant and promoting the development of radical new ways to protect structures. For the first time, homeowners can buy a kit that allows them to protect their entire home from encroaching wildfires for about $300. The chemicals used are biodegradable and can be washed off hours later with a garden hose or, if they've been on the house for a couple of days, with a power sprayer.

Yet with all these innovations, politics and ignorance are preventing this new technology from making it to all the fire departments that need it, and homeowners are unaware of the technological breakthroughs that could protect their homes. Ask anyone who has had a home destroyed by fire about their financial loss and you will undoubtedly hear about all the mementoes and memories in family albums that were more important to them. Insurance can cover the financial losses, but do nothing to bring back the treasured possessions fire took away. Now, for the first time, homeowners have the opportunity to protect their homes even if the overstretched firefighters can't. There's just one problem: Nobody has told them about it.

In a future article, I hope to do just that. Imagine a homeowner having the means to completely protect his or her home, irregardless of the fire department being able to defend it? Ask the people who lost their homes in the 2003 wildfires if they would like to have been able to do this. I think I know what their answer would be. Stay tuned...