Field assessments help students and homeowners learn to reduce wildfire risk

Blog Post created by tomwelle on Nov 10, 2015

While attending the 2015 Backyards and Beyond Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I had the opportunity to accompany the “Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone” class into the field to do several risk assessments in a neighborhood near Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Forestry Commission’s Drake Carroll had stepped up to organize the field trip which took us to a Firewise neighborhood that had been at risk from the recent Highway 31 fire.  Instructors Pat Durland and Jack Cohen lead the nearly 30 students to three homes, each in a different state of risk from wildfire for the students to assess and also, talk with the homeowners about their findings.

With each home presented a different set of conditions for the students to assess and address based on what they had been learning in the classroom for two days. One home was pretty good in terms of wildfire risk and gave students the opportunity to see how that homeowner could then model for others and perhaps engage in neighbor to neighbor interaction on a positive level to reduce risk beyond one or two homes, a basic tenet of Firewise.

Another home was sort of middle of the road, where the students needed to key in on more subtle factors that a homeowner could easily address, especially in that all important 0-5 feet from the foundation.

HIZ Instructor Pat Durland explains wildfire risk to homeowners.

HIZ Instructor Pat Durland explains wildfire risk to homeowners. Photo credit: Jody Freitas, NFPA

The third home offered students much more of a challenge not just in what needed to be done around the home to reduce risk, which was significant, but also then listen to the instructors as they worked with the homeowner on possible solutions and concerns. Instructor Pat Durland often says that the assessment is usually the easy part, the social interaction with the homeowner and getting them to buy in and become engaged in addressing the things they can change around their home and seeking help on the ones they can’t is the tough part. 

So, completing a quality, standardized home assessment is key, but working with that homeowner to take action to reduce the threat to themselves, their home and responding firefighters is where the rubber really meets the road.