Sometimes, in the midst of a busy fire season, it’s easy to lose sight of the ground we’ve gained with our education and advocacy accomplishments. Budget cuts, record-breaking home losses, and wildland firefighter tragedies can also make it hard to remember the positive outcomes we’re seeing from our collective actions to mitigate wildland fire.
Every once in a while I like to hit the pause button and look back at how much progress has been made in a very short time by Fire Adapted Communities (FAC), the umbrella initiative launched by the USDA Forest Service and other national stakeholders, including NFPA. FAC helps communities across the country find tools and resources to reduce wildfire risk by adapting the way they design, build, and live in wildfire-prone areas.
It was only a few years ago that plans had just been launched to form a coalition and promote FAC. The Forest Service launched its FAC program, NFPA worked with other agencies to build an FAC website, and the Ad Council developed a new ad campaign. Since then, the FAC initiative has grown rapidly. New resources have been developed, including an FAC brochure and infographic, and are available free to the public at fireadapted.org. NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA® program is a key building block of FAC, promoting homeowner action on private property. As Firewise Communities/USA reaches 1,000 recognized communities nationwide, wildfire awareness and risk reduction continues to be a tangible outcome.
Other coalition partners have also ramped up their FAC activities, which include educating audiences at tradeshows, hosting webinars, and leading a post-fire assessment following last year’s devastating Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado. The latest development is the launch of the FAC Learning Network, an initiative by the Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy. This pilot community program initially targets eight locations around the United States, with the goal of connecting people and resources within a community to help them become fire adapted. One pilot community, Woodland Park, Colorado, has already received an additional $1 million in state grant funding to continue supporting its Fire Adapted Community activities.
The momentum doesn’t stop there. Other states and municipalities are promoting FAC concepts. This fall, for example, the wildfire division of the Austin (Texas) Fire Department hosted a free FAC symposium. The event built on the statewide support that Texas has shown for FAC through the Texas A&M Forest Service “FAC Roadmap,” a path that promotes wildfire risk awareness and identification, development of community wildfire protection plans, participation in the Firewise Communities/USA and Ready, Set, Go! programs, and other fire adapted steps.
Complementing the FAC efforts is the work being conducted by stakeholders in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. This strategy, now in its final phase, outlines how we can achieve more fire adapted communities. Stakeholders have developed a number of well-crafted, science-based recommendations to help reduce the wildfire threat across the country. These recommendations cover a number of issues, including fuels management and home and community protection.
So despite the challenges and the occasional bad news, there are plenty of reasons to be encouraged. As knowledge and support for Fire Adapted Communities grow, we will continue to promote resources and programs that make a tangible difference on the ground. It will require patience, persistence, and optimism. In this sense, it is a journey for us all.
Molly Mowery is program manager for Fire Adapted Communities and International Outreach.