Our third stop on our sites of excellence journey takes us to Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, AZ. No strangers to wildfire, residents in this community have a history of being engaged in wildfire risk reduction. We are excited that they are a part of this pilot program, demonstrating a willingness to “do more”. Pete Kloeber, the community’s resident leader, gives us an inside view of what Forest Highlands means to its residents and the goals they have for keeping their community safe.
Can you describe your community for me and tell me why you choose to have a home there? What do you and your neighbors love about your community?
Forest Highlands (FH) is a 1,100-acre private residential community with 814 residential lots nestled at 7,000 feet among majestic ponderosa pines and groves of oaks and aspens. FH was approved as a Firewise Community USA in November 2004 – the second such site in Arizona and the 60th in the nation. FH has been a recognized Firewise Community for 15 consecutive years. During these past 15 years, the number of residential structures has increased from 655 to 736 – a 12 percent increase. The majority of the residences are 2nd homes. My wife and I are full-time residents, as are around 50 others.
My neighbors and love Forest Highlands for its tranquil beauty, and mountain/forest atmosphere.
Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction. What led you to Firewise USA? Why did you decide to participate in the pilot?
I was a member our community Board of Directors in 2004 and initiated the goal of FH becoming a Firewise Community. As mentioned above, we were approved as such in November 2004 - the 2nd in the state of Arizona. The purpose was simple: make our community safer from a wildfire concern - so we could have a better chance of sustaining our beautiful community for coming generations.
We decided to participate in the “pilot project” for a several reasons: (1) to continue our quest to make our community safer and more sustainable; (2) to approach and stay on the leading edge of Firewise guidance, assistance, technology, and lessons learned; (3) to hopefully increase the awareness and participation of our residents; (4) to reduce the risk of injury to our residents, guests, and brave first responders; and (5) because it is very simply the “right thing to do."
What are you goals in the pilot?
The above reasons for participating are essentially our goals in this pilot program. But simply stated, our goal is for our community to be more Firewise at the end of the pilot program - meaning specifically three things: (1) our residents becoming more aware and supportive; (2) our assessment personnel (in house and fire district) learning even more and becoming even better at conducting assessments; and (3) the residences participating in the pilot program becoming more Firewise and setting the standard for the rest of our community.
What are some challenges you think you might face? How do you propose to overcome them?
Support of our residents. Our plan is to involve them early in the process through open communication, and keep them involved during the whole process.
A big thank you to Pete for sharing the story of his community! Flagstaff is home to 10 active Firewise USA sites, I hope the work that FH is doing inspires others to take a deeper look at their efforts and for those who aren’t yet engaged in wildfire risk reduction, to take the first steps. We look forward to following their progress and hearing more from them over the next year and a half. Stay tuned next month as we travel to Wisconsin.
Photo credit: Top - Lee Ann Berry, Sites of Excellence training, community members, NFPA staff, Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire. Middle - Peter Kloeber, Firewise Day table and trailer display. Bottom - Peter Kloeber, highlighting the use of rock and gravel in the Immediate Zone (0-5 feet from the base of the structure) to decrease the chance of the home igniting.
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.