Since this strategic initiative was rolled out in June 2012 there has been a lot of discussion on what the purpose of this initiative is and how it relates to established outreach programs like the IAFC’s Ready, Set, Go! program and NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA® recognition program.
Due to the complexity of the wildfire burden our nation faces, there has been a lot of tension around the word “community” and how one goes about defining it. The interpretation of “community” in the context of ‘fire adapted communities’ is further complicated because of its origins in the ecological sciences and application in the social sciences. One only need look up the definition of ‘community’ to realize that this term is applied to many different scales in both social and ecological constructs.
In summary: a fire adapted community accepts fire as a part of the natural landscape — understanding its fire risk and collaborating to take action before a wildfire occurs to reduce those risks. For members of a community who are ready to act, Fire Adapted Communities brings together the many organizations and resources available to help each community member address their specific wildfire mitigation needs. The more actions a community takes, the more fire adapted it becomes.
By design, due to the diversity of our national landscape (socio-political, economic and environmental)this initiative is non-prescriptive. It is a directive from Congress to elevate wildfire preparedness and mitigation in the public consciousness in an effort to promote and enhance collaborative planning and action across jurisdictions and ownerships with the sole purpose of reducing our society’s wildland fire risk exposure. In other words, the charge is for all of us to work at every level to reduce the burden of wildfire on American society.
Last week I had the good fortune to talk with Fred Turck, who is the Assistant Director of Fire Prevention for the Virginia Department of Forestry, about the tension and angst around the Fire Adapted Communities concept and definition. Taking a holistic approach, Virginia will be using Fire Adapted Communities at the county level by leveraging the collaborative construct of a county-wide Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The view in Virginia is that a Fire Adapted Community is analogous to a Fire Adapted ‘County’ where as a ‘community’ they are aware of their wildfire risk and are working collaboratively with county leaders and agencies to mitigate the risk. The first step in this process involves education, information and planning. When it comes to individual groupings of homes within the county, they will ALWAYS be referred to as a Firewise Community, with any individual homeowner working to become more “Firewise”.
The bottom line: the term ‘fire adapted communities’ is here to stay and will continue to evoke and elicit many different interpretations, perspectives and emotions. The more important thing to consider is how one can direct this passion and energy into action that results in Congress’s desired outcome - national wildfire burden reduction.