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2019

Looking for ways to engage people in wildfire risk discussions and projects? Learn about five unique solutions developed by communities around the country to help get public participation in wildfire risk reduction activities.   

1. TOWN HALL MEETING: Sun City, Texas, an active Firewise USA site, hosts an annual “Town Hall Meeting” to help residents learn what their risks are, ask professionals questions about wildfire preparedness as well as plan next steps.  The meetings encourage participation by many residents to make improvements within their Home Ignition Zones, both to their homes and the landscape surrounding the homes.

Fourmile Watershed youth project

2. MULTIPLE AGENCY CHANNELS: In the Fourmile Watershed community in Colorado, a partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service, Aloterra Restoration Services and One Tree Planted helped get many students involved in a wildfire restoration project. (Some of the participating students and families pictured above).

3. ELECTRONIC ROAD SIGN MESSAGES AND INSERTS IN WATER BILLS:  In Utah, residents of Stockton and South Rim were informed about how they could participate in wildfire preparedness activities through social media, electronic road signs and flyers sent out in their water bills.  According to the UFRA Straight Tip newsletter attached below,  250 people attended and logged 172 hours to complete defensible space projects for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

Dublin Fire Department wildfire safety workshop4. WORKSHOPS: In Virginia, a collaborative effort by the Virginia Department of Forestry, Pulaski County Emergency Management, Virginia Tech Fire Ecology Department, New River Valley/ Highlands RC&D, and the Dublin Fire Department, enabled information to be shared with 10 different communities at area workshops (pictured, left). The workshops resulted in fuels reduction projects being accomplished around neighborhood homes.

5. BUSINESS PANEL DISCUSSION: In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project included a Business Panel Discussion at the Santa Fe Business Incubator. They had a small but diverse audience of first responders, arborists, economic development and nonprofit analysts discussing the potential for a wildfire to cause devastating financial impact, and how business owners could be a part of the solution.  

Read more details below about these innovative and effective approaches that you can consider for reaching local audiences to engage in wildfire safety projects.

Members of Red Rock Ranch who participated in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

On the heels of Arizona, we travel north to visit our fourth Site of Excellence, Red Rock Ranch (RRR).  Just north of Colorado Springs, this community has seen the devastating effects of wildfire up close with the Waldo Canyon (2012) and Black Forest (2013) fires, yet struggled to get engagement and buy-in in their early wildfire preparedness attempts.  Dave Betzler shares background information on the community and how they moved forward with Firewise and lays out a detailed plan for how they will tack the challenge given to all pilot sites.

 

RRR Community Description:

               RRR HOA is a 360-acre development of 202 homes within a Wildland Urban Interface. Midway between Monument and Palmer Lake, our roughly 600 residents enjoy rural living nestled at the foot of 8100-foot Raspberry Mountain amidst tall ponderosa pines and extensive stands of scrub oak. Bordered on two sides by Pike National Forest, residents enjoy seeing the abundant wildlife (deer, fox, coyote, and occasional mountain lion and black bear) as well as a varied bird population. Residents appreciate the quiet and serenity of mountainside living, yet have close and ready access to all necessary conveniences and services in both Colorado Springs and Denver, as well as small town ‘feel’ of adjacent Monument and Palmer Lake. 

 

RRR Firewise USA Journey:

               Initial, but largely unsuccessful HOA wildfire awareness discussions first surfaced in 2014, led by a Board member.  Slash was collected in one area and chipping was removed.  This was a partially success, as only 20 homeowners participated and HOA chipping costs were too high to be sustained. 

                In 2016 the new HOA president attended numerous Firewise meetings including the Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church’s Emergency Preparedness Group. With EPG and HOA volunteers, we held 2 days of fuel reduction on the property of a disabled homeowner. This event was an attempt to “jumpstart” broad HOA resident fuel reduction, and to show the community “mitigation” or fuel reduction does not mean total destruction of the existing landscape. 

In 2017, HOA President and a handful of concerned residents recognized the wildfire risk, decided to take action, and formed a Firewise Committee. The Community Wildfire Protection Plan was developed in collaboration with Woodland Park office of Colorado State Forest Service and Tri Lakes Monument Fire Protection District. The CWPP includes an aggressive plan detailing mitigation and wildfire education and preparedness actions and activities.  We applied for and were awarded a $6200 grant from Coalition for Upper South Platte for 2018 wildfire mitigation and chipping.

In 2018 Firewise Committee conducted an extensive education and awareness campaign to inform residents  Three people behind a chipper helping feed limbs in to itof the wildfire threat and the need to take action. In addition to widespread homeowner visits, the Committee purchased bright long sleeved Firewise Volunteer shirts as visible reminders for homeowners.  Committee efforts resulted in 73 homeowners conducting property mitigation, and 22 residents receiving home wildfire assessments. Grant funded chipping was conducted on six days. Extensive wildfire outreach efforts included meetings and discussions with El Paso County (Office of Emergency Management, Transportation/Roads, and Sheriff’s office), Colorado State Forest Service, United States Forest Service, Coalition for Upper South Platte, and Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Associations, and Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District.  RRR HOA applied for and was selected as a National Fire Protection Association Site of Excellence, a national two-year program that sponsors comprehensive and focused Firewise USA activities in each of the seven state sites.

 

Our Sites of Excellence Pilot Project is focused on 23 target homes within a severe/high-risk area of HOA. Our project goals are: 

  1. Comprehensive wildfire education & awareness campaign: regular distribution/display of Firewise materials, signs and banners 
  2. Full homeowner engagement & participation: assessment and mitigation of each home/property (wildfire risk zones 1 & 2, tree/understory) 
  3. More resilient homeowners: risk/threat- aware, and better prepared for emergency/evacuation 
  4. Neighbors and neighborhoods working together: acceptance of shared risks, recognition of individual and collective responsibilities

 

Challenges:

  1. Burdened Homeowners – financial situations, physical limitations, elderly or frail seniors; reluctant/obstinate homeowners; absentee owners/rental properties
  2. Resource limitations – insufficient funding for HOA Firewise and target property mitigation and chipping
  3. Volunteer availability – personal emergencies, family caretaker responsibilities, physical limitations (retired, injured, aging, etc)

Line of community members behind chipper, helping to feed debirs

 

Overcoming challenges:

Burdened homeowners: 

- Intentional focus on each and every homeowner interaction: caring, respectful, listening, compassionate, non-judgmental; 

- Partner with local church’s emergency preparedness team for no-cost property mitigation of physical/financial constrained homeowners);

- Respectful and persistent Firewise and neighbor-to-neighbor conversations, low-key but direct with reluctant/obstinate residents; 

- Direct and official HOA correspondence (email, written) to an absentee owners/rentals

 

Overarching approach for Sites of Excellence project: Develop/maintain personal relationships; foster neighbor-to-neighbor assistance; maintain open two-way communications; and recognize homeowner participation and accomplishments (publicity, Firewise and HOA newsletters, website, media articles, project progress reports)

 

Other Sites of Excellence/Firewise emphases:

Outreach, collaboration and advocacy: 

  • Increase Tri-Lakes area/region awareness (e.g., Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Organizations/NEPCO with 40 plus member HOAs, Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners/PPWPP multi-county information sharing organization). . 
  • Develop/strengthen organizational relationships (e.g., El Paso County - Office

 of Emergency Management and Transportation/Roads; County Commissioners); CSFS and USFS; Colorado Stat Representative)

-    Publicize Firewise and NFPA Sites of Excellence efforts

In follow up conversations with Red Rock Ranch, they are making progress on the above plan.  Like other sites, they are finding success in intentional, personal approaches.  While a meeting might spark some interest, face to face conversations are leading to outcomes.  Thank you Dave for giving us a glimpse in to your community, can’t wait to see the end results! Stayed tuned next month when we hear from Washington State.

What will it take for you and your neighbors to take action?  Visit Firewise.org more to learn more about how to organize your community and steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34for more wildfire related topics.

Photos: Top - courtesy Tom Welle, NFPA; middle - Fire Marshall and Firefighter Will Vogl operating new Tri Lakes Monument Fire Protection District chipper (7/24), courtesy Beth Lonnquist, Red Rock Ranch HOA President; bottom - Firewise & homeowner volunteers carrying slash to chipper (7/24), courtesy Beth Lonnquist, Red Rock Ranch HOA President.

Residents across the nation have been busy in 2019 taking steps to increase the ignition resistance of homes and communities from wildfire.  Here at NFPA we've seen increased interest in the Firewise USA program as neighbors connect with each other to reduce their shared risk.  With over 1,500 sites in the program, we'd like to take a moment to recognize two states that recently reached milestones in participation.  

 

 "Texas Celebrates 100 Firewise USA Sites Across the State."  Our hats off to the Lone Star State and its residents  that have made the commitment to protecting their homes through good fire safety in the home ignition zone.   Since 2003, the Texas A&M Forest Service has partnered with NFPA in the effort to educate communities and encourage action on the ground.   Wildland fire staff from federal, state, and local agencies work together to provide mitigation information tailored to specific areas and help build cooperative networks to support efforts on the ground.  Check out their video celebrating 100!

 

The movement continues in California, where they have surpassed 200 active sites.  Residents are taking notice of the last few fire seasons and making the commitment to own their risk and take action.  Between 2018 and so far in 2019, 86 communities have joined the program, and almost all existing participants renewed in the last cycle. Marin and Nevada Counties are leading the way, with new interest from Contra Costa and Tuolumne Counties.  

Knowing the risk that communities face throughout the state, it makes my heart soar to see so many people realize there are things they can do around their home to make a difference.  A big thank you to CAL FIRE and the network of partners they have built to help the residents of California be more resilient in the face of wildfires.

What will it take for you and your neighbors to take action?  Visit Firewise.org more to learn more about how to organize your community and steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.

 

Photo credits: Top left - Texas A&M Forest Service; bottom right - Julian, CA Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, courtesy of Diane Hake.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first step on the moon, let’s look at some technological advancements made by NASA that benefit wildland fire suppression and prevention efforts.

NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management (FIRMS) Map shows real time wildfire activity being mapped by satellites across the globe.  The map even offers a free tutorial to help you access the information you need.

Another contribution to wildfire research from NASA is the Global Fire Weather Database (GFWED).   This model predicts the formation and spread of fires, and can be used  to alert people to weather conditions that can contribute to large wildfires. 

NASA’s also has FIREX-AQ, a study program that provides observations of wildfire smoke and looks at its impact on weather and agriculture.  According to the NASA web-page, “To understand the impact of smoke on the local and regional level, scientists must have accurate estimates of what’s burning, the quantity of emissions produced, the composition of those emissions and how those chemical compounds evolve in the atmosphere as they react with sunlight and other atmospheric constituents, including pollution sources. Scientific knowledge in each of these areas will need to advance in order to provide a detailed understanding of how smoke impacts air quality and climate, and to improve the efficacy of satellites in capturing data relevant to these goals.”

Who benefits from FIREX-AQ? 

  1. Residents living downwind from wildfire.  
  2. Public health managers and health care administers who respond to health-related smoke impacts.   
  3. Land Managers who are making decisions about using prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads.


Our
 forays into space can help research scientists better understand wildfires, including weather that can contribute to wildfire intensity and the effects of air quality in the aftermath of a wildfire.

Photo Credit: NASA public domain photo, pulled 6 August 2019

NFPA's Wildfire Division announces two resources are now available in Spanish. These tools can be shared and used to empower residents in taking action around their home.

Our video "Su Hogar & Incendios Forestales. Elecciones que hacen una diferencia." (Your Home and Wildfire. Choices that can make a difference) helps answer questions of where to start when preparing a home for wildfire.  Watch as a wildfire mitigation specialist evaluates a home and property with owners.   See what concerns she identifies and learn the steps recommended to reduce the likelihood of ignition.   Listen as the homeowners share their initial fears about being left out of the decision making process and their reaction to the work that has been done.

Want to learn more about how wildfires impact homes?  Take the online training, Entendiendo la Amenaza de incendios forestales a los hogares (Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes), where students receive an overview of fire history, fire basics, and how homes ignite and burn from a wildfire. It's an excellent resource for residents and other stakeholders that are pursuing knowledge on the basics of how wildfires ignite homes and the actions that can be implemented to make homes safer.

Check out our website for more tips and actions you can take around your home to prepare for wildfires.

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34 more wildfire-related topics.

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