Firewise Communities USA
Since its start in 1998, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County has focused their efforts and mission on educating the public about the benefits of preparing for catastrophic wildfire. Through outreach and education on emergency preparedness, defensible space, landowner assistance programs and formal fuel reduction efforts, the council has been successful in helping our community be better prepared for the next wildfire. While this approach has been effective in helping individuals attain their defensible space goals, it has not addressed the areas treated between defensible space. In particular, issues such as defensible space across property boundaries, vacant parcels or evacuation routes on private roads. These issues are a popular topic of discussion during community outreach education and need to be addressed if the council is to be successful in meeting their mission. Wildfire does not respect property boundaries and we must work together to truly be effective in changing wildfire behavior and reduce losses in our community long term.
During the development of the Nevada County Fire Plan, the concept of a “good neighbor” policy was introduced. This takes the “you are here” concept of defensible space and takes a broader view of the landscape and our community. This is a natural stepping stone for the Fire Safe Council into the Firewise Communities USA program. In 2008, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County’s board of directors voted to change their mission to include promotion, development and retention of formal Firewise Communities in Nevada County.
Why? Scientific research has proven that when adequately prepared, a house can withstand a wildland fire without the intervention of fire suppression services. And when firefighters do make a stand to save a home, Firewise Communities provide a safer working environment to help make a nearly impossible job possible.
In fact, a house and its surrounding community can be both Firewise and compatible with the area's ecosystem. The Firewise Communities recognition program enables communities to achieve a high level of protection against wildland-urban interface (WUI) fire as well as sustainable ecosystem balance. The Fire Safe Council and Firewise Communities programs provide residents of the WUI in Nevada County with the knowledge and skills necessary to make it happen.
Firewise Communities goal is to encourage and acknowledge action that minimizes home loss to wildfire. It teaches you to prepare for a fire before it occurs. It teaches you to work together as a community to address wildfire. The program adapts especially well to small communities, developments and residential associations of all types. Firewise Communities is a simple, three-legged template that is easily adapted to different locales. It works in the following way:
- Wildland fire staff from the Fire Safe Council, federal, state and local agencies provide a community with information about coexisting with wildfire along with mitigation information tailored to that specific area.
- The community assesses its risk and creates its own network of cooperating homeowners, agencies and organizations.
- The community identifies and implements local solutions.
As with defensible space, being Firewise begins with you. The Firewise Communities standards are designed and maintained to give you maximum flexibility in creating the best plan for your community.
- With assistance from the Fire Safe Council, complete a community assessment and create a plan that identifies agreed-upon achievable solutions to be implemented by the community.
- Sponsor a local board or committee that maintains the Firewise Community USA program and tracks its progress or status.
- Observe a Firewise Communities USA Day each year that is dedicated to a local Firewise project.
- Invest a minimum of $2.00 per capita annually in local Firewise projects. (Work by municipal employees or volunteers using municipal and other equipment can be included, as can state/federal grants dedicated to that purpose.)
- Submit an annual report to Firewise Communities/USA that documents continuing compliance with the program.
Answer the following questions to determine if your community is a good size to undertake the Firewise Communities/USA process:
- Does your community function effectively as a unit?
- Are you and your neighbors able to work together on a wildfire mitigation project?
- Are most of your neighbors willing to take part in a Firewise Communities action plan?
- Is your community small enough that it can organize effectively?
The Firewise Communities USA program fulfills the mission of the Fire Safe Council to help all homeowners in Nevada County prepare for and survive the next catastrophic wildfire in a truly public-private partnership. Working together with local, state and federal agencies, private citizens and communities we can make all of Nevada County fire safe. To learn more about how your road association, neighborhood or community may become a designated Firewise Community contact the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County at (530) 272-1122.