The U.S. fire administrator visited the capital region on Thursday, joined by local and state fire officials to talk about fire mitigation efforts in California as peak wildfire season approaches.
The officials spoke from a Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District station in Rancho Cordova.
“Fire is everyone’s fight,” said U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell in her remarks.
Moore-Merrell spoke on the efforts of fire agencies to inform the public about growing dangers of wildfire and residential fires.
“Today, 99,000,000 people, or one-third of the U.S. population, lives in the wildland-urban interface environment,” Moore-Merrell said, “yet most have a little or no idea what the interface is or the dangers that it poses.”
The wildland-urban interface are classified as areas where residential and commercial development are built adjacent to brushy, fuel-laden areas, often in places like the Sierra Nevada foothills of Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado coutnies. They are the regions at the greatest risk for damage and loss of life in wildfire conditions, Moore-Merrell said.
She said the wildfire threat in these areas is on the rise nationally, not just in California.
“Drought-driven wildfires are growing in intensity,” she added.
According to Moore-Merrell, more than 9,000 wildfires have been reported in the U.S. so far this year and Cal Fire, the state’s fire authority, has tallied 401 wildlife fires across the state this year even as the state multiple and drenching storms since New Year’s Eve.
She said the country needs to adapt to this reality, and adopt better technologies that can alert fire personnel of early ignitions and develop models to understand fire behavior in extreme weather and interface communities.
In addition to greater intensity, fire officials also warned about how fires are growing faster than ever in part due to modern building materials and technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, creating more hazards for people from even everyday structure fires.
“Seven Americans are lost to residential structure fires every day,” said Kevin Quinn of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “We need to change that.”
“Today, you have the least amount of time to exit your home in case of fire than ever before,” said Dr. Steve Kerber, vice president of the Fire Safety Research Institute.
To mitigate this, fire officials said it is imperative that residents make fire safety a daily habit in their homes, such as keeping batteries in smoke detectors up to date, closing doors at night, making an escape plan for each family before an emergency hits, and creating defensible space around homes situated in the wildland urban interface.
“We need to make a collective commitment to advocate for changes to make America more fire safe,” said Chief Donna Black, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs who leads the Duck, North Carolina, Fire Department.
Black encouraged residents to speak with their local fire agencies more regularly to get specific information about making their homes more fire safe.
Some of the other efforts mentioned by speakers on Thursday included changing how and where homes are built, improving firefighter training for wildland and interface fires, equipping them with less toxic materials, and improving upon already-stringent building codes and standards.
Fire officials said that as America’s fire problem continued to worsen, communities and states should consider adopting better policies that are based on sound land-use practices.
“We must embrace policy actions that are known to reduce loss,” said Ray Bizal, director of of field operation for the National Fire Protection Association.