Table of Contents:

Lesson 1: Welcome and Overview

As a member of FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation disaster workforce, you are expected to be able to explain to the public:

1. Future risks associated with the hazard event that resulted in the disaster declaration

2. Mitigation measures available to improve personal safety and reduce or eliminate the risk of future damages to structures and personal property

 

This Independent study course is part of a series of five, intended for the Hazard Mitigation disaster workforce. These courses address basic mitigation measures to reduce risk from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires, at a level appropriate for communication to the general public. For more information about the other courses, refer to the EMI website at http://training.fema.gov.

Course Overview

The goal of this course is to enable you to select the essential hazard mitigation information to communicate to members of the public following a wildfire event.

To help accomplish this goal, by the end of this course you will:

  • Identify how wildfires spread and what factors affect the rate and intensity of the spread

  • Select proper mitigation techniques for reducing risk of wildfire damage to structures and surrounding properties

  • Recognize the importance of directing individuals to local building officials, engineers, and other specialists before starting repairs

  • Select official FEMA information, publications, and websites that support the mitigation recommendations made to a specific target audience

Screen Features

Click on the Exit button to close this window and access the menu listing all lessons of this course. You can select any of the lessons from this menu by simply clicking on the lesson title.

Click on the Glossary button to look up key definitions and acronyms.

Click on the Help button to review guidance and troubleshooting advice regarding navigating through the course.

Track your progress by looking at the Progress bar at the top right of each screen. To see a numeric display, roll your mouse over the Progress bar area.

Follow the bolded green instructions that appear on each screen in order to proceed to the next screen or complete a Knowledge Review or Activity.

Click on the Back or the Next buttons at the top and bottom of screens to move backward or forward in the lesson. Note: If the Next button is dimmed, you must complete an activity before you can proceed in the lesson.

 

Navigating Using Your Keyboard

Below are instructions for navigating through the course using your keyboard.

Use the “Tab” key to move forward through each screen’s navigation buttons and hyperlinks, or “Shift” + “Tab” to move backwards. A box surrounds the button that is currently selected.

Press “Enter” to select a navigation button or hyperlink.

Use the arrow keys to select answers for multiple-choice review questions or self-assessment checklists. Then tab to the “Submit” button and press “Enter” to complete a Knowledge Review or Self-Assessment.

Warning: Repeatedly pressing “Tab” beyond the number of selections on the screen may cause the keyboard to lock up. Use “Ctrl” + “Tab” to deselect an element or reset to the beginning of a screen’s navigation links (most often needed for screens with animations or media).

JAWS assistive technology users can press the Ctrl key to quiet the screen reader while the course audio plays.

 

Receiving Credit

You may take a test on the material covered in this course to demonstrate that you have learned the information.

To receive credit:

1. Complete all of the lessons. Each lesson will take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete. It is important to allow enough time to complete the course in its entirety.

REMEMBER... YOU MUST COMPLETE THE ENTIRE COURSE TO RECEIVE CREDIT. If you have to leave the course, do not exit from the course or close your browser. If you exit from the course, you will need to start that lesson over again.

2. Pass the final exam. The last screen provides instructions on how to complete the final exam.

 

Lesson Summary

This completes this lesson.

In this lesson, you learned:

  • What this course is about
  • How to complete this course
  • How to receive credit for this independent study course

 

To access the next lesson, close this window and select the next lesson from the main menu.

 

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Lesson 2: How Wildfire Spreads

Welcome and Overview

To successfully educate the public on wildfire mitigation, it is important for Hazard Mitigation staff to understand how a wildfire moves from undeveloped wildlands to areas inhabited by people.  The wildland/urban interface is where wildfires pose the greatest risk to people and structures.

In this lesson you will learn about:

  • The spread of wildfires through convection, radiation, and firebrands
  • The conditions that affect the rate and intensity of a wildfire spreading

 

At the end of this lesson you will:

  • Differentiate the terms “radiation,” “convection,” and “firebrands”
  • Identify conditions that affect how quickly a fire spreads and how intensely it burns

Radiation, Convection and Firebrands

Wildfires spread by radiation, convection, and firebrands. 

Radiation is the process by which wildfires heat up the surrounding area.  This is similar to the way a radiator heats a room during the winter but at considerably higher temperatures.   Radiant heat from a wildfire can ignite combustible materials from distances of 100 feet or more.

Flames often occur within columns of heat known as convection columns and can ignite anything flammable they contact.  Typically, the flames in a convection column rise straight up, while cooling air descends and hot air rises in a cyclical pattern forming a column of looping heat.  

However, winds can cause flames to rise diagonally, or even nearly horizontally, extending the reach of the flames.

The third way a wildfire spreads is through firebrands, which are burning materials that are blown by wind from one place to another.   Winds can blow firebrands more than a mile away from their source, starting new fires wherever they land.

Conditions Affecting Wildfires

In addition to the three ways wildfires spread, there are three primary conditions that affect how quickly and with what intensity a wildfire spreads.  They are:

  • Fuel
  • Weather
  • Topography

     

Fuel conditions refer to the amount, density, and flammability of fuel. Fuels are anything that will burn, including:

  • Vegetation—Whether a tree in the woods or a shrub in a garden, vegetation can fuel a wildfire. 

Because dead plants burn very easily, the presence of dead vegetation increases the likelihood of a more intense and faster spreading wildfire.

Live, green, wet plant life does not burn easily and may slow a wildfire’s progress.  However, in a wildfire, all vegetation can eventually act as fuel. The density of vegetation, or how close plants are to one another, can also impact the ability of a wildfire to spread.

  • Structures—Both the contents and the building materials used can greatly impact the spread of a wildfire.  For example, a cedar-shake or wood-sided home will burn more quickly than a brick home.

The greater the structural density, or how close structures are to one another, the faster the wildfire will spread

Weather has an impact on the spread of a wildfire.  High temperatures, low humidity, and high winds increase the likelihood that a wildfire will spread from wildlands to inhabited areas.  In contrast, cold, humid, and calm conditions inhibit a wildfire’s spread.

Even topography affects the speed at which a wildfire spreads.  Wildfires move more quickly up a hill than down. 

A wildfire moving up a slope causes hot gases to rise in front of it.  The hot gases pre-heat and dry vegetation ahead of the wildfire, causing it to catch fire more rapidly.  A grass fire can advance four times faster moving up a slope than on level ground.

This completes this lesson.  In this lesson you learned:

  • That wildfires spread through convection, radiation and firebrands
  • What conditions affect the rate and intensity of a wildfire spreading: fuel, weather, and topography

 

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Lesson 3: Wildfire Mitigation

Lesson Overview

Understanding how a wildfire spreads better prepares you to recommend specific mitigation techniques.  
In this lesson you will learn about mitigation measures that reduce the risk of damages caused by wildfires.
Three categories of measures will be addressed:

  • Protecting structures and their components
  • Using landscaping to protect structures
  • Reducing the secondary risk of flood damage that often accompanies wildfires.

At the end of this lesson you will:

  • Recognize building components best suited for good wildfire mitigation measures
  • Identify mitigation measures for each zone in a defensible space
  • Identify actions that can be taken to mitigate the risk of flooding after a wildfire

Fire-resistant Construction Materials

Safe construction or repair in wildfire hazard areas includes the use of flame resistant or fire resistant external materials that can slow down or prevent fire from entering a structure.  Below is a list of areas that are vulnerable to wildfires.  Click on each to find out how to protect it from wildfire damage.

  • Roof material
  • Eaves, soffits, fascias, and attic vents
  • Chimney
  • Exterior walls
  • Exterior glass
  • Basement and crawlspace

The surface, crevices, and corners of a roof are places where firebrands often settle and ignite. Several options exist to prevent fire damages to roofs:

  • Using roofing materials labeled Class A, which are the most fire resistant
  • Avoiding wood roofing shingles, no matter what their rating or their type of fire resistant treatment
  • Avoiding chemically treated materials or coatings, which often lose their effectiveness over time and leave the roof vulnerable to fire 

 

Eaves, soffits, fascias, and attic vents are at risk from both firebrands and convection.  Mitigation techniques to protect these vulnerable sites include:

  • Enclosing or “boxing” them with noncombustible materials protect these areas of a structure
  • Using non-combustible screening over attic vents
  • Avoiding the use of vinyl materials Although vinyl will not burn, the high temperature of a fire can cause it to melt or fall away, providing the fire with a direct path inside the structure

 

An uncapped chimney may allow firebrands to enter a structure and ignite flammable materials.
This risk can be mitigated by:

  • Installing a spark arrestor made from welded wire or woven wire mesh with openings less than ¼-inch wide at the top of the chimney
  • Keeping the flue closed when a fireplace is not in use to further reduce the chance of firebrands entering the structure

Exterior walls are susceptible to both radiant and convective heat and can quickly transfer a ground fire to the structure’s roof. 
Exterior walls can be protected by fire-resistant materials such as:

  • cement, plaster, and stucco
  • concrete masonry such as stone, brick, or concrete block

PVC and vinyl sidings will melt or fall away in relatively low temperatures, and do not provide effective protection from fire damage.

Glass in windows, doors, and skylights can fracture and fall out when exposed to the heat of a wildfire.  This leaves an opening for flames and firebrands to enter the structure.  
Using double-paned or tempered glass windows reduces this risk. 

  • Double-paned windows offer a second layer of protection
  • Tempered glass typically resists fracture even at temperatures well above the radiant heat needed to ignite a structure's wood framing

Wind can push firebrands through the vents in a structure’s basement or crawl space. 

The fireproof screening used on roof vents can also be used to protect the vents in the basement or crawlspace.

 

Creating a Defensible Space

Structures can also be protected by modifying the landscape surrounding them.  Reducing the risk of wildfire in the area surrounding a structure is known as creating a defensible space.  This space is designed to make it more difficult for a fire to reach a structure in the first place.

When explaining how to establish and maintain a defensible space, use the zone concept.  Each zone encircles the structure to be protected.  Zone 1 is closest to a structure and where the most mitigation measures are recommended.   Zones 2 and 3 are progressively further away. 

Zone 1 extends at least 30 feet from the structure in all directions.  Depending on the structure's risk, especially on any downhill sides of the lot, this zone may extend to 50 or even 100 feet.  The objective of Zone 1 is to keep wildfire fuels at a minimum and have a source of water readily available.

  • Ideally, within Zone 1
  • Plants are very low to the ground and placed at least 3 feet from the structure
  • There are no outbuildings or trees 
  • Branches from trees outside this zone do not reach within 10 feet of a roof
  • Mulch consists of fire resistant stone, lava rock, or similar material 
  • Paths and walkways are made of stone, brick, or concrete
  • Decks and patios are made of non-flammable materials
  • Irrigation is provided by a sprinkler system or hose 

 

Zone 2 begins where Zone 1 ends.  The size of Zone 2 depends on specifics of the property such as the slope of the ground where the structure is built.  It is acceptable to have small shrubs and trees in this zone.

Ideally, in Zone 2:

  • Trees, when fully grown, are no higher than their distance from the structure.  This prevents falling trees from landing on the structure during a wildfire
  • Trees are planted at least 10 feet apart
  • Branches on trees taller than 18 feet are trimmed to be 6 feet above the ground, to minimize ladder fuel on lower branches
  • An irrigation system is installed, if possible

Zone 3 extends beyond Zone 2 as far as possible.  This is a slightly modified natural area.  The objective in this area is to thin trees and remove all dead or dying vegetation that could become fuel for the wildfire.

There are other simple, inexpensive, yet very effective mitigation measures for making a defensible space more secure.  These include:

  • Keeping lawns maintained, leaves raked, and debris to a minimum
  • Storing flammable products such as paint thinner, kerosene, or gasoline, in metal containers in a storage shed outside of Zone 1
  • Keeping gutters and soffits free of leaves and debris
  • Keeping a garden hose that is long enough to reach all areas of Zone 1
  • Removing all flammable items, such as door mats, wooden chairs, and seat cushions from decks and entries

Simple actions like these can greatly improve the effectiveness of each zone.

 

Protecting Against Flooding

Flooding and mudslides are a serious concern in fire-ravaged areas and in areas downhill or downstream from them.

When a wildfire burns all or most of the vegetation from an area:

-There are fewer plants to absorb rainwater from the soil

-The remaining root systems are less able to help hold soil in place

As a result, heavy rains quickly saturate or even liquefy soil, resulting in floods or mudslides.

Even properties and areas that have never been subject to flooding before are at risk after a wildfire.  Local planning, zoning, or engineering offices can help determine flood risk after a wildfire.

Flood insurance can be purchased from the National Flood Insurance Program even if the property is not in a special flood hazard area.

Individuals can reduce their risk of flood damage after a wildfire by:

  • Using a rototiller to break up the soil surface so more water can be absorbed
  • Building retaining walls to slow the flow of water
  • Planting shrubs, trees, and flowers for long-term soil stabilization and water absorption

Planting ground cover on slopes, using the “defensible space” principles of the zone concept

 

This completes this lesson.  In this lesson you learned about the mitigation measures recommended for:

  • Building components in wildfire-prone areas
  • Developing a defensible space around structures

 

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Lesson 4: Official Information and Resources

Lesson Overview

Hazard Mitigation staff have a variety of FEMA resources available to help educate the public on wildfire mitigation techniques.  Other resources are intended for the enrichment of building and emergency management professionals.  Spend the time needed to become familiar with the purpose and audience for the resources and publications that are included in this lesson.
 
At a disaster, the Hazard Mitigation Community Education and Outreach (CEO) group, in collaboration with the state, will decide which of these approved publications and resources support the Hazard Mitigation Strategy for the disaster. 

In this lesson you will learn:

  • The importance of directing the public to local building officials before they begin repairs or rebuilding
  • Which FEMA publications are available to promote understand wildfire mitigation
  • What FEMA-approved online resources are available for wildfire mitigation

At the end of this lesson you will:

  • Identify why the public should be directed to local building officials before repairing or rebuilding structures damaged in a wildfire
  • Recognize FEMA publications that promote wildfire mitigation
  • Identify the correct actions to take when advising the public regarding wildfire mitigation

Local Building Officials

When advising members of the public about reducing the risk of future hazard damages, always direct them to local building officials before beginning any repairs or rebuilding for the following reasons:

  • Building codes, permits, inspection requirements, and zoning ordinances may be involved
  • A floodplain ordinance may affect rebuilding when the structure has sustained substantial damage
  • Building officials will reinforce the point that only licensed professionals are qualified to perform structural repair or structural mitigation work.

Below are FEMA mitigation publications relevant to his hazard.  These can be accessed from the FEMA website. 

Rebuilding After a Wildfire is a fact sheet designed to help the general public understand the conditions that can ignite and spread a wildfire.  It explains how wildfires can spread from vegetation to structures and also describes some mitigation methods that help keep structures safe from wildfire.

Home Builder’s Guide to Construction in Wildfire Zones(FEMA P-737) is a collection of technical fact sheets providing information to home builders about wildfire behavior and recommendations for structure design and construction in the wildland/urban interface

At Home in the Woods - Lessons Learned in the Wildland/Urban Interface is a book published after a series of wildfires occurred in the western U.S.  It documents some of the most innovative fire mitigation “Best Practices” currently in use in the wildland/urban interface. 

FEMA Fact Sheet: Wildfires (FEMA-564) presents steps individuals can take to identify their risk and explains what to do before, during, and after a wildfire.

There are several websites that contain wildfire mitigation information.  Aside from official FEMA websites, there are FEMA-partner organizations that provide comprehensive, user-friendly information and guidance on wildfire mitigation.

The HM Disaster Workforce Website houses a wealth of hazard mitigation information.  It can be accessed from the internet via the Homeland Security Information Network using any computer or from the intranet using a FEMA computer. The same information is contained in both locations, but the intranet version is behind the FEMA firewall.  A user id and password are required to access either website.

The Firewise Communities Program is a national, multi-agency initiative to involve homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, and others in the effort to protect people, property, and natural resources from the risk of wildfire before a fire starts. This approach emphasizes community responsibility for planning and designing safe communities, as well as providing effective emergency response.  The firewise.org website includes interactive modules that present examples of wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

Another partner organization is the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).  Its mission is to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other property losses by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance, and preparation practices.  IBHS hosts the DisasterSafety.org website.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc., known as FLASH, is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting disaster safety and property loss mitigation across a variety of natural hazards, including wildfires.  Their website, FLASH.org, has preparedness and post-disaster materials that Hazard Mitigation staff or the public can easily access.

 

Local Building Officials

When speaking with members of the public about reducing the risk of future hazard damages:

  1. Explain the risk and the mitigation actions clearly and at a level of detail appropriate to the listener
  2. Refer to publications/websites that reinforce or provide additional information about rebuilding or repairing to reduce future risk of damages
  3. Do not give specific repair directions. Always direct people to local building officials when they are planning repairs or mitigation

 
Remember that you are THE face and voice of hazard mitigation.  What you say and do makes a real difference in people’s lives!

This completes the final lesson in this course.  In this lesson you learned about:

  • The importance of directing the public to local building officials before they begin repairs or rebuilding
  • Which FEMA publications are available to promote understand wildfire mitigation
  • What FEMA-approved online resources are available for wildfire mitigation

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