Idaho Firewise Discussion Board

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fire in the Lab

By Samantha Gleissner

Battling wildfires can be a hazardous business. Wildfires are unpredictable and fast spreading; a single change in wind direction or fuel densities can alter the fires nature drastically. The best way to safely battle fires is to be able to understand how they function and even be able to predict the path that the fire may take.  If you are wondering how on earth it is possible to predict the unpredictable, or understand something that is by definition wild?  Fire science is how! Many scientists are now dedicating their work to learning how to understand and predict wildfire movement and alterations with wind changes. By studying fire in the controlled setting of a lab, fire scientists are learning how to more safely manage and defend against wildfires.

In a fire lab you might find mock structures, fabricated forests, and even wind gust chambers! Models are used to perform controlled fire experiments in order to record and analyze fire movement, combustion rates, and even the point at which a burned home or forest is salvageable. Fire Science is an incredibly important field of study that is necessary to give Firefighter every advantage possible when working the fireline.

When battling a fire, firefighters have to consider the path and trajectory of the burn in order to determine whether a fire crew can safely enter an area to battle flames, if a structure is unsalvageable or unstable a firefighter needs to know when it is safe to enter a structure and when it is beyond saving. Combustion rates can determine how quickly and at what temperatures a structure will become consumed. Having a solid understanding of these statistics, backed by scientific research can help in the estimation of periods for safe entry of a structure, or can help fire crews decide when it is best to allow a forest or area to burn out verses putting the effort into putting a wildfire out entirely. In other words, fire research, can literally provide the basis for life and death decisions.

Fire science in the lab isn’t only about the flames; experiments are done to help determine contribution of wildfires to greenhouse gasses, and potential health hazards such as heavy smoke inhalation. Fire science labs can help determine what levels of smoke are dangerous and what levels they are just an irritant. Fire labs determine the amount of carbon monoxide that is dangerous for humans and then use that data to come up with CO detectors that can detect levels of carbon monoxide before they reach lethal levels. Smoke detectors and fire sprinklers have all been products of fire lab experiments, and are just a few lifesaving tools we can be grateful to fire scientists for inventing.

If you enjoy the idea of safely playing with fire in a controlled setting and experimenting with different settings to asses fire dangers to help protect people and homes from those dangers you might want to consider a career in fire science!

Some fire science resources:

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fire Mascots Throughout History

By Samantha Gleissner

The United States Forest Service introduced Smokey Bear as a fire prevention spokesman in 1944, his original slogan was "Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires". The Ad Council changed the slogan in 1947 to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Smokey Bear is one of the most recognized forest service characters of all time. In 1950 a black bear cub was rescued from the Lincoln National Forest when 17,000 acres burned, his arms and legs were injured in the fire, but he managed to climb a tree to await rescue. The black bear cub was originally named “Hotfoot Teddy” but was renamed “Smokey” after the fire prevention mascot and was soon thereafter given a home at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., where he lived and received thousands of letters and visitors every day for 26 years. Smokey Bear received so many letters that in 1964 he was given his own unique zip code by the U.S. Postal Service.  Smokey Bear “retired” in 1975 and his adopted son “Little Smokey” was officially given the title of “Smokey Bear II”. The original Smokey Bear passed away in 1976 and his body was returned to Capitan, New Mexico where he was laid to rest in Smokey Bear Historical Park.

Woodsy Owl first became a mascot for the United States Forest Service in 1970 with the original slogan “Give A Hoot! Don’t Pollute.” The slogan was later changed to "Lend a hand - care for the land!" to encourage a broader participation in the care of the natural environment. Woodsy Owl was originally created with the aim of teaching young children (between 5-8 years of age) to take care of the land and appreciate nature.

The Guberif (Firebug spelled backwards) was first introduced in 1945 as a part of the “Keep Idaho Green” campaign. Unlike the previous mascots discussed, The Guberif provided an example of what not to do. The Guberif was noted to enjoy the outdoors, but was uneducated on fire safety. Notorious for starting fires the original slogan was “Don’t Be A Guberif! Help Prevent Forest And Rangeland Fires”.  Although the Guberif lost some popularity over time due to lack of use, he is making a comeback to the Idaho Forest and Fire scene with a slightly revamped look, but similar messages. In the early years of The Guberif, his slogan was painted statewide onto forest roadways, rest stops and parking lots to help spread the message of fire safety awareness in Idaho. In recent years, Idaho Firewise has revived the road painting tradition at some of the Idaho State parks, as well as releasing several new advertising campaigns that feature the Guberif.

Fire Wolf first made his appearance as an anti-fire mascot for the American Forest Products Industry in 1944 around the same time as Smokey Bear. He was introduced as “The Forest No. 1 Enemy” and was in fact a wolf that was entirely made up of fire. The Fire Wolf was given the roll of a villain, as which advocated for carelessness with fire safety. Although he gained some popularity in the 1940’s, Fire Wolf was lost among other more popular fire safety characters such as Smokey Bear. Although Fire Wolf was a villain trying to convince forest patrons to disregard burn warnings and safety precautions, he was presented with educational messages such as “Trees Make Jobs… Protect Them!”, “Help Keep America Green!” and “One Tree Will Make A Million Matches – One Match Can Destroy A Million Trees.” 

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Fire Safety

By Samantha Gleissner

When it starts to get cold rainy outside the threat of wildfires can be reduced, but those are the times when home fires become more prevalent. Heating, candle and electrical fires are just a few dangers associated with winter today.  I’d like to discuss some of the more common holiday fire dangers and how to avoid those dangers.

According to the USFA, heating fires are the second leading cause of residential building fires, and confined heating fires (those confined to a specific area of the structure) make up 86% of residential heating fires. The USFA also states that heating equipment should be given a minimum of three feet of clearance from any potentially flammable objects to avoid accidental fires. Children should also be taught to maintain a safe distance from the heating equipment when it is in use; the same three feet is recommended, but use your best judgment based on the age of the child. Turning off heaters when you go to bed or leave the room will help mitigate the threats of unattended heater fires, and you should never plug a heater into a loose socket or extension cord. It is best to plug the heater directly into the wall socket and assure it fits firmly and will not become loose and become a potential fire hazard.

If you are using a wood or pellet stove to heat an area, you should always be sure to follow the instructions for use carefully. Before beginning any burning for the winter, you should check your stove for cracks or damage, and always be sure to check your chimney and flue for creosote buildup as this can increase the danger of a chimney/flue fire. There are chimney-cleaning businesses you can contact if you are uncertain how to care for your stove before winter heating. There are also several tools that can help remove creosote buildup in chimneys such as the Creosote Sweeping Log and other similar items, although it is always good to consult a professional in the area if you are uncertain what you can or cannot use.

Besides the potential dangers of fire damage, winter heating can have other dangers as well. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is another potential issue when it comes to home heating. Not only is carbon monoxide odorless, colorless and tasteless, but it can be emitted by many different forms of heating equipment from woodstoves, and lawn mowers to water heaters and candles. If you live in an area where the power goes out frequently, you should be cautious when using candles and woodstoves for your sole source of light and heat. Try to keep a window cracked and be sure you have plenty of fresh air. CO detectors should generally be purchased for safety reasons, and are actually required in homes in many states. Because you cannot see, smell, or taste carbon monoxide, a detector may be the only way to assure you are heating safely this year. According to the Office of Public Safety and Security, CO alarms should be replaced every 5-7 years.

You shouldn’t be afraid of winter heating fires, but you should always be aware of the danger of a heating fire in your home and do everything you can to operate heating equipment appropriately, and ultimately do your best to mitigate the potential dangers.

For more information on heating equipment safety and CO you can visit:

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Fires and Air Pollution

By Samantha Gleissner

Air pollution is one of the leading causes of illness and death, and according to Science Today is responsible for an astonishing 40% of deaths worldwide. Depending on your source, it is estimated that human actions are responsible for between 10-100% of air pollution, with the lower end of the scale accounting for direct pollutants alone, while the upper end of the scale encompasses all the pollutants that would not exist if humans were to be removed from the equation. While the human contribution to pollution is staggering, there are other contributors to air pollution which may or may not be human caused depending on how far down you dig into the event. Wildfires are a big contributor to air contamination, with one source stating that wildfires between June and August may contribute as much pollution to the ozone as all human emissions from industry in the US for the same time period. However, it is also important to note that it is believed that a significant number of wildfires are also human caused.

Wildfires can produce CO2, which according to the EPA can exceed the limit set for the public health standard for ozone in the US, meaning that during a wildfire air pollution can reach dangerous levels. The dangerous level of air pollution can definitely affect human and animal health, and not just right in the burn zone. Wildfire smoke has been known to travel 4,000+ miles, contaminating air in states and even other countries that are not anywhere near the actual flames. It’s a fairly common misconception that if you aren’t in the immediate risk zone for wildfires then you don’t need to be concerned. When large wildfire strikes an area firebrands and embers can travel several miles to ignite new fires miles from the original blaze. This means the danger zone expands far beyond the immediate area, but smoke and other pollutants such as ozone, ash, CO2, and aerosol particulates can travel literally thousands of miles, a great deal further than you might expect. I remember a couple years back when there were fires in Canada and Alaska and I was back home in Washington visiting family, the sky was so smoggy I could have sworn the fires were nearby, but it was all from hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s important to realize that you don’t have to see or smell the smoke for the pollutants to cause damage to your body, but if you do see it and smell it, it’s almost certainly effecting your health and you should take appropriate precautions.

It is important to understand that although breathing in smog and other air pollutants can be detrimental to your health certain demographic groups are at more risk than others and should take higher precaution during wildfire seasons. The young, the elderly, pregnant women, those with asthma and other conditions that limit your ability to extract oxygen from the air may be at higher risk than the general population. While it is recommended that all people avoid going outdoors when air pollution levels are high during wildfire season, it is necessary for higher risk groups to take extra precaution and be extra vigilant.

It’s very important to keep up with your local air quality conditions, like many other warning systems air quality ratings can help keep you safe in the event of unhealthy air pollution from wildfires, industrial waste and other air toxins. If the air pollution is high in your area you can help minimize your health risks by keeping doors and windows shut to reduce clean air contamination, if you have an air conditioning unit you can close the fresh air intake and run the system to help clean the air inside your home. If you are at higher risk or have strong warnings in your area you may want to avoid outdoor activities to reduce your exposure to the contaminated air. If you take the appropriate precautions you can reduce your and your family’s health risks.

For more information on what you can do to reduce your pollution exposure and health risks you can visit:

For Daily updates on ozone conditions and active burning including controlled burns you can check out these links:

For more information about pollution and wildfire you can visit:

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Large Fires Throughout History

By Samantha Gleissner

The Black Friday Bushfire – Australia, Victoria state
World’s largest wildfire in recorded history
Date: 13 January 1939
Cause: Dry conditions, strong winds, human actions
Area burned: ~5 million acres (7,800 square miles)
Fatalities: 71 people were killed in this wildfire
Structures lost: ~1,100 buildings burned

Notes: Ash from the Black Friday Bushfire fell up to 2000 miles away in New Zealand. Although many factors were involved in the ignition of the initial blazes that ultimately culminated to 5 million acres the judge’s report stated that the fire was ‘lit by the hand of man.’

The Great Fire of 1910 – United States; Idaho, Montana, and Washington
*2nd Largest wildfire in recorded US history
Date: 20-21 August 1910
Cause: Dry conditions, strong winds, smaller wildfires, human actions
Area burned: ~3 million acres (4,700 square miles)
Fatalities: 87 people were killed in this wildfire
Structures lost: 109 buildings burned

Notes: Smoke from the Great Fire of 1910 was seen as far away as New York and clouded skies severely 500+ miles away at sea causing sailors using the stars to navigate to have difficulty as the sky was not visible. *Arguably the largest wildfire in US history, rivaled by the Great Peshtigo Fire, which burned in total 3.8 million acres, but only completely burned 1.2-1.5 million acres.

Great Peshtigo Fire – United States; Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois
*Largest fire in recorded US history
Date: 8-14 October 1871
Cause: Dry conditions, strong winds, unattended fires at logging camps
Area burned: ~3.8 million acres (5,938 square miles), 1.2-1.5 million acres completely burned
Fatalities: ~1,200-2,400 people were killed in this wildfire
Structures lost: Unknown number of buildings burned

Notes: The Great Peshtigo fire occurred simultaneously with the Great Chicago Fire, but is less well known due to population density in Chicago being so much larger and so many more lives at stake. It is interesting to note that all of the deadliest fires in US history occurred in the upper Midwest. *Arguably the largest wildfire in US history, rivaled by the Great Fire of 1910.

Miramichi Fire – Canada, New Brunswick & US, Maine
Largest fire in recorded Canadian history
Date: 7 October 1825
Cause: Unknown, human actions, and spruce bud worm infestations have been speculated as causes.
Area burned: ~3 million acres (4,685 square miles)
Fatalities: ~160-3000 (fatalities were highly unaccounted for due to unknown numbers of loggers in the area at the time of the burn).
Structures lost: 312 buildings burned

Notes: The third largest fire in North American history, the Miramichi fire was considered responsible for ending the mast-making industry on the Miramichi River. This wildfire was also the inspiration of a folksong called Miramichi fire, and a novel called Three Million Acres of Flame.

The fires listed here are four of the largest fires in history; each one has had a dramatic impact on the world and has left a mark in history forever. These fires have collectively burned 14.8 million acres (23,123 square miles), which is approximately the size of West Virginia! About 1,521 + buildings were lost, not including the entire Great Peshtigo Fire for which buildings could not be counted due to the extent of the damages and unknown residency at the time of the fire. Finally somewhere between 1,518-5,558 lives were lost in these fires., This figure is approximately 1/100,000th of the US population in 2012, and while that may seem fairly small today, these fires were almost all early in the settling of the states and entire towns were razed to the ground. Perhaps the most devastating part of these blazes is the commonality amongst the causes. While each wildfire was attributed to severely dry weather and strong winds, with the exception of the Miramichi Fire (which was unknown in origin), the initiation of each fire was in the end attributed to human actions.

It is important when looking at devastating disasters to assess possible causes and potential prevention actions. We cannot control all human actions, but if we can educate people about the negative consequences of our actions and how they can be prevented we may be able to mitigate some disasters in the future. 

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Planning Ahead for Emergency Livestock Evacuations

By Samantha Gleissner

When disasters strike, the efforts to get everybody to safety and find places for the displaced people to stay can be chaotic at best, but what if you have pets or livestock? What on earth do you do with 100 head of cattle when wildfire burns through your area or if a flash flood strikes? Today I want to talk about what you can do to be prepared for an emergency evacuation if you have pets or livestock animals. Some of this preparation advice would be good for human safety as well so consider that while reading this and see what you can apply to your own emergency evacuation preparations. There are a lot of resources that give good advice for being prepared for animal evacuation (some listed below), but those resources won’t do you much good at the last minute so it’s best to be prepared ahead of time before there is danger on the horizon.

The first thing you can do is quite simple; get together a list of animal emergency contacts, this should include numbers and addresses for:
·         Your veterinarian
·         Emergency veterinarian or out of area vet incase of disaster closures
·         Poison control
·         Animal/livestock emergency transport services
·         Local Animal shelters
·         Animal control
·         Other pet care/emergency numbers you may need

It’s best to have several back up numbers on the list because in an emergency you may need to contact multiple people before you can get an answer, and there may be others in your area needing similar services so having a back up or two for each contact is a good idea. The way I think of it is that it is better to be over prepared now than underprepared when something happens.

Be sure you consider including contacts for services that are  outside of your immediate town but still within a reasonable in case the disaster is big enough to close down the entire area. It is good to have a prepared list of out of area contacts (friends or family) that you can possibly stay with or ask for assistance in pet transport and care incase your entire area is affected by the disaster.

Next is to make sure that all of your animals have sturdy wear proof identification; cattle, horses, and other large animals may be ear tagged, microchipped or branded, pets should have microchips or other form of non-removable identification (ear tattoos etc.). Non-removable or difficult to remove ID helps to locate the animal more quickly if they get lost in the disaster or transported for boarding, it also makes it easier for animal transport and boarding services to keep track of your pets and livestock. One thing I have not mentioned yet is that by law service animals must be transported and housed with their owners as they are considered a medical aide, pets however may be unable to be housed with their owners so it’s always wise to have a backup plan even if you only have one or two pets.
If you are considering Firewise landscaping or have done Firewise landscaping on your property you may also want consider any animal housing such as barns, pastures, etc. as another home area, clearing that essential 30 feet around your barn and other pastures or animal confinement areas. Creating this buffer zone for your barns and pastures can make it a much safer place to leave your animals during an evacuation if need be.

If animals are to remain on your property during a disaster you need to be sure you have proper facilitations for them to stay safe and healthy. A heat source and covered area to provide protection from the elements is a must, heat sources should be in a safe place and should be far away from any fuel sources or combustible materials to reduce fire risk. Always be prepared with a backup supply of emergency food and water for your animals with a minimum of a weeks supply. Often during disasters water supplies become contaminated or electrical limitations cause water supplies to be cut off, so having a clean spare water supply is vital.
Make sure you know where all your animals can be located. It’s a wise idea to also keep a list of animal locations and even a property map marking the animal locations, in your emergency evacuation kit and with your emergency animal transport provider. This way in an emergency, even people who are unfamiliar with your property can more easily help locate and move any animals that may be at risk. You should also know where handling and transport equipment for each animal can be found, this includes leashes, harnesses, halters, and transport carriers or trailers.
Finally you should have an emergency disaster kit prepared ahead of time and in an accessible area. This kit should include:

·         A list of animals and their location
·         Proof of ownership
·         Health certificates
·         Temporary identification (collars, removable ID bands, permanent markers)
o   Sharpies can be used to mark tags, but also to mark directly on the fur of the animals themselves. It’s not the best ID, but in an emergency it can be sufficient.
·         First aid kit – basic human and animal kits should be available in your home and at several locations on your property (barns, outbuildings, etc.).
·         Handling equipment
·         Food & water supplies (1 week minimum)
·         Any other emergency item you can think of, there are plenty of internet resources that can help you make this kit up. Several are listed below.

All of these tips are designed to get you prepared and thinking about how you can keep your animals safe in the event of a disaster. If you’ve accepted the responsibility of owning an animal be sure your are ready to be responsible for protecting that animal in emergencies as well.

Animal disaster preparedness resources:

Animal emergency kit resources:

Idaho Animal Evacuation Training Resources:

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holiday Fire Precautions

by Samantha Gleissner

As we approach the holiday season many people forget the dangers of fires; it’s rainy and cold and the chances of wildfires are heavily reduced. However, it is important to remember that you should never let your fire safety habits take a holiday, as there is a significantly increased risk of residential fires occurring whenever people start spending more time in the kitchen. Residential fires are not just a risk to the individuals responsible, but to neighbors and nearby buildings as well. If a fire starts in your oven or fryer, not only can it ruin your holiday, but it may also wind up costing you a lot of money, and I know nobody wants to have to dip into Christmas savings for Thanksgiving Day fire repairs!

You might be wondering, what are the main causes of Thanksgiving Day fires. Well, not surprisingly, according to National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) it is estimated that 69% of residential fires on Thanksgiving are cooking fires, which is a jump from the average 42% caused by cooking during the rest of the year. The other leader in Thanksgiving Day fires may not be as obvious, but 10% of Thanksgiving Day fires are caused by heating sources such as hearth fires and space heaters, so be careful to remind your guests to watch where they set flammable objects such as coats and shoes.

It is also important to realize what objects in your home may act as fuel sources; increasing your risks of a residential fire. Some of the items that have been noted as ignition points for residential fires are roofing and exterior trim, rugs and other flooring, wall and ceiling covers, and other highly combustible items within or exterior to the household depending on where you will be doing your cooking and heating. If you are going to have an outdoor Thanksgiving with a fryer or bonfire it is necessary to make sure you take the precautions of moving cooking equipment to a safe distance from any combustible items such as patio furniture, house siding, or vegetation that could catch fire. Whether you are indoors or out for your holiday it is also important never to leave cooking food, open flames, or heating elements unattended.

Another idea for a safe holiday would be to take some time prior to beginning your preparations to test all of your household smoke alarms and warning systems. If your smoke detectors batteries are low or dead, be sure to replace them before you start all your cooking. Smoke detectors can be a vital early warning should any cooking go awry and can help you and your family stay safe in the event of a holiday fire mishap. Something else that not everybody might consider is to be sure you have a method of extinguishing a fire should one occur. Many households have a fire extinguisher, but as a result of infrequent use, many people may not know where their extinguisher has been stashed or worse if it even still works. Be sure to check your extinguisher and follow the directions carefully. For your own peace of mind, take some time to familiarize yourself with the use instructions before you start your holiday preparations.

Many of these tips and safety ideas are little more than common sense, but so often when a fire mishap occurs it can be too late to consider what you have not done to get prepared. Since we all know that every second counts in a fire emergency, don’t put off taking some extra safety precautions this holiday season!

For more fire-safety tips, fire statistics, and safety ideas check out these links:

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