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Weather – a key ingredient to a never-ending “fire season”

With just a flicker of a match, a cigarette butt, or a lightning strike in the high country, fire takes its toll fast and with no regard for those in its path.

These statistics, from last year alone, show how wildfires have a significant impact across the country:

  • 11 firefighters lost their lives
  • 67,774 wildfires burned 9.3 million acres -  that’s the second highest amount of acres burned over the last 10 years
  • 4,244 structures were destroyed, including 2,216 residences - well above the “average” year

As weather becomes more extreme across the nation, so does the threat of fire.

Fire seasons are becoming longer and fires are growing larger. Weather is the lifeblood of wildland fires. A wind driven fire in dry conditions won’t respect roads, fences, or blocks of homes; it will consume anything combustible that lies in its path. The start and spread of fires is created by the fire triangle—the right combination of fuel, weather, and topography. Give it an ignition source and this combination can be deadly and the results catastrophic.

San Diego, Calif., October 25, 2007 -- Helicopters drop water and retardant on the Harris fire, near the Mexican border, to stop the wildfire from advancing. Currently the fires in Southern California have burned nearly 350,000 acres.

CAPTION: San Diego, Calif., October 25, 2007 -- Helicopters drop water and retardant on the Harris fire, near the Mexican border, to stop the wildfire from advancing.  Andrea Booher/FEMA

Fire seasons are forecasted based on general weather patterns, moisture in the vegetation and known topography but the threat can change from moderate to extreme in a couple of days.  It can be a year round problem, depending on the location, vegetation and weather.  Fires can’t always be predicted or forecasted like an approaching hurricane; rather, they can be like a tornado, tsunami or flash flood, leaving those in its path with at times just minutes to make life or death decisions.

And believe it or not, fires can also create their own weather.  During extreme fires, thousands of embers can be fanned miles in front of the main fire, starting new fires that further push the forward spread while also adding to the fire’s intensity.  It only takes one ember caught in dry nook to start your home on fire which can lead to more home ignitions and a fast-moving fire.  If you are trapped between these embers and the main fire, it can be a race to the safety zone or to take escape routes to get out. 

 Malibu, Calif., October 23, 1996 -- A California Department of Forestry (CDF) official watches the wildfire as it burns up a hillside.

CAPTION: Malibu, Calif., October 23, 1996 -- A California Department of Forestry official watches a wildfire as it burns up a hillside. FEMA News Photo

This year’s threat of wildfires

The omens for this year’s fire season point to another year of drought and flame in the Southwest, Central Plains, and Rocky Mountains. From the high amount of fire activity in the past several years alone, it is clear wildfire is almost a nationwide threat.   The season begins in Hawaii with continued drought and in Florida, where the Florida Forest Service is predicting a near-normal fire season after a see-saw pattern of warm and cool, wet and dry weather - unless “an unforeseen wet or dry spell emerge.”

In the Southwest, numerous Red Flag Warnings for incendiary conditions were issued as early as February, in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The National Weather Service publishes Red Flag Warnings when there are dangerously low levels of humidity, high winds, and dry or drought conditions. A long-term drought continues to extend from the southern Dakotas down through the central plains to the Southwestern states, which were hit hard by fire last year.

This year, the Front Range in Colorado, where the North Fork Fire burned last year, is again a national hotspot. Snowpack in the Front Range basins this year are only ninety percent of last year, according to Chris Cuoco, a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service based in Grand Junction, CO.

The height of the “fire season” in California occurs in September and October, after the chaparral has experienced months of drying and the Santa Ana winds begin. Last year, northern California had many large fires but southern California was spared a bad season, because the Santa Ana winds did not develop in the fall. This year, moderate to severe drought conditions exist in much of southern California and in portions of northern California.  Even with predictive models for fire threat progression through the United States, a catastrophic fire can still occur in other areas at different times of the year.

West Glenwood, Colo., June 11, 2002 -- The Flathead Hotshot crew set a burn on Horse mountain in the South Canyon drainage to stop fire from consuming more forest land.

CAPTION: West Glenwood, Colo., June 11, 2002 – Smoke rolls up from a fire in the South Canyon. Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo

While we can monitor areas with greater fire threat due to drought, the buildup of fuel, and moistures in the different vegetation (trees, shrubs and grasses), it is important to remember that weather is a key ingredient to wildfires.  So if you live in an area prone to fires, remember:

  • Stay alert of local conditions – follow the weather conditions in your community and pay special attention to indicators like low humidity, drought, and high winds, three things that contribute to the risk of fire.
  • Listen to direction of local officials – if the local officials in your area mention a heightened threat of wildfire; listen and take action. 
  • Have a plan in case a wildfire should threaten your home or business – simple things like creating defensible space around your home and making sure you have an evacuation plan can save your home and your life.

We hope everyone stays safe during the fire season this year.  Remember, weather is a key ingredient to fires, but the individuals, families and communities that prepare are better able to survive and recover from fires.  Visit Ready.gov/wildfires for information on staying safe before, during, and after wildfires.

About the authors

Justin Dombrowski, Response Director, FEMA Region IX was a former firefighter who traveled around the country managing wildfires and saw firsthand the loss to homes, property and lives including to firefighters. He wants to ensure people know what to do when a fire strikes and do what they can to reduce the threat at home, in their neighborhood, and for the responders.

John N. Maclean, author and journalist, has written four books and numerous articles about wildland fire over the past two decades. He is a FEMA reservist and a member of the Seeley Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

Holiday safety in my house

Each year Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in my home.  As soon as the meal is over and we settle in for the football game, we begin to create our holiday to-do lists.  Because of my two grandsons, decorating our home has become a very special tradition. 

Whether sorting through yards of twinkling bulbs, hanging ornaments on the tree, lighting the menorah, or displaying the seven symbols of Kwanzaa, many citizens across the United States cherish this time of year.  Unfortunately, these traditions may also increase the chance of a fire in our homes.  Approximately 240 home fires occur each year because of Christmas trees and another 150 home fires occur due to holiday and other decorative lighting. There are a few things we do in my home to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fire.

First, we make sure our real Christmas tree is fresh.  A fresh tree’s needles will bounce back when you touch the limb.  If they fall off, chances are the tree is already too dry.  The stump of the tree should be sticky with sap. We also make sure all other live greens are very fresh.

When you bring your tree home, make sure you water it regularly.  Check the water each day.  Then, make sure you don’t dry the tree out prematurely by placing it too close to a heat source like a vent or fireplace. 

As you unwind those yards of lights, make sure there aren’t any frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation or broken/cracked sockets.  In my family, we check the lights each year as we take them off the tree and discard the faulty ones.  If we have a doubt—out it goes.  We are careful not to link more than three light strands as is recommended by national testing organizations, and plug the end directly into a wall outlet or high quality power strip. 

Over the years I’m sure you accumulate those old decorations with sentimental value and special memories.  Unfortunately, they could be very dangerous and flammable.   The rule in my home is: use only nonflammable or flame retardant decorations or don’t use them at all.  And no matter how wonderful the tree looks in that special place in the room, we never block exits or the furniture with the tree —that has sparked some interesting home décor discussions over the years!

Candles are beautiful and make the house feel warm and inviting.  But, candles can definitely be dangerous.  Consider using battery-operated flameless candles in your decorations.  If you must use real candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be knocked over easily.  Never leave a room or go to bed with candles burning. The flameless candles coming out this year are really life-like.  And some operate on remote control—very convenient and safe!

As an example, here are some battery operated candles:

Photos of battery operated candles

Holiday fire safety does not have to be another big to-do on your growing holiday list.  Just follow a few safety tips while decorating and you will be giving your family one of the greatest gifts this year—safety!

For more information on ways to make your holidays safer, go to Holiday Fire Safety at the U.S. Fire Administration’s web site.  From everyone at the United States Fire Administration, let me wish you a happy and safe holiday season.

Learning about holiday season fire safety

The weather has been getting colder – and that means more than just getting out the winter coat, hat, and gloves.  It also means we’re getting close to the holidays and some extra cheer is in the air!  However you celebrate the season, you’re probably doing some decorating inside your house, out in the yard, or in your own room!

Putting up lights, candles, and holiday decorations can be a lot of fun.  We have been spending the last few days learning about how to safely put up all our pretty decorations.  You see, more houses tend to be damaged by fires this time of year, and unsafe decorating is often a cause of the fire!  So here is some of what we learned about safe holiday decorating:

1. Lit candles are dangerous and should never be left unattended. If you aren’t able to constantly watch candles, you should use lights instead.  Holiday light sets come in so many different colors and shapes and can make any home look cheery.

stella next to christmas lights
 

Or you can use electric candles instead – they look real and you can even find some that are scented!

flameless candles

Or if you have candles that give off traditional holiday scents when they are lit, we learned there are ways to still enjoy the holiday aromas without having an open flame.  Here’s one way, using a candle warmer:

stanley next to candle warmer

2. The more lights you use, the more you’ll need places to plug them all in.  Make sure you use surge protectors and don't overload your electrical outlets:

stanley next to surge protector

3. Decorate with materials that don’t catch fire easily.  Look for the decorations that are clearly marked “nonflammable” or “flame-retardant”.   We hung a wreath next to our desk that is nonflammable:

stanley with wreath


4. If your family celebrates Christmas and uses a real (or live) Christmas tree, remember to keep it watered and away from any heat sources like a fireplace or heat vent.  That way it the tree doesn’t dry out and accidentally catch on fire.

5. Don’t block exits as you put up decorations.  In the event of a fire, people need to have ways to easily exit the room and get outside to safety.

If you’re looking for more fire safety tips, check out the U.S. Fire Administration website. They have a bunch of ways you can keep your home safer from fires during the cold winter months.   

We wish you and your family a very happy and safe holiday season!!


stanley and stella with decorations

Fire Prevention Week – Remembering The Great Chicago Fire

Fire Prevention Week - October 7-13 - is a time to reflect on the bravery of our local firefighters who risk, and sometimes sacrifice, their lives to save others.  It is also a time to make sure you and your family have an emergency plan and know the steps to take if confronted by a fire or other emergency. 

Before joining the FEMA team, I was the Director of the state of Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Executive Director for the city of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management.  I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of fires.  That is why FEMA Region V has joined with the city of Chicago Fire Commissioner, Jose Santiago, to provide some important information you need to know about fires. 

Today, there are drought conditions in many parts of the United States.  Chicago was also experiencing a similar situation during a very dry summer in 1871. The ground, wooden buildings and vegetation was extremely parched and left the city in a vulnerable state.  On October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in the barn area of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s home on the west side of the Chicago River.  The exact cause of the fire remains undetermined, but regardless of the cause, the fire continued to blaze for two-days devastating our great city.   Exhausted firefighters were assisted on October 10, when much needed rain helped to extinguish the fire.  

While the story of the Great Chicago Fire is one of the major events in our city’s history, fires are devastating events to individuals, families and businesses.  Today, most people have very busy lives, but sitting down with your family for 20 minutes to talk about your fire escape plan, like U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell said last week, can have a dramatic impact on your family safely exiting your home during a fire.  As you discuss fire safety with your family, remember the different needs you may have. For example, do you have pets?  Are there people with disabilities in your home or business?  What is the best route for evacuation?  Fires can rage out of control and become deadly in seconds.  So planning now can save lives. And remember to practice your plan at least twice a year.

Take a moment to visit www.usfa.fema.gov to learn more about how you can prevent fires and keep your family safe.

How to get involved with this year’s Fire Prevention Week

I have a challenge for you.  Wherever you’re reading this blog post, look around the room you’re in. Do you know two ways that you could safely exit the room in the event of a fire? 

Sunday marks the beginning of Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 7-13), and the fire service, teachers, and others in your communities across the U.S. will be sharing fire safety tips, with a focus on the importance of knowing how to safely evacuate your home, school, or office during a fire.  We’ll be using the slogan “Have Two Ways Out”, which is a key ingredient in knowing the fire escape plan for wherever you are.

Since I started in the fire service over 40 years ago, I’ve talked with hundreds of people that have been affected by fires in some way. Before I get into how you can get involved with this year’s Fire Prevention Week, I wanted to share two quick points that I’ve learned through these conversations, specifically related to this year’s theme for Fire Prevention Week.

First, practicing your fire escape plan can save the life of someone you love.  A fire can take your possessions, but it doesn’t have to take your life, or the life of a loved one.  Twenty minutes – that’s how long it took my family to have our fire drill at home.  I make fire safety a priority in my home because I’ve seen the tragic results of families and individuals not being able to safely get out of their homes when there was a fire.  In addition, I have heard many stories from people who said they were able to escape during a fire because they had practiced and understood the fire escape plan.

Secondly, making fire safety a “family affair” leads to results.  Over the years many parents told me that their children had learned about fire drills either from visits to the fire department or from fire fighters coming to their school.  As a result, kids were excited about having a family fire drill and practicing getting out of your home safely.  Children can be great agents of change within their households – especially when they’re inspired by a role model like a local firefighter.  So I encourage you to make practicing your fire escape plan a fun activity for your family, and there are a few ways that the U.S. Fire Administration can help with that: 

  • This video, which outlines the key reminders for home fire safety:

Now, how can you get involved in Fire Prevention Week?  Simple.  I’m asking everyone to do two simple things this week:

  1. Practice your fire escape plan at home, school, or the office.  Walk through each room and identify two ways out, being mindful that the smoke alarms work in each room as well.  And make sure you decide on a safe meeting spot outside in the event of a fire.  If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the resources listed above – they can help you get the ball rolling.
  2. Say “Thank You” to your local fire department.  The men and women in the fire service risk their lives, sometimes on a daily basis, to protect lives and property.  I know from experience that getting a “thank you” card or visit from someone in the community can energize and stick with the department for a long time.

I hope that you will take my fire drill challenge. It takes just a little bit of time to make such a huge difference in the safety of your loved ones. Remember, “Have Two Ways Out!"

Useful Links
- For more information about fire preparedness, visit Ready.gov/fires
- For more about the U.S. Fire Administration, visit usfa.fema.gov.

fire prevention week banner

Lessons from Colorado on Preparing for Wildfires

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Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino visits a home in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. where fire mitigation efforts by the homeowner protected the house from wildfire damage.

While I was in Colorado Springs for the Building Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships conference last week, I also had the honor of meeting with some of the impressive first responders from the state and local level who fought the Waldo Canyon Fire.

The firefighters faced an intense challenge. Sixty-five mile-per-hour winds fanned the flames and pushed the fire up and down mountainsides surrounding the town. More than 32,000 residents were forced to evacuate and the fire consumed more than 18,000 acres.

FEMA worked as part of a team of federal, state and local agencies, supporting the firefighting effort. We first provided Fire Management Assistance Grants so first responders could save lives and property knowing that we had their backs with financial support. On June 28, President Obama declared a major disaster in Colorado resulting from both the Waldo Canyon and High Park Fires, and committed additional federal support.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- In the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo., only the arch remains of home that was destroyed during the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

The Waldo Canyon Fire was the most destructive in the state’s history – 346 homes were lost. But it could have been a lot worse. Without a doubt, mitigation saved many of the homes in the area. In Cedar Heights, mitigation efforts, supported by FEMA grants, brought the wildfire to a halt before it could threaten the neighborhood.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino visits a mitigation project in the Cedar Heights neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. The project protected homes from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

Similarly, individual homeowners took mitigation into their own hands.  I visited one home in an extremely vulnerable location – perched on a hill near a burn area. Thanks to simple mitigation techniques, like creating 10 feet of defensible space around a home and removing all items from above and below a deck, this home was spared.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino visits a home in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. where fire mitigation efforts by the homeowner protected the house from wildfire damage.

Wildfires spread quickly. If you live in an area threatened by wildfire, make sure that you’ve taken appropriate measures to protect your property. For an overview of how to prepare for wildfires, visit www.ready.gov/wildfires.

Now that these fires have been contained, the next big threat is flash flooding. Due to intense heat of the fires, much of the soil in burn areas is unable to absorb rainwater, increasing the risk of flash flooding, particularly in low lying areas in canyons. Manitou Springs, near Colorado Springs, is a historic and picturesque town sitting along Fountain Creek. The town is all too familiar with the threat of flash flooding, after a flood swept through the town back in 1999.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- Image of Manitou Springs, Colorado.

The good news is that due to recent changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), residents impacted by these fires could have an exception to the usual 30-day waiting period for NFIP to take effect. That means the chance to protect your property in the event of a disastrous flash flood.

If you live in an area with an increased risk of flooding as a result of these fires, contact your insurance agent to find out if you’re eligible for flood insurance. To learn more about NFIP or to find an insurance agent familiar with flood insurance, visit www.floodsmart.gov.

 

 

Have a Safe and Happy Independence Day

It’s hard to imagine the Fourth of July festivities without a great fireworks display. But celebrations can become tragic when someone is injured or property is damaged by fire. FEMA and the US Fire Administration remind you to prepare for a safe and memorable Independence Day by leaving the fireworks to the professionals. Even those fireworks that are sold legally can cause injuries. Also with many areas of the country under severe drought conditions, the chances of accidentally causing a fire are greatly increased, so they should be avoided in those areas.

Did you know that fireworks alone accounted for some 8,600 serious burns and injuries in 2010? And nearly 3,500 of those injuries happened to children under the age of 15. Don’t let your celebration this July Fourth end with a visit to the emergency room. If you are going to use legal and locally approved fireworks, here are some recommended safety steps:

  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them. 
  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks. Parents may not realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees-hot enough to melt some metals. 
  • Always have an adult closely supervise fireworks activities if older children are allowed to handle devices. 
  • Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers. 
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks. 
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap. 
  • Never try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water and throw them away. 
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person. 
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly. 
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers. 
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire. 


For those seeking more information regarding fireworks in their area, check with local fire officials and visit the following recommended websites:

Voluntary Organizations Key to Colorado Wildfire Fight

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First responders, volunteers, and community and voluntary organizations – these are usually the first people on the ground to help following a disaster.  These key members of the emergency management team are vital in helping communities and individuals prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and are invaluable links between the communities they regularly serve and tribal, local, state, and federal government.

The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) is a coalition of 53 national nonprofit organizations and 55 State/Territory members, representing hundreds of additional organizations, that share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle – preparation, response and recovery – to help disaster survivors and their communities.  Voluntary organizations, including many faith based organizations, are actively supporting the states and local governments engaged in wildfire response efforts.  As wildfire response efforts continue throughout Colorado, the members of the Colorado VOAD (COVOAD) provide aid and relief services to disaster survivors, volunteers, and the thousands of firefighters working to control the growing fires across the state.

Organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, United Way and Adventist Community Services have been working tirelessly since the beginning of response efforts to set up donation centers, provide meals and shelters to displaced residents and provide needed supplies. Several other organizations have been in contact with the COVOAD office to offer assistance including Mennonite Disaster Service, Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board, and other local partner organizations.

With thousands of firefighters and first responders continuing to come together to bravely fight the blazes on the frontline, there are many others looking for ways to help. As the fires continue to spread and new fires emerge, we encourage individuals interested in helping to consider a monetary donation to the organization of their choice.

Financial support to voluntary agencies responding to disasters is the most effective way to help disaster survivors and response efforts in Colorado. Providing monetary donations allows disaster agencies to purchase exactly what is needed.

For more information on what you can do to help, please visit www.nvoad.org.

For agencies actively engaged in Colorado, visit www.helpcoloradonow.org, or contact Colorado 2-1-1.

What We're Watching, 6/15/12

Author: 
Editor's Note: This blog was updated at 3:40 p.m.
 
At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

High Wildfire Activity Continues 
Last week, we mentioned the threat of potential wildfires – unfortunately, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming are all experiencing fire outbreaks that are ongoing. We continue to closely monitor the wildfire activity from our regional offices in Denver and Denton, Texas, while thousands of first responders and firefighters from local, state, federal and tribal agencies are fighting the fire on the ground to protect lives and property. Federal agencies have made approximately 5,000 firefighters available to suppress fires so far.

For the High Park Fire (Colorado) and Little Bear Fire (New Mexico), one way FEMA is supporting the firefighting efforts is through Fire Management Assistance Grants. These grants make FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs, but do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners.

Earlier this week, we also sent an Incident Management Assistance Team to the Colorado Emergency Operations Center to work side by side with state officials to monitor and support the High Park Fire fight. For more information on the federal government's role during wildfires, visit the National Interagency Fire Center website, or view their latest situation report (PDF).

If you live in an area that is currently being affected by wildfires, or an area that is susceptible to wildfire outbreaks, here are a few tips to remember:
  • Follow the direction of local officials – I cannot stress this enough. Local officials are most familiar with the conditions on the ground, and any evacuation orders originate from local officials (evacuation orders do not come from FEMA). If you are told to evacuate, leave immediately. 
  • Be familiar with evacuation routes – Local officials will announce if an evacuation is required, and they will also have information on the safest way to leave the area. So become familiar with possible evacuation routes ahead of time, that way you will be familiar with them during an emergency. 
  • Stay informed of the latest developments – Stay up to date by following local news reports or updates from local officials. For example, Larimer County, Colorado  have been updating this website and their @LarimerSheriff Twitter account to keep residents updated about the High Park Fire. Also, keeping your NOAA Weather Radio close by is useful for getting the latest severe weather developments.
You can find more wildfire safety tips at Ready.gov/wildfires, or on our mobile site at m.fema.gov/wildfires.htm. Have a safe weekend, and we will provide further updates about FEMA's role regarding the increased wildfire activity on this blog as needed.

Father's Day Gift Ideas
For all you last minute shoppers still looking for the perfect gift to give dad for Father’s Day, why not also give a gift of preparedness and get dad something that may be useful during an emergency like a flashlight with extra batteries, a NOAA weather radio or a cell phone charger for his car? In addition to a traditional gift like ties, socks or golf balls, help get your dad prepared no matter where he is -something small and creative like a keychain flashlight can be just the motivation needed to help your loved ones get prepared – if they aren’t already.

Visit www.ready.gov for more creative gift ideas.

Have a safe weekend and Happy Father’s Day!

 

Toads Wield More Power Than You May Think

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Sometimes large-scale events and unforeseen circumstances can slow down recovery efforts, and sometimes all it takes is something small – like a toad. In case you don’t regularly read the Austin American Statesman, you may have missed an interesting story that shows the complex nature of disaster recovery. Those involved with disaster recovery need to think about a wide variety of factors that come into play, including the cleanup efforts’ effects on animals.

To set the stage, a historic wildfire season hit Texas in 2011, and we continue to work in support of state and local officials in providing assistance to affected individuals and local governments. This assistance to local governments includes supporting removing debris in some of the damaged areas.

A small, rare object that could soon be spotted hopping nearby, however, has the potential to delay FEMA-funded recovery projects in certain areas. This object is the endangered Houston toad, which surfaces during mating season. Emergency managers have a responsibility to carry out our jobs in a manner that avoids or minimizes adverse impacts to the environment, especially potential impacts on endangered species.

Because of this, our recovery experts met recently with officials from the state and Bastrop County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, a local electric cooperative, and environmental experts to make sure recovery will not violate federal environmental policies and laws and will minimize adverse effects on the toads.

The meeting was productive in that the key stakeholders on this issue came to a consensus on how best to proceed. For now, debris removal is going strong as we increase our capability to monitor the toads. Meanwhile, we continue to work with stakeholders to proceed with recovery efforts while protecting the natural environment.

In the end, the Houston toad serves as a symbol that successful disaster recovery requires a team of individuals and organizations working together to solve problems both big and small -- sometimes as small as a toad.

Click here for more information on FEMA’s Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation Program.

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