Adapt or Burn
The new Fire Adapted Communities initiative offers a large and sustainable vision of wildfire
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2012
Consider this: USDA Forest Service researchers estimate that more than 44 million homes in the United States are located in fire-prone wildland/urban interface (WUI) areas, and this number is expected to climb. Federal agencies already spend an average of more than $1 billion in wildfire suppression costs — all taxpayer funded.
YOUTUBE VIDEO INTERVIEW
Fire Adapted Communities program manager Molly Mowery attended this year's NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. In this interview, we asked Molly to explain what the FAC (Fire Adapted Communities) program is, how it works, and how communities can get involved.
Belt-tightening budget cuts, record-breaking droughts, and expanding suburban development will put significant strain on WUI communities unless unless we do something to change current trends. Fortunately, national agencies have begun taking serious action to correct this course.
Over the past several years, the Forest Service has been actively promoting the idea of fire-adapted communities. (For more on the Forest Service’s efforts, see the “Perspectives” interview in this issue.) A fire-adapted community acknowledges and takes responsibility for its wildfire risk, implementing appropriate actions at all levels to address resident safety, homes, neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure, forests, parks, open spaces, and other community assets. The more actions a community takes, the more fire-adapted it becomes, reducing the need for costly response and suppression efforts and enabling it to safely accept fire as a part of the surrounding landscape.
It may sound like a grand vision, but to further the cause, the Forest Service last year entered into an agreement with NFPA to create the Fire Adapted Communities™ initiative. NFPA has since assembled a coalition of wildfire agencies, including the U.S. Fire Administration, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, the National Association of State Foresters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
NFPA also recently launched the website fireadapted.org, which promotes the idea that wildfire is everyone’s responsibility — homeowners, firefighters, land managers, and civic leaders. It acts as a central resource for national programs and information, including NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA® recognition program; the IAFC’s Ready, Set, Go! Program; community wildfire protection plans; building codes and regulations that address wildfire risk in high-hazard areas; and more. The website emphasizes the importance of all of these components, and that no one program alone is enough to reduce community-wide wildfire risk.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Advertising Council has unveiled a national media campaign to educate residents about their wildfire risk and reinforce fireadapted.org as their go-to source to learn more and take action. And this is just the beginning. More strategic efforts by the Forest Service and the NFPA-led coalition will support the long-term implementation of the Fire Adapted Communities initiative on the ground.
As our community leaders continue to promote sustainability agendas, we should remind them that addressing wildfire from a Fire Adapted Communities approach is part of a long-term solution for 21st century WUI communities. The economic, environmental, and social impacts of wildfire disasters are too great not to consider.
Visit fireadapted.org, so you’ll be prepared the next time someone asks you about the role you’re playing to make your community more fire-adapted.
Molly Mowery is program manager for Fire Adapted Communities and International Outreach.