By Pete Chart, Alexander & Schmidt, with Pat Durland of Stone Creek Fire
Pat Durland has been in the business of wildland fire management for over 30 years. He began as a wildland firefighter and smokejumper and literally knows wildfire from the ground up. Since 2004, Pat’s company, Stone Creek Fire LLC, of Boise, Idaho, has been sharing proven wildfire loss reduction strategies and tactics with agencies, communities and insurance companies facing these preventable losses. Pat plays a national role in planning, training and implementing wildfire mitigation principles that reduce these potential tragedies and damages by fighting wildfire losses “smarter, rather than harder.” What concerns him today is the unnecessary damage wildfires are having on people and communities around the world.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Pat to talk with him about the wildfire threat, and how we can effectively reduce losses through proper wildfire Loss Control measures.
How is wildfire different than other perils, like tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and other natural catastrophes?
The difference is dramatic. Wildfires are not simply a weather event. They require heat to initiate and sustain combustion. By identifying and managing flammable “fuels” before a fire event, we can determine and design areas where fires are less likely to occur and spread. Unlike a tornado or hurricane, we can control the behavior of fires in localized areas.
Unfortunately, these occurrences are erroneously described as ‘luck.’ The fact is, wildfire damages and losses are preventable. We have the ability to understand and initiate proven Loss Control solutions.
What is wildfire mitigation and why do it?
Wildfire mitigation is the identification of available fuels and managing them to effectively eliminate landscape and adjacent structure ignitions. These controls are often 1) affordable 2) easy to accomplish, and 3) effective in improving a property’s ability to resist ignition from the flames and embers of wildfires. When reducing wildfire losses, little things, like keeping leaves and litter off roofs, make big differences.
What are some of the specific measures a business owner can take to mitigate their wildfire risk?
It’s important to learn how wildfires ignite structures. It’s not the big flames, but windborne embers and small surface fires that contact structures and cause most ignitions. Similar to physical inspections for interior fire safety, electrical hazards and other risks, wildfire hazards are easily observed, identified and resolved. Nothing is more important than on-site hazard observation by a trained inspector.
An effective inspection starts with the structure and works out 100-200 feet. It’s not about the fuels that are distant from the structure, it’s about how well the structure will resist firebrand ignitions, and if fuels will lead surface fire to a structure. This is why physical on-site inspections out-preform analytical information. If a structure is found vulnerable to ignition from wildfire, it is also at risk for more-probable external ignitions, such as smoking, fireworks, arson, or other causes.
It is important to harden structures against ember attacks with ignition-resistant roofs and to screen structural openings to prevent ember entry. The structure and the surrounding 5-foot area are critical. Also important are managing and maintaining landscapes near structures with plants, mulches, hardscapes that are resistant to ignition and won’t propagate surface fire or ignite from embers.
How effective are modern wildfire mitigation practices?
Modern scientific research and recent findings indicate that, of all the natural perils we face in today’s world, wildfire losses are among the easiest to predict and prevent. Just as we have made our structures resistant to internal ignitions, continued wildfire loss is a ‘solvable’ problem. We should be able to dramatically diminish this risk for future generations. As I like to say, we can’t change the path of a tornado or hurricane, but we can change the path of a wildfire!