U.S. fire administrator issues warnings on structure fires, changing climate
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell visited the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Tuesday to discuss what the community can do to help prevent wildfires in a changing climate.
Flanked by other national fire prevention experts, Moore-Merrell spoke to reporters about the ongoing fire threat in the wildland and urban interface.
In 2022, there were more than 1.2 million structure fires across the country, with 69,000 wildfires destroying 7.5 million acres, she said. This year, there’s already been more than 800 fire fatalities.
She said that while snow did fall on Tuesday morning in Boise, it wouldn’t stop the season’s fires.
“Throughout much of the United States and globally, climate change or drought-driven wildfire are growing in intensity and size and destructiveness. In the first three months of this year, over 9,000 wildfires have been documented here at the National Interagency Fire Center,” she said. “The threat of catastrophic wildfire in America’s interface community demands national attention.”
She outlined resources needed, such as approaching the issue with a unified approach between all fire agencies. Other speakers focused on protecting homes, limiting vegetation, advancing firefighter recruitment and training, as well as minimizing risk.
“Today we speak with one voice,” said Moore-Merrell. “While the overall fire problem in America remains difficult, I’m confident that with the partnership between federal, state and local levels we can reduce fires and ensure that more people here in Idaho and across our nation have the knowledge to protect themselves and their families.”
Steve Kerber, Vice President of the Fire Safety Research Institute, also spoke Tuesday about the ongoing threat between the wildland and urban interface.
“The data shows that fire disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations,” Kerber said. “The elderly, our children, the disabled, and low-income populations.”
A small structure fire can spread more rapidly now than they could 50 years ago, he said.
“Fires have gotten faster,” Kerber said. “Research has shown that this is the result of materials used in modern home furnishings and interior finishing. These changes are contributing to the fire deaths we’ve seen over the last decade.”
Other items, such as lithium-ion batteries in electric bikes and scooters also can be explosive, he said. Issues such as this leave less time for people to get out of a home if it catches fire.
“As fire challenges in and around our homes continue to evolve, we must continue to work together to develop actionable insights through collaborative insights, because fire is getting faster,” Kerber said.
The fire officials are on a regional tour across the West. Idaho Reports will have more on this in the show on Friday, April 21.