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FWlandscapeA recent article in the Colorado Springs Gazette has some Colorado property owners extremely upset about wildfire mitigation. An insurance spokesperson is quoted as saying, “We recommend cutting all trees within 100 feet of a house,” and then referencing changes in NFPA’s recommendations about wildfire safety and defensible space.

So what does NFPA’s Firewise Communities programactually recommend? And have we changed our recommendations?

For more than 15 years, NFPA’s wildfire safety recommendations have been shaped by fire science research on how homes ignite. Our Firewise Landscaping and Construction Guide, one of our primary information resources, has stated, for some time now, “The primary goal for Firewise landscaping is fuel reduction — limiting the level of flammable vegetation and materials surrounding the home and increasing the moisture content of remaining vegetation. This includes the entire ‘home ignition zone’ which extends up to 200 feet in high hazard areas.”  The document then breaks out the home ignition zone concept into intermediary zones, starting with a 30-foot perimeter around the house and attachments.  This information is not new…and it hasn’t changed in years and years.

Safety in the "home ignition zone": The concept of the home ignition zone was developed byUSDA Forest Service fire scientist Jack Cohen in the late 1990s, following some breakthrough experimental research into how homes ignite due to the effects of radiant heat. The 30-foot number comes from the very minimum distance, on flat ground, that a wood wall can be separated from the radiant heat of large flames without igniting.  Because of other factors such as topography, the recommended distances to mitigate for radiant heat exposure actually extend between 100 to 200 feet from the home – on a site-specific basis.

Authored by: Faith Berry, Fire Adapted Communities Ambassador

In 2008 the Camp Fire, part of the Lightning Complex, originated in Plumas County and traveled into Butte County scorching 60,000 acres.  It also destroyed over 200 homes and took a life.  It affected the Concow side of the Yankee Hill Concow Firewise Community that is also a Firesafe Council.  Before the fire occurred, residents in Concow had fortunately taken a multi-pronged fire adapted approach to reducing their risk by participating in the Firewise Community program, writing and implementing a a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, performing mitigation activities such as limbing up trees and properly spacing them, hardening homes, implementing Ready, Set, Go! principles, and identifying water sources with their local fire departments.

On the night of July 7th 2008, the fire decimated 350 acres of an unmanaged treed lot, threatening the homeowner across the street as the fire crowned in the trees. Fire burned through so hot that mature conifers perished, resulting in a clear cut brush field.


This picture is courtesy of the Yankee Hill Firewise Community.  See the fire moving through the wooded lot across the street towards the home!


Because the homeowner has been  a good steward of her property through Firewise landscaping techniques, (limbing and spacing trees, eliminating ladder fuels),  most of her mature trees survived even though there are still fire scars visible on the bark.  The fire went from a crown fire from the decimated neighboring property across the street and dropped to the ground on the homeowner’s Firewise property, lowering the intensity of the fire.  Her home also has well watered landscape and the building materials are fire resistive.  In addition, she had an approved water source that was identified. This combination helped her home's chance of survival, and illustrates the value of preparing your home through Firewise principles before a wildfire event. 


This picture was shared by the Yankee Hill Firewise Community.  This is the same Property after the fire.  You can see the tree with the address sign, and you can see the bark scorched about 3 feet up.  Note the decimated unmanaged property across the street. Note the picture of the well watered area around the same home today below.

I recently attended a workshop in this community where residents discussed how they could capitalize on their Firewise Community efforts and increase their resilience even more in the event of another wildfire event.  They looked at the steps listed on the Fire Adapted Communities website, and in the new Fire Adapted Community brochure to see what additional ways they could increase their resilience.


Is your community prepared in the event of a wildfire? Take action today and learn how you can be better prepared, have better plans and work collaboratively with agency partners start by visiting the Fire Adapted Community Website, where you can also learn about the Firewise Communities and Ready Set Go! programs.  "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." — Benjamin Franklin.  Protect your home and the lives of those you love. 

Who knew that a 15 minute presentation early last December could pay off with so much interest?

I attended the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Executive Board meeting with Lucian Deaton from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and together we provided information about the Ready, Set, Go! and theFirewise Communities/USA Recognition Programs. Our presentation was greeted with interest and the Executive Board made and passed a motion to accept and support both programs. This led to Firewise attending the annual Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Conference this year in the Wisconsin Dells.Firewise info board in community building

The conference drew approximately 300 fire chiefs and their staff from across the state. The expo was well supported by fire service-related businesses. NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA was one of those businesses proud to be represented this year. This was the first time Firewise Communities/USA was represented at the conference and what a response!

Russ Sanders, NFPA Central Region Manager, gave a presentation about NFPA in the opening ceremony. During his presentation, Russ briefly discussed the success of the NFPA’s Firewise Communities/USA program. After the opening ceremony, the attendees were allowed a break before classes started. The expo was opened for anyone to browse for information and free goodies were given away. The Firewise booth started to get busy. By the end of the first day, almost all of the information at the booth was taken, including handfuls of business cards. My voice was even fading from all of the talking! But it didn't matter to me; the response to the program was incredible! I was able to talk to several fire departments that showed interest in obtaining their recognition. Here are some of the positive results that came out my attendance:

  • A group of fire departments from northeast and northwest Wisconsin invited me to talk to their organizations about Firewise.
  • I am invited to attend the Wisconsin Fire Inspectors Conference, as well as the State Fire Chiefs Conference.
  • Everyone who stopped by the booth to learn about Firewise agreed that it was a good program and saw the benefits.

Firewise HouseThe day before the conference started, I was able to tour a few of the recognized Firewise Communities/USA communities in Wisconsin. Jolene Ackerman, Wisconsin DNR and Firewise State Liaison, and Amy Luebke, Wildland-Urban Interface Specialist Wisconsin DNR, took time out of their busy schedule to show me the tremendous amount of work that is being done in Wisconsin to make their communities safer against wildland fire.

Wisconsin currently has 15 recognized Firewise Communities/USA communities. See a full list of communities in Wisconsin and across the US at and learn more about how your community can stay safer from wildfire with tips and actions steps developed by the Firewise Communities Program

The Western Wildland Threat Assessment Center (WWETAC) recently published an interactive 'wildland threat mapper' (WTM).  This mapper was based on the research that employs a novel 25-km radius neighborhood analysis in an effort to highlight locations where threats (wildfire, insects and disease and development) may be more concentrated relative to others and to identify where multiple threats intersect. Such neighborhood analyses and overlays can help policymakers and managers to anticipate and weigh the implications of potential threats and their intersections in regional- and national-level assessments.

Image 1: Wildland Threat Mapper (WTM) image of interactive mapper. *Click on image to view WTM.

According to the primary researcher involved with this project - Jeffrey Kline, this geospatial technique will be applied to the rest of the United States and is scheduled for realease on the WWETAC website sometime next year.

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