Monday, January 23, 2017

Utah's New Wildfire Policy - Engaging Municipalities and Distributing the Risk

Pile burning is one of the activities that participating entities can do to”pay” their commitment value, as outlined in the new policy.
Photo: John Schmidt, State of Utah, Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands

Across the country, policy makers and practitioners are discussing a critical solution to the wildland-urban interface problem: a paradigm shift in which local governments take the lead in prevention and risk reduction activities. In Utah, the corresponding legislation was approved, taking the state one step closer to such a shift. 

Utah's 2016 legislature unanimously passed a comprehensive wildland fire policy that is based on the simple principle of risk reduction, wherein the state will pay the costs of large and extended attack wildland fires in exchange for local governments implementing prevention, preparedness and mitigation actions that are proven to reduce the risk and cost of wildfire in the long run. 

Key points of the new policy:
  • This new policy was developed collaboratively and involved statewide partners from the Utah Association of Counties, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Utah State Fire Chiefs Association, fire departments, various policy workgroups and many others.
  • Utah is shifting its wildfire strategy from reactive fire suppression to proactive risk reduction.
  • Every county, city and eligible special service fire district can opt in and become a participating entity that is annually evaluated through the Utah Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (UWRAP) to identify their wildfire risk per acre, which assigns a dollar value to medium and high-risk acres.
  • This value is then combined with the average cost of the past ten year's of wildfire suppression costs within the jurisdictional boundary of the participating entity. The resulting risk assessment and historic fire cost average are combined to provide an annual “participation commitment” for the participating entity.  
  • The commitment value cannot be paid to FFSL or the state; instead, it will be met by prevention, preparedness and mitigation work – which can be direct spending or in-kind efforts – accomplished at the local level.  
  • An eligible entity that decides to opt into the new system will sign a five-year cooperative agreement with FFSL and create an Annual Accounting Statement detailing its participation commitment actions.
  • Every participating entity, with the help of local FFSL staff, must create a Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan (CWPP) within two years of opting into the system and keep that plan updated into the future. The CWPP will help participating entities prioritize the risk reduction projects for its jurisdiction and communities.
  • In the instance of wildfire, the participating entity and its associated fire department will make the best possible initial attack (IA) to control and contain the fire early-on. Increasing wildfire preparedness through red card training and certification, annual firefighting refreshers and the purchase of equipment is encouraged in the policy as it will enhance IA capabilities.
  • If a wildfire escapes IA, the participating entity can authorize the Delegation of Fire Management Authority and Transfer of Fiscal Responsibility to the state. When this delegation occurs, the incident will be managed in a unified command environment and the extended attack cost of the fire will be paid through the State Suppression Fund.
  • The new policy became effective January 1, 2017.
Read more here

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