Edited Version February 2, 2000 Transcript

EIIP Virtual Online Library Presentation

"Issues in the Wildland/Urban Interface"

Ken L. Patterson, Sr.
St. Johns County, Florida

EIIP Moderator: Avagene Moore

The original unedited transcript of the February 2, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library!

Today's presentation is entitled "Issues in the Wildland/Urban Interface." Before we introduce our speaker, the author of the paper under consideration, I have a few housekeeping announcements for any newcomers to the Virtual Forum.

Any URLs used in today's session are live links. You can click on them and the Web site or page will come up in your browser window. You may lose your chat screen on the first one. Simply go to the bottom of your screen and click on the button/bar that says EIIP Virtual Forum; the chat screen will reappear.

For example http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/000202.htm is today's background page. Here you will find our speaker's bio and you can download the paper, "Issues in the Wildland/Urban Interface."

There is also a link to FireWise Communities developed by members of the Wildland / Urban Interface Fire Protection Program at <http://www.firewise.org/communities/>. A good site with many tips, facts and statistics that further emphasize the seriousness of today's topic.

Please do not send Direct Messages to the speaker or moderator during the presentation. It is very distracting while we are trying to keep order and conduct a smooth, professional session.

At the end of our session, we now allow anyone online to make an announcement of interest to the group. You may wish to announce a conference, workshop, or some other newsworthy item at that time. As we near the end of the hour, please have your bit of news ready to plug in when I ask for it.

After the formal part of today's session, I will give instructions for an orderly Q&A segment. Please watch for those and abide by them when we are ready for your questions and comments.


And now, to introduce our speaker, Ken L. Patterson, Sr. Ken is a firefighter/EMT with St Johns County, an EMT for Putnam County, a Community Relations team leader for the state of Florida disaster response team, and an instructor for the National Safety Council and American Heart Association.

Educated in the fire services at St Augustine Technical Center, Ken is currently seeking his degree in Emergency Management from St Petersburg Junior College with the intention of becoming an emergency management coordinator for local or state government.

Ken has been published in several trade publications. The paper he is working from today was published in the 1999 edition of the American Society of Professional Emergency Planners (ASPEP) Journal. Please read Ken's bio at <http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/000202.htm#PATTERSON> to learn more about him and his background.

Please help me welcome Ken Patterson! Ken, I now turn the floor to you.


Ken Patterson Sr: Good afternoon everyone, as we start the discussion I would like to thank everyone for joining me. I would also like to thank the staff at EIIP for their help in this endeavor.

Today, I would like to discuss the importance of Public Education and mitigation, especially pertaining to wildfire prevention. As we have seen in the past, wildfires cause large problems for citizens all over America. I have seen the problems personally.

The prevention issue is one that the public is unaware of, evident when we realize that most of them aren't even aware some plants are more fire resistive than others or they can talk to their extension agent from the Department of Agriculture to get this information. Most people are also not aware of the help that their local Division of Forestry agency is willing to provide. As firefighters and emergency management providers, it is part of our responsibility to inform them of these things.

We also need to insure that we properly preplan our areas, and ascertain where we might have problems with any suppression effort we may try to effect. We seem to feel that part of the responsibility as firefighters is to preplan our commercial ventures, but the residents of our areas don't want us to check out their homes. We face the possibility of pushing the fine line between invading one's right to privacy and trying to protect them from hazards they may not be aware of and the dangers they impose.

When the public is presented with the information, from a general standpoint we can hope they do what they are supposed to, yet, can we be certain they are doing the things that are the most important to protect their homes? One idea we can use is the concept of driving around our neighborhoods and checking residences from the street. Not only does this put our presence out in the public eye, instead of hiding in the station, it allows them to ask the questions they have pertaining to any issues involving the jobs we do as fire suppression personnel. When tax time comes around and we want that raise, we have a public that remembers the fire station and the fact they come by and answer questions.

Some seasonal ideas for wildland fire prevention issues could include a fall article in the newspaper about the dangers of burning and the proper ways to burn your leaves and yard debris. Another newspaper article could include proper ways to prepare your house from wildfire dangers, and an emphasis placed on the zone concept that I will discuss further for the remainder of this session. From 30-60 feet, we want the resident to have minimal planting, or one that includes fire resistive plants and well trimmed trees.

As a rule, most fire departments will total a house if the house has not been taken care of, or prepared for a wildfire in advance, focusing their efforts instead on the houses that may be saved, trying to put forth the effort for the people that have put forth a little effort themselves. If we can convince our residents that a little preparedness will go along way, we can help them prevent the tragedies of these fires. From 60-90 feet, we need to insure that plants that can be ladder fuels (fuels that will carry flames to the top of trees) are limited, and that these plants are cared for, maintaining their moisture content that would make them fire resistive. From 90 feet out, we can let this area return back to the natural habitat, part of the reason that people have moved into the woods.

As we look at some mitigation ideas, we might want to establish a partnership with local nurseries, attempting to establish a buy-back program for people that want to trade in plants that are not as fire resistive. Nurseries can also have on hand literature that promotes fire effective landscaping, with lists of fire resistive plants and other ideas, such as using stone for flowerbeds instead of mulch, and literature describing in greater detail the zone concept

The final mitigation strategy that could be implemented is a rotational burn program. Divide your jurisdiction into a number of areas (5 or 6) and advise the residents which section they are in. The reason for the sectionalization is to burn specific areas at a time, minimizing the effects of the smoke on the community.

Studies conducted in Australia have shown that a land management program that includes burning on a rotational basis increases the nutrients in the soil. Therefore, making a better environment for the grazing crop of the trees that we so desire. Although these are a few ideas that will help with the wildfire issues we face, a little creativity can help you design your own program. We need to start mitigating for the disaster now, not when it is knocking on our back door. We also need to keep in mind that the smoke from our prescribed burn program will disturb some of the people, and the mindset of extinguishing all woods fires will still be evident. Good public knowledge will prevent any serious problems, and remind the residents that fire under control is better than fire out of control.

In summary, I would like to state that we can mitigate the damages caused by a wildfire disaster, not only when the threat is prominent but throughout the year. As we face the impending disaster, we start to mindshift towards that disaster, yet after we have come out unscathed, or close to unscathed as possible, we tend to forget items that could have helped us prevent things from happening in the first place.

Florida established a Governor's Wildfire Task force following FireStorm '98. Starting immediately following this disaster, our Division of Forestry Departments requested large sums of money to replace equipment that was failing but since the threat of wildfire was the last thing on our government's mind, the DOF departments lost their budget requests, receiving less than half of what they requested.

I would like to thank the participants from across the country that assisted in the suppression efforts of '98. The assistance was desperately needed and very much appreciated.

I will now take any questions or comments that you may have.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Ken. We appreciate your time and the information shared with us today. I am sure the audience has some questions and comments for you. If you wish to ask a question or make a comment, please input a question mark (?) to the chat screen. Compose your question/comment but hold it until I identify you by name and ask for your question. In this manner, we will not keep order and make the most of our time together. Questions will be taken in the order they are submitted to the screen. We are ready for the first question. Please submit your ? to the screen.

[Audience Questions]


Rick Tobin: One of the biggest problems is educating your neighbors. I live in a wildland urban interface and have had retardant dropped on my face twice in 10 years due to neighbor poor preparation. When will the laws puts some punch in getting people to prep their own areas correctly?

Ken Patterson Sr: People are constantly wanting laws changed to prevent these tragedies from happening. Yet when the time comes, most politicians are short timed in their memories and they forget what happened last year, when this year’s topic of politics is the tax cuts. More people pressuring the law makers would help to solve this problem


Cam King: Ken, is it possible to get a copy of the report on the Florida Firestorms?

Ken Patterson Sr: Yes, it is online at <http://www.floridadisaster.org>. And if it not there I can email to anyone that wants it.


Tom Robinson: I am interested in addressing the urban interface issue, especially with the past Florida fires in mind. I am trying to get the firefighter's perspective on why the USFS would not allow use of the giant IL-76 "Waterbomber" that was volunteered by the Russians.

Ken Patterson Sr: I cannot speak for the USFS, personally. I feel that something this large would have caused more detriment than it would have been worth as the large amount of water displaced by this aircraft could have caused large amounts of injuries on the ground. And the water dropping would have assisted in spreading the fire.


John Anderson: How can you say that? The aircraft can fly at any height, make it "rain" the water?

Ken Patterson Sr: The attempts at suppressing the fire with airplanes was very unsuccessful in our area. We saw the fire spread increased from the pressure of the water falling and several people were slightly injured from the water from later reports. I am not an expert on the aircraft and its use in Fire suppression, just relating what I experienced and believe.


Tom Robinson: Having flown several missions on the IL-76 worldwide, I beg to differ with the assumption that bigger is not better. This plane was hailed as a miracle in Greece's worst fires in 100 years

Ken Patterson Sr: I appreciate the comment, Tom. And will research this issue for myself.


Rick Tobin: The "bombers" from Canada were looked at here in California. Those planes require huge maintenance costs. That might have been a good reason not to use them. Also, salt water, when used, can raise havoc with sensitive environmental areas.


Jon Kavanagh: Regarding home/business protection, and the conservation of water, have you seen (actually) the "Macaw"--a self contained, CAFS system? What about other on-hand equipment that someone should have?

Ken Patterson Sr: I have seen the Macaw in action. It appears to be a very good system. CAFS is something that our Forestry service is looking at as it requires a lower water content to suppress fires and smaller vehicles to transport to the scene; something that is needed in the wildland environment. As for other on-hand equipment, is this for a homeowner or firefighter?


Jon Kavanagh: How about for commercial facility? For use by in-house trained personnel (perhaps firefighters who work there).

Ken Patterson Sr: Commercial facilities are sprinkled in Florida. Most also have fire brigades in our jurisdiction so they maintain a normal supplement of tools (shovels, rakes and small hoses to suppress hot spots).


Link Walther: For the uninformed, what is a CAFS?

Ken Patterson Sr: CAFS= Compressed Air Foam System, sorry all.


Cam King: Ken, you mentioned a 90 ft. fire break around homes. Would that have been enough for the Florida fires?

Ken Patterson Sr: For most of the residents we lost, it would have worked. But the palmetto is a very flammable plant in Florida, green or not. And its root system is very complex, stretching underground for long distances, so it may not have helped every structure. Most people feel that the reason we lost all the structures we did was poor planning on the residents part which directly reflected on poor pre planning and public education on our part.


Roger Kershaw: Our community has used the planning and zoning process to allow recommendations of all town departments. The fire marshals office reviews plans for proposed subdivisions etc, then we make recommendations to the planning and zoning. Because building and fire codes do not address these issues very much, the P&Z process can make mandatory stipulations on the use of the land, features, protection etc. This process has worked well for us. We also took guidance from NFPA 1141 Planned Building Groups.

Ken Patterson Sr: NFPA 1141 is a very good concept. Yet, it is hard to tell people what they can or cannot do on THEIR property, we face this issue even in pre planning. And the research I have done for school has shown this is a large problem everywhere.

Roger Kershaw: We have residential property adjoining marshland, forest, and even on an island. Educating the P&Z, has helped with building near the hazards. I think incorporating through the P&Z, it does become a permanent requirement for the property use.

Ken Patterson Sr: Very good idea, Roger.


Rick Tobin: I was curious about the statement in the paper about not using garden hoses or sprinklers to cool the tops of homes --- that it has little effect. Yet, it has often been shown to be successful in fires here (California). Is this media misinformation and an urban legend?

Ken Patterson Sr: Urban Legend --- the water that is used to cool of the top of a house is evaporated before it can prevent anything from happening. The best and most effective use of your water and garden hose would be to hit the embers that may land on your roof from firebrands. Therefore, eliminating the risk of it burning through your materials.


Tom Robinson: The IL-76 can cover 12 football fields with water, foam or retardant in 10 seconds (3,900' by 300') This plane, which has proved itself on hundreds of missions worldwide, has yet to injure anyone or damage any structures on the ground. Because of its tremendous capacity (15,000 gallons) it does not require retardants or foam. The cooling effect of the water alone, over a 300-foot wide path is usually enough to stop the worst fires quickly. As a fire administrator I can't understand why the firefighters don't call for a test.


Isabel McCurdy: Ken, can you elaborate more on the type of injuries that people sustain as a result of the water dropping? And what steps can people do to avoid injury?

Ken Patterson Sr: Law enforcement officers were complaining of neck-related injuries from the water falling on them, because of the weight. Firefighters wear protective helmets and didn't suffer from these types of reported injuries. I can not attribute personally, the fact that the water caused these injuries, it is just what was reported.


Avagene Moore: I am interested in examples of ladder fuels, a term used in your paper, Ken. Please explain the term and give a couple of examples, please.

Ken Patterson Sr: Ladder fuels are fuels that can assist the fire from remaining on the ground, and carrying it to the tops of trees. Trees with low hanging branches next to shrubbery that is of a medium height would be considered a ladder fuel setting as the fire ignites the bush. It then ignites the tree.


Tim Murphy: A vine?

Ken Patterson Sr: A vine is a ladder fuel.


Tom Robinson: Because of the gravity-flow and nozzle design, the water from the "Waterbomber" drops as an extremely heavy rain, soaking several inches into the ground, which is great for peat-type fires, some of which occurred in Florida.

John Anderson: Attempts at suppressing the Florida. fires with Florida conventional firefighting equipment were singularly ineffective as I read the reports. IL-76's a disaster machine. Florida had a disaster. IMO, there is a duty to use the best suppression available.


Rick Tobin: There is a conflict between utility companies and environmentalists wanting people to plant trees near homes to reduce energy use, and fire safety. How do we balance the two interests?

Ken Patterson Sr: I would surmise that people should protect their homes first, as if you don't and you plant the large trees directly next to your structure then you may not have a need to worry about conserving energy. And this is not only related to fires, but also several other types of disasters.


Jon Kavanagh: As Ken mentioned, he doesn't speak for the USFS, so for us to debate the abilities of the IL-76, I think we'd be better suited on other issues, such as working with Nurseries to be educated about fire resistive planting. Anyone outside of the West or Florida that does this?

Avagene Moore: Frankly, I have heard very little about wildland/urban interface mitigation measures until recently. Does this mean there is a lot of work to be done education-wise?

Ken Patterson Sr: I feel that we haven't even begun to touch the tip of the iceberg on this as we are still promoting the learn not to burn and Smokey Bear concepts of extinguishing every fire. And the public still gets the panicked feeling whenever they see any type of fire in the woods.


Gil Gibbs: I wouldn't discount garden hoses completely, since they are very effective in many cases, something I learned from experience.


John Anderson: Australia has advanced the work of urban planing, politics, and community activity for the bushfire to a science. Why re-invent the wheel?

Ken Patterson Sr: I have studied several of Australia's ideas.


Roger Kershaw: There have been a few new products on the market for painting with a fire suppressant. Do you have any experiences with any of them?

Ken Patterson Sr: Not in particular, and the Australian's have some very good concepts. The only problem is getting people stateside to accept them, whether they like them or not.


Tom Robinson: Sorry Ken, I don't mean to hit you with an issue over which you have no direct control. Although the USFS maintains control over most aerial operations, I still have to wonder why local or state fire administrators don't question USFS reasoning on issues that can mean life or death to firefighters and civilians alike. Do you have any suggestions?

Ken Patterson Sr: Not off the top of my head. No, although I would like to discuss this with you further later.


John Anderson: What about the insurance companies and better property risk assessments for premiums?

Ken Patterson Sr: I have attempted to approach insurance companies for a simulation idea to see if they would offer any insurance discounts for fire resistive properties, and the ones that I approached had nothing in the works. Although I think it is a very good idea.

Final Question:

Link Walther: Is there a source or reference that I could acquire that would tell me more about the Australian brushfire practices and urban planning concepts and strategies?

John Anderson: Link, look up CFA and AFAC acronyms and go from there.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, John. For everyone, please see the Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program at <http://www.firewise.org/communities/>. Good resource.


Avagene Moore: Our time is about up for today. If you did not get to ask your question, we will be here for a few minutes after we adjourn. If Ken can hang around a little bit longer, he can address your question then. Ken, we greatly appreciate your time and effort on our behalf today. Audience, we are thankful for your time, attention and participation. You are very important.

Ken Patterson Sr: I will be here for as few more minutes.

Avagene Moore: If you have an announcement to make to today's audience, prepare it while I do next week's Upcoming Event, please.

Upcoming Events:

Next week, the EIIP Virtual Forum proudly presents "Major Aviation Disasters: Strategies to Save Lives and Control the Incident," with Gunnar J. Kuepper, Chief of Operations, Emergency and Disaster Management Inc. This dynamic session will take place in the Virtual Classroom on Wednesday February 9, 12 Noon EST. Mark your calendars for that session.

And now, as mentioned earlier, if you have an announcement you would like to share with us, please send it to the screen now.

John Anderson: Press for an Ilyushin-76 test at an airstrip near you! Thanks, Ken., Avagene et al.

Avagene Moore: Ken, if you have any closing remarks, please prepare them now as well. Again, Ken, thank you for being with us today. Everyone --- thank you for making the Virtual Forum the place to be on Wednesdays! Yes, John.

Ken Patterson Sr: I appreciate the questions and comments. And thank everyone for their attendance.

Avagene Moore: We will adjourn the Virtual Forum until next week, Wednesday Feb 9!