AUTHOR: Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan

Man raking

It's time to start working on your 2021 renewal application!

Did you know that being recognized by the Firewise USA® program requires annual commitment to action? Each year, participating communities engage in educational outreach and science-based risk reduction within their boundaries. This annual work improves the overall condition of homes and properties, increasing the odds of withstanding a wildfire.  Firewise USA sites share the work they've done through the annual renewal application, found on the Firewise USA portal. This sharing keeps them In Good Standing for the next calendar year. In 2021, renewal applications are due Friday, November 19, and can be started now. In addition to the regular criteria, some participants may need to update their Action Plan. The Action Plan is a prioritized list of risk reduction projects or investments for an induvial Firewise site, along with suggested homeowner actions and education activities that the community will strive to complete annually or over a period of years. The Action Plan should be broken down by year and reflect the community’s goals. This document is required to be updated at least every three years so that it best reflects your community’s needs and past accomplishments. As circumstances change (e.g., activities are completed, a fire or a natural disaster occurs, new construction in the community started, etc.), the action plan may need to be updated more frequently. The Action Plan update should be completed by the community's Firewise committee, which is comprised of residents and wildfire experts. The plan can be as short as one page but should address the components in the definition above. The plan should include some basic measurements for each goal, such as “Increase number of residents participating in meetings by 5 percent,” or “Increase number of homes completing all recommended actions in the 0-5 foot space by 10 percent.”  Some ideas to address in your plan can include, but are not limited to: Increase overall participation in risk reduction efforts within your community. Are there a few homes or sections of a neighborhood that are not participating? Increase the number of homes that have had a fire safety check-up or risk evaluation.  What percentage of homes have tackled the 0-5 foot space in making it non-combustible? Highlight those positive efforts, share with other community members, and work to increase the number of homes that have completed recommended actions in that area. What do your community’s gutters and roofs look like, are they covered in debris? Identify homes that are not doing annual cleanup work and find ways to encourage them – maybe they just don’t know, maybe the owners are older and need assistance, etc. What educational outreach plans do you have? Is there room for expansion of those plans?   The updated action plan is submitted with annual renewal application. Visit the portal today to check your status and get started.
A wildfire burning at night

Maintaining vigilance through the 2021 fire year

The 2021 fire year is halfway through, and it has been a busy one so far. As of today, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports over 32,000 fires had been reported, burning over 1.6 million acres.  Communities have been threatened and homes have been lost. Looking forward, the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC’s) Predictive Services newest National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July, August, September, and October 2021 shows much of the west above normal wildfire potential. This is setting up for a volatile situation. While the main objective of NIFC’s outlook is to improve information to fire management decision makers for proactive wildland fire management, thus better protecting lives and property, reducing firefighting costs and improving firefighting efficiency; it can also be of use to wildfire preparedness practitioners and residents. The outlook reminds us to be proactive, dedicating time throughout the year to improve your home's chances of withstanding a wildfire. Here are a few actions you can take: Clean out leaves, needles, and other debris from your roof and gutters Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches. Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating Create space between plants, trees and shrubs in the 5-30 foot zone from the house, limit to small clusters of a few of each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape. For more ideas on what steps to take around your home and property visit our Preparing Homes for Wildfires Page.  You can also order a package of our Reducing Wildfire Risks in the Home Ignition Zones Poster checklists to share with your friends and neighbors.

Firewise USA® sites staying resilient in 2020

Firewise USA® is a program built on the concept of people connecting and working together. What that means to a community was flipped on its head in 2020 as in-person gatherings were not allowed or were greatly limited. Community workdays had to navigate health and safety recommendations that limited size and required additional personal protective equipment. Yet, with all the challenges presented by COVID-19, the participants of Firewise stayed committed and accomplished some amazing local risk reduction tasks. Reviewing Firewise site annual renewal reports, it was inspiring to read how communities adapted and overcame challenges in meeting the annual educational outreach criteria.  They adopted new technology, switching to virtual meetings instead of in-person. One community hosted a drive-thru event to celebrate a newly restored bridge and shared information about wildfire preparedness. Another community hosted a "safari" where residents traveled to different locations to learn about the efforts in their community and gained stamps in their passport (social distancing and masks were required).  These are just a couple of examples of the creative and adaptive solutions people found to keep local focus on wildfire preparedness going. A shift in 2020’s focus was from popular community work days to individual efforts that emphasized the importance of work on individual properties, on the home itself, and the different areas of the Home Ignition Zone. We always say that wildfire does not recognize boundaries, but it does not recognize pandemics either.  Residents across the country stepped up and far exceeded expectations.  2020 Risk Reduction investments by Firewise USA® Sites Included: 2.4 million volunteer hours worked, with more than half of those at the home and home ignition zone level; Over $54 million spent on chippers, contractors, and home improvement costs, etc; In 2020, the combined volunteer hours and project monies spent generated over $115 million. At the end of 2020 we had a total of 1,750 participating communities that were In Good Standing, with 200 of those new to the program.  We at NFPA thank all of you and your local supporting partners for your acknowledgement of the role you play in wildfire preparedness and commitment you show to being a part of the solution.  Congratulations on your continued forward progress. We cannot wait to see what you accomplish in 2021! Is your community ready to take the next step on its wildfire journey?  Visit Firewise.org to learn how you can get organized and become a Firewise USA site. You can follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics. Photo credit: Ken Light, Orinda Firewise Committee members handing out How to Prepare Your Home For Wildfire brochure and other information at local farmers market. 
Firewise Risk Assessment tutorial

In it for the long haul: Oracle’s 15-year journey in Firewise USA®

Living in an area that experiences wildfire is a commitment, a journey that continues over a lifetime and is never done…the way that community engages in preparing for and living with fire just changes over time. Firewise USA® seeks to guide residents on that journey, providing a framework to keep people engaged, reminding them that action is required every year. Since 2002, communities across the nation have answered the call to action with more than 1,800 sites active in the program today. Reflecting, it is always amazing to see those sites who joined early and keep going. To learn more about this long-term engagement, I checked in the with community of Oracle, a Firewise USA® participant since 2005, hitting their 15-year anniversary last year. Oracle is a small community at the base of the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. While most communities around us are desert communities, Oracle has a mixture of desert and at the higher elevation there are manzanita, oak and mesquite trees. We have had wildfires in and around our community with the most notable one this year, the Big Horn fire.  We are very grateful there were no homes or lives lost. However, this is not the first fire our community has experienced. In 2002 and 2003 the Bullock Fire, The Oracle Hill Fire and the Aspen Fire occurred….shortly before the Oracle Firewise Community was conceived. In 2005, Oracle Fire District personnel, Larry Southard and Albert Ortiz and a group of eight or nine individuals led by Frank Pierson began the task of forming the Oracle Firewise Community. Their goals were to teach the community defensible space techniques, provide a brush disposal site for the community and provide an evacuation plan to the community in the event an evacuation was necessary. Fifteen years later, our goals have basically remained the same. Our approach has changed. To educate the community, we have: Regular meetings to which the public is invited to attend. Held annual “Townhall” meetings covering topics such as creating defensible space around their homes, evacuations, insurance, etc. We have invited numerous local people who are experts in the topics presented. (I should note, due to COVID 19 we have not held a Townhall meeting this year, but we do have one planned for 2021.)  Additionally, Oracle has an annual parade and celebration in the spring with a car show, vendors, etc. The Firewise Board takes this opportunity to meet people and educate them about wildfire risk reduction techniques, how to use a fire extinguisher, etc.  We have written, printed and mailed to every homeowner in Oracle, a newsletter covering the same topics as we have covered in the Townhall meetings. This year our newsletter focused on “Ready, Set, Go”.  The brush disposal site is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. for the property owner to bring brush only…to reduce dry vegetation and fuel around their home.  There is a minimal cost for each truck or trailer load which in turn offsets the cost of the brush disposal site.  The additional money that has been collected from the brush disposal site has paid for the Emergency Evacuation System for Oracle. It is a voluntary system, in which Oracle residents can sign up for and in the event of an emergency, the Oracle Fire District will contact each person in the system with pertinent information about the emergency. It was used simultaneously with the PENS (Pinal Emergency Notification System) this summer when our residents were directed to prepare for evacuation and in some areas required to evacuate.  Several articles written by various members of the Firewise Board have been published in the local paper, the San Manuel Miner. The Oracle Fire District has allowed our Firewise activities to be included on the website and on their Facebook page. Packets of Firewise brochures have been left in the real estate office to welcome new members of the community and educate the new homeowner Firewise techniques and the constant concern we have for wildfires in our community. Last, we have partnered with the Mountain Vista School (grades K-8) in providing instructional material for Fire Prevention Week. Many of our Firewise Board members are also members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and it is not uncommon for members to provide traffic control for the children during Fire Prevention Week when they go on walks around the community. It is our belief the children will bring the information home to their families and retain it for the future. Reading through their list of ongoing activities, you can tell that this community truly is committed. One thing that stood out is how they have worked to make their vegetation drop-off reasonable in price. Having it affordable encourages folks to stay at it, rather than being a barrier. Over time it can be easy for a community to lose interest. Another item they shared in our call was a little competition they put out in the community. To help keep participation up and create a bit of fun, Oracle Firewise started an annual “Property of the Year” award.  Since 2008 they have recognized the best personal property and to the best business/ public property. The award is for making your property Firewise by reducing vegetation and trimming, weed eating and reducing ladder fuel, creating a defensible space against potential fires around their personal or business/public property. I love how creative this is and how it can really bring folks together, working towards that common goal. One of the final pieces they shared really hits on the heart of success in any of these efforts – people and the importance of relationships.   Our membership changes however, there are approximately six or seven individuals who joined the Oracle Firewise Board shortly after it was formed. Because of our location and the concern for wildfires and our community, they continue to serve the community as a member of the Oracle Firewise Board. I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have a tremendous relationship with the Oracle Fire District. While we try to support their activities, Chief Jennings and Office Manager Acosta are totally supportive of the work and projects we are involved in. A big thank you to Marry Harris and Rachel Opinsky for taking the time to respond to my request and for the conversation. I appreciate the opportunity to share your achievements and look forward to seeing more of Oracle’s continued success. Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction? Visit Firewise.org to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started. We love hearing from communities and sharing your experiences with others. Visit our contact us page to share your stories, success, strategies for overcoming barriers, etc. Photo credit: Oracle Fire District Facebook page
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