Recently, I had the privilege to spend time in Rapid City, South Dakota to deliver the new NFPA “Assessing Residential Wildfire Hazards” class. Homeowners, BIA, S.D. Department of Agriculture, insurance agents, landscape professionals and local structural fire departments participated. This 8-hour curriculum was created primarily for homeowners while the NFPA 2-Day Home Ignition Course is designed for firefighters and other professionals.
The Assessing Residential Wildfire Hazards class covers perceptions vs. reality of the wildfire threat, understanding how wildfires ignite homes, how the homeowner can mitigate their wildfire hazards and how to become a nationally recognized Firewise Community.
The Rapid City area has a beautiful landscape with tall prairie grass and towering ponderosa pines, but with this beauty brings the threat of wildfire every summer as temperatures rise and wildland fuels dry. This type of forest, when it was natural, burned on regular intervals as part of the ecosystem. Prior to active fire suppression, wildfire would meander through the plains and hills burning the small amounts of brush, small trees and lower hanging limbs. This created a forest with ample sunlight and moisture to grow fewer but larger healthier trees, often resistant to beetle infestation. Another benefit of wildfire was demonstrated recently during a grass fire in the Rapid City area; we saw that the grass returned this spring much greener and healthier for wildlife to graze.
In populated areas, we often take fire out of the ecosystem through suppression services. Because of this, homeowners have to become better stewards of their personal property by physically removing much of the overgrown vegetation to break up the continuity between plants, therefore reducing the risk of a wildfire that may jeopardize their home each fire season.
Lieutenant Tim Weaver of the Rapid City Fire Department and Andrew Tate of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture took our class participants on a field trip after the course was completed. The group visited three homes which we consider the “built fuel” or “urban fuel” within the Wildland Urban Interface. The students focused on how to assess these homes and what recommendations they would give the homeowner to reduce the threat of wildfire by mitigating the fuels, whether it was vegetation or fireproofing the home exterior. This was valuable to the participants as they were able to use the knowledge from the classroom and apply it in the field which made them more comfortable when they did this home assessment on their own.
Some of the comments from the class participants: “I have been firefighting for 35 years only concentrating on fire suppression; this class opened my view to fire prevention!” Another student wrote “I have been involved with Firewise for over a decade and even though it is hard to change people’s behaviors, I am now starting to see the change and more involvement with folks”.
Now is the time for homeowners to take action, before fire season starts. Look at your home through a pair of Firewise glasses. Will my home survive a wildfire? What can I do to mitigate the threat of wildfire to my home? What can I do this weekend to reduce my risk to wildfire? To answer these questions, visit Firewise.org. Remember, just a few simple actions around your home may change the outcome of your home being damaged from a wildfire!