Firewise Chat Transcript (1D)

"Firewise Works!" - Live! Chat
Thursday, October 26, 2000
8:00 pm (MDT)

Jim Smalley, National Fire Protection Association

Rocky Barker, The Idaho Statesman (Boise)
Jeannette Hartog, USDA Forest Service - Regional Office (Ogden)

Moderator: "Good evening. My name is Jim Smalley, Senior Fire Service Specialist at the National Fire Protection Association and manager of the Firewise program."

"Welcome to tonight's forum. In the middle of the World Series and the national elections, we appreciate your participation and we'll try to make this worth your while. Of course, you have to help us, and here's how."

"We'll begin with one of our guests, who will provide a brief overview statement. I have a few questions to get things going. At any time you may submit a question for the "speakers". I will review them and arrange an order for them to be presented to each speaker and post them. Toward the end of the session, which will last about an hour, you may post questions for either or both guests. If your questions aren't answered online tonight, you will receive an answer by email."

"Okay, let's begin."

"Our first guest tonight is Rocky Barker. Let me introduce Rocky and welcome him to our forum tonight."

"Rocky Barker is the author of Saving All the Parts, Reconciling Economics and the Endangered Species Act, published in 1993 by Island Press and cited for "excellence in achievement," by the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award judges. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooters Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic."

"Barker has been covering environmental and western issues in Idaho since 1985. He is environmental reporter for the Idaho Statesman, where he was the primary researcher for an award-winning series of editorials calling for the breaching of four Snake River dams to save salmon."

"Barker was the lead reporter for award-winning coverage of the Yellowstone fires in 1988 and nationally recognized coverage of nuclear waste problems at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. The 25-year newsroom veteran has covered environmental issues ranging from mining in Wisconsin, acid rain in Canada, rain forest protection in Hawaii, to fish and wildlife conservation in Russia's Far East and Africa. Barker built, designed and developed"

His accomplishments include too many to continue to list here, so letís welcome Rocky Barker."

Speaker1: "Hello"

Moderator: "Rocky, for a starter, what have you been reporting about fires this season?"

Speaker1: "Since August 1, nearly all I've written about is wildland fire. Idaho had 1.2 million acres of fire this year and many of them threatened homes in the woodlands and rangeland."

Moderator: Is there anything particularly unusual about this year's fires, other than the number and damage?

Speaker1: because of the drought and the these fires were very large

at one point we had fire every 20 miles from Boise to the Canadian border

Moderator: Do you think it's surprising that so few home were lost in comparison to the number of fires?

Speaker1: yes, we were lucky - one wind event forty miles an hour for four hours could have burned dozens of communities

Moderator: What have been some of the more serious impact of this year's fire season?

Speaker1: many low elevation forests were burned far hotter then history shows - it will be hard to regenerate them. On the home front more then 300 homes and businesses were lost at Los Alamos when a prescribed fire got out of control.

Speaker1: Most people recognize now that simply preventing forest fires won't make their forests healthier. This new understanding doesn't make them any more comfortable with fire.

Moderator: Los Alamos is a pretty special fire. What do you think we learned from it?

Speaker1: we learned that we need a community wide program of protection, a mix of thinning and fire breaks on the outskirts and more importantly people have to make their homes defendable in a fire. One thing I believe is we have to reconsider our evacuation policies too. If more people could have safely stayed home they have could have saved their own houses..

Moderator: What are some success stories you've encountered?

Speaker1: Two come to mind. The first was in the middle of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Rick Dorony, the manager of the Flying B Ranch on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River discovered that the shellrock fire was burning to the west. He had 10 days to put his crew to work clearing brush, moving firewood away from cabins, setting up sprinkler systems and removing the trees that were near the ranch out buildings. On August 18 the fire hit the ranch like Mount St. Helens. A fireball roared down Brush Creek, covering seven miles in 22 minutes and burning everything in its path. Hurricane winds lifted the Bernard suspension Bridge off its foundation and buckled the steel structure.

Speaker1: The second story was in September right here in Boise. In 1996 we had a big fire in the rangeland foothills on the edge of town. That sensitized a lot of homeowners to take steps to make their yards and homes less vulnerable to fire. So when a range fire burned into the Warm Springs subdivision this year, firefighters had little problem putting it out even though it burned fast and hot with flames of eight feet high and larger.

Moderator: What do you think we can do to help more homeowners and communities protect themselves from fire?

Speaker1: Education is the most important tool. People need to know the threats fire pose to them when they choose to live on the edge of the wildlands. They need to recognize that it is primarily their responsibility to protect the possessions they value from fire.

Moderator: Since you're a reporter, what do you think the role of media can or should do to assist communities in preparation for fires?

Speaker1: We play a key role. First, we can help people learn how to make their homes safer. Second, we can examine what policies work and are simply political blather.

Moderator: Rocky, I understand that there will soon be a special conference on the 2000 fires and what happens in the coming years? The Andrus Conference, I believe. What's the scope of this conference?"

Speaker1: "Former Gov. Cecil Andrus and the Idaho Statesman are sponsoring a conference on fire policy December 7th at Boise State University. Fire historian Stephen Pyne heads a distinguished group of scientists, stakeholders and policy makers. We hope to help national leaders find consensus on issues ranging from thinning and prescribed burning to how to make communities safer.."

Moderator: "Will there be a report from this conference?"

Speaker1: "Yes. The Andrus for Public Policy will issue a white paper. It will be forwarded to the transition team of the next administration."

Moderator: "Will the information lead to a change in national policy?"

Speaker1: "I am very optimistic."

Moderator: Will the Andrus white paper be available online?

Speaker1: "very likely.."

Moderator: What web site should we check for the white paper to see when it's available?

Speaker1: ""

Moderator: "We'll all look forward to reading the outcome."

Moderator: "Do we have any other questions from the audience? If not right now, you can ask questions at any time during the conference - or forum."

Moderator: "We'll move to our next presenter. Our second guest tonight is Jeannette Hartog. Let me introduce Jeannette and welcome her. "

"Jeannette Hartog is the Fire Prevention Specialist for the Intermountain Region of the USDA Forest Service. She currently serves as the Steering Committee Chair for the Prevention/Education Teams around the country. She has been involved in the Fire Prevention/Education Teams since their beginning in the summer of 1996 serving as a Team Leader on several assignments including the Southwest US, the State of Texas, and in the Northwest portion of Minnesota. The success of one teamís efforts in reducing wildland arson in Texas was documented in a previous issue of Wildfire News & Notes, which is available on the Firewise website.

Jeannette has worked in fire prevention for the past 9 1/2 years and has been involved in prevention in the Great Basin, which includes Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. She served as chair that prevention group from 1991-1996. She also was involved in the development of the Wildland Fire Prevention Planning Course which guides units through analysis of their prevention problems and aids in developing solutions to mitigate these problems.

Letís welcome Jeannette Hartog to the Forum tonight."

Speaker2: "Hi - it's good to be with you this evening."

Moderator: "Jeannette, what exactly is a National Fire Prevention Team?"

Speaker2: "National Prev Teams are a group of prevention/education specialists and public affairs specialists who are put together to go into an area to help mitigate a human-caused fire prevention problem"

Moderator: "Wildfire News & Notes carried an article about a team in Texas that has helped reduce arson. Is this the kind of thing they do on assignment?"

Speaker2: "Yes, they can if that is the problem they are brought in to assist in solving.."

Moderator: What is the education of a Fire Prevention Specialist? Education, Fire Sciences, etc?

Speaker2: "The education level of the specialists on the team may vary from fire background to fuels specialists to public affairs. The members of a team are selected from a roster of trained specialists based on the need from the requesting unit.."

Moderator: "Who are on these teams and can anyone get on one?"

Speaker2: "The "who" varies each time a team is sent out - depending on need and availability of specialists. Folks that participate on the teams are from Federal, State, and local fire service organizations and have been through a 5-day training course to prepare them for a team assignment."

Speaker2: "The next course is scheduled for next spring and we are currently receiving requests from a variety of interested folks."

Moderator: "Is this the fire prev planning course?"

Speaker2: "Not exactly. Prevention planning is included in the course agenda in order to help requesting units in prevention planning, but there is a separate course designed just for prevention planning."

Speaker2: "But the Prevention/Education Team Training is a course by itself.."

Moderator: "Back to your answer a minute ago. Are the teams directed to solve specific problems?"

Speaker2: "Yes. The team leader is in contact with the requesting unit and suggests that "objectives" or problems be identified before the team - so team members can be selected appropriately."

Moderator: Are they trained per assignment, or is it a class that can be taken prior to an event, so the team is ready when needed?

Speaker2: "Specialists are trained prior to an assignment - at the once a year sponsored training. They are then put on a roster and are called out as assignments are received - based on quals and availability.."

Moderator: How (preferably online) can we obtain information about the Wildland Fire Prevention Planning Course? Is it available to ordinary folks, such as members of a Fire Safe Council?

Speaker2: "First - it is NOT a Prevention "Planning" course - it is a Prevention/Education Team Training Course. Usually, attendees at the training come from fire service agencies. Folks that belong to Fire Safe Council usually have backgrounds with experience that might prove to be beneficial to fire prevention teams - either national teams or teams that are sometimes formed locally.."

Moderator: What is the procedure for requesting help from a National Prevention Team? Who/what organizations can make a request? What costs are involved?

Speaker2: "In the past, our requests have come from Federal and State agencies, but it is not to say that a community in severity could not request a team. The requesting unit pays the cost of mobilizing a fire prevention team.."

Moderator: "Once again, what do these teams do while on assignment? Can you add a little more as to what a community expect?"

Speaker2: "First of all, they access the situation and then a course of action with the requesting unit. They go out into the community to learn about the problem. They speak to homeowners associations if the wildland urban interface is where the problem is - which is often these days."

"They work with Volunteer Fire Dept/Rural FD's with their "Fire Safe Community Awareness" program which is one that helps the FD's in turn work within their own communities through education."

"They work with local medias - newspaper, tv, radio, etc to get the fire prevention message out to the general public to enlist their help in mitigating a human-caused fire problem."

"They create materials which can be used during the immediate threat and in the future to continue the effort."

"These are but a few of their duties - they have a large range of things they can do - all based on "need" of the requesting unit.."

Moderator: "Audience, we're getting near the end of the forum. Please post your questions for Rocky or Jeanette now."

Moderator: Are there guidelines available for a community to use to set up a Fire Prevention Education team made up of local citizens?

Speaker2: "There are many publications out there that would help communities help themselves. Some are available through our own web site here at as well publications that are targeted for a specific community. Fire Safe Councils are an excellent sourc of help as well as your local fire department. Federal and state fire organizations are always willing to share any information they have.."

Moderator: Where do we find out more about the details/logistics of attending prevention and/or planning courses?

Speaker2: "The Prevention/Education Team Training Course will be offered March 26-30, 2001. It is offered through our national training office - Only 50 folks are accepted each year for the national course.."

Moderator: Rocky - do you feel the media can help more to spread "Firewise" information?

Speaker1: "yes, and the way and the best time do it is when fires are burning. I have learned that people are fairly uninterested until their homes are in the line of fire.."

Moderator: "Here's one more for JeannetteÖIf a local Fire Safe Council is in place and functioning, what kinds of assistance could a National Prevention Team add beyond that?

Speaker2: "It would depend on the problem facing that particular community. We have found that during a severe situation, local folks are very busy. Our team can come in and assist the locals and do the "extra" things that may be necessary to mitigate the situation.."

Moderator: Rocky, my local media are very good about publishing information on defensible space, but after awhile people stop listening. What can you suggest to keep the message fresh?

Speaker1: "at the beginning of fire season sit down with them and help them prepare graphics and detailed information about how to protect your home."

Speaker1 says, "then, they will be ready and interested when the fires come.."

Moderator: "Rocky AND Jeannette, final question for each of you: What have you learned this year about fires, from your unique point of view, as a journalist and fire prevention specialist? Will anything change as a result of this year? Rocky, you first."

Speaker1: "yes, finally congress is serious looking at the wildland urban interface and not forest fires. This means we can put our time, energy and money where it can make a difference. Then we can help people become comfortable with fire."

Moderator: "Thanks. Jeanette?"

Speaker2: "Actually, a lot has been learned. I think the one thing that impresses me most is that citizens are becoming interested and concerned. Folks that have chosen to live in the wildland have accepted their responsibility to help themselves and we as specialists are more than willing to help provide education. We are ready to assist communities get started and happy to do so.."

Moderator: "Well, that's it for tonight. I'd like to thank our guests for their participation and you, our audience for your attention. The transcript of tonight's session will be posted soon on the Firewise website you see on your screen. Thanks again and good evening!"

"Keep watching the Firewise Website for additional forums and information to protect your homes from wildfire. I hope to see many of you at an upcoming Firewise Communities Workshop. Check the web for the dates and locations. "