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27 Posts authored by: megan.fitzgerald-mcgowan Employee

Wooden sign "Summit Park" surrounded by wildflowersIn this final piece of Taking on Excellence, we travel to Utah to learn more about Summit Park.  I had the chance to visit them over the summer, it is a beautiful place in the mountains with a variety of style of homes, just the type of place I would like to live.  But part of its beauty is what puts it at risk.  Mike Quinones, the resident leader of Summit Park, shares their story.

Can you describe your community for me and tell me why you choose to have a home there?  What do you love about your community?  

Summit Park was developed in the late 1950's and lies between 6800 to 8000 feet in elevation. We have approximately 820 lots with around 550 having been developed with single family homes. Some homes being built in the 1960's and some just being finished, so we have a wide range of architecture and building materials. Our community sits in the middle of dense conifer forest, which in the past has been neglected but has become recognized by our community, state and local agencies as a priority for fuel and forest health management projects. 

I live here because I enjoy mountain living and the challenges it offers. We receive a lot of snow, wildlife is common and it’s quiet and dark at night. The location is perfect as well. We're between Salt Lake City and Park City with skiing and mountain biking literally right out our back door.

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA and participation in the pilot?

Because of my wildland fire suppression experience, I recognized the need to address our threat. Nothing was being done in our county or the country at that time. I've been here for 35 years.  We started by me joining the HOA board and developing the CWPP when that was introduced. We developed a web page and started to educate our neighbors. We brought in the local FD and reached out to the State division of forestry and fire. We quickly qualified for a shaded fuel break project which launched more involvement.

Firewise came about when I recognized the advantages of being a member, the state also encouraged our involvement.  The Pilot Program was suggested by our WUI representative and I immediately knew we has to apply, it helps to validate the work we are trying to accomplish.

What are your goals in the pilot?

The ultimate goal is to get 100% homeowner participation with a secondary goal of providing data to the national agenda.

What are some challenges you think you might face?  

The biggest challenge to our journey is getting community members to recognize their responsibility to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire in our community. We are so accustomed to having the notion the government should do something and they are to blame when they don't.  

There are two misconceptions I see. They are "it won’t happen to me (complacency) and the other is "it’s just too much work" (procrastination).   Everyone knows the threat, they watch the news and see the unprecedented losses. They’re the first to admit it when I talk to them, but when it comes to getting the job done, it’s not on most priority lists. However, the message it getting out and neighbors are talking. My expectations at first may have been to bold but when you put all the pieces together, we're making progress. Hopefully it won't be too late. 

How do you propose to overcome them?

I think it’s a multi pronged approach to set the new standard.  A combination of community, local and state agencies all on the same page pushing an aggressive agenda and implementing the narrative of personal responsibility. 

What else would you like to share?

The pilot program sparked an accelerated interest in fuel reduction, defensible space and home hardening. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next summer.

Thank you Mike for sharing your story. We appreciate Summit Park’s commitment to personal responsibility when it comes to wildfire risk reduction.  Can’t wait to see the progress you make over the next year.

A big thank you to all of the readers for joining us in learning about the pilot participants.  We look forward to sharing their results and lessons learned later in 2020 and 2021.

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?   Visit to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

Photos: Community sign and moose provided by Mike Quinones

Sunset over Crystal Lake in Wisconsin

For this next edition of our Sites of Excellence highlight, we head to Crystal Lake Club in Wisconsin.  Bill Santer II shares the journey his community has taken on the wildfire risk reduction path.

Crystal Lake Club (CLC) is in the north central portion of Marquette County, Wisconsin in a geographical area known as the Central Sands. The location is determined to be in a high-risk area for wildfires. This area is famous for Aldo Leopold’s, Sand County Almanac, and the boyhood home of John Muir. The environs are credited with inspiring Muir to his lifelong passion for the environment. 

Seventy-five residences line the Crystal Lake shoreline, the homes are occupied seasonally (75%) and year-round (25%). The lake association, CLC, with a membership of 130, owns 1,026 acres surrounding Crystal Lake. The common lands are primarily used for forestry, habitat and recreation, with areas designated for golf, tennis, pickle ball, hiking, trap and skeet shooting, pistol range, cross country skiing and frisbee golf.  Crystal Lake is a 124-acre, spring-fed lake, with a maximum depth of 60 feet. There is a public access location on the lake, made available by a walk-in trail. Crystal Lake, the Mecan River and Weddle Creek provide water for suppression efforts. 

Two dry hydrants were installed in the nearby area within the past few years. All homes have private wells. The club maintains four alarms around the lake shore to alert Club members in case of a wildfire or other emergency. A designated debris pile site eliminates the need to burn debris on individual properties. CLC falls within the Montello Fire Response Unit (FRU) with the Montello Ranger Station located in Montello approximately 12 miles to the south. The Wautoma Ranger Station is located approximately 9 miles to the north. Access from both stations is via Highway 22, which is one mile east of the development. The personnel and equipment of both stations are available for fire response in an emergency. The fire department serving the Crystal Lake community is the Neshkoro Volunteer Fire Department. 

The vast majority of residents have been on the lake since birth. Most are daughters and sons Blue Heron standing in Crystal Lake, WIof original owners. Others are long-time friends of owners and/or nieces and nephews of original owners. The Caribbean blue/green water, great fishing, banning gasoline powered engines, the smell of the pines, the nesting eagles, egrets, herons and sandhill cranes, the abundant white tail deer, the undeveloped surroundings that are only a short drive to the state capital and other major city centers, makes CLC an oasis of peace and tranquility where neighbors share and support common values of stewardship and conservation.

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA?  Why did you decide to participate in the pilot?

We got a “wake-up call” on April 13, 2003. That day the weather was partly cloudy, temperature 82-83 degrees (unusually hot for a Wisconsin April), minimum humidity at 25%, SW winds at 15 MPH increasing to 25 MPH in the afternoon. The CLC (township) Fire started within a quarter mile of our club lands around 2 pm. By the next day 572 acres burned, 6 structures were lost, and 49 other structures threatened. Two CLC members immediately recognized future danger and contacted our state DNR. The CLC Firewise Committee was formed in 2003, with Firewise Community status earned in 2004, the first site in Wisconsin.  

The initial Firewise Community Assessment was conducted on Sept. 8, 2003, again on June 15, 2013 and most recently June 26, 2018. Dynamic action plans were developed from each assessment. Priorities for each year’s activities are drawn from the action plan. The committee currently has five club members, chaired by Bill Santner II. We have a workday in the spring and fall of each year. Upwards of 90 people work on Club land projects during the workdays, as well as individually throughout the year. We sponsor a lunch in the fall as a thank you for the members efforts and provide educational materials, presentations and updates on Firewise efforts within club lands.

When asked if we would like to be considered as a Site of Excellence for this pilot program, the committee was unanimous in agreement to apply for this distinction. We see it as a way to learn and grow in our knowledge base and to network with other communities to share best practices to keep our members and their investments as safe as possible from the dangers of wildfires.

What are you goals in the pilot?

CLC has two specific goals for the Sites of Excellence 2-year pilot program. First, within the first year of the program, the goal is to get as many residences as possible to agree to have a Home Ignition Zone assessment. By the way, we realized that people don’t react favorably to the word “assessment.” So, we now label it the “Fire Safety Check-Up.” The second goal, in the second year, is to follow-up, encourage and support, and record the work done based on the residences’ fire safety check-up report. Updates and results will continue to be reported to the membership.

What are some challenges you think you might face?  How do you propose to overcome them?

Some of our members have the perception that “outsiders” will come on their property and tell them what must be done. The only way to overcome this is to continue education efforts and have participating members share their favorable experiences. Another challenge is to engage with absentee owner/members. There are few at CLC, but still critical to get those involved. We continue to do outreach through emailed newsletters, etc. 

What else would you like to share?

We are grateful for the training and support received from NFPA and our state DNR and Forestry personnel. We are confident that this pilot program will make our club more aware of wildfire dangers and more proactive in protecting our land and dwellings. One member put it this way: “Doing the work around our home is like getting a vaccination. It’s for our own good, but also for the protection of the community. What we do around our home helps protect those homes around us.” We believe that’s a great metaphor for the work to be done.

Crystal Lake Club Community members, WI DNR staff, and NFPA staff member Tom Welle standing in front of a building with Firewise Community banner

Thank you Bill for sharing your story. We appreciate Crystal Lake Club's commitment to personal responsibility and look forward to your progress over the next year.

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

Photo credit: all photos provided by Bill Santner II, resident leader

Fire Prevention Week is here!  This year’s theme, "Not everyone wears a cape. Plan and Practice your Escape" emphasizes the importance of fire escape planning, whether from a home fire or evacuating during a wildfire.  NFPA and its partners have some excellent resources to help you reach hero status.


Keep in mind, a hero isn't just someone who is courageous and performs good deeds, but also takes small actions that help keep themselves and those around them safe from fire. 


Plan it

The first step is working with your household to develop a plan for home. IAFC’s Ready, Set, Go! Program’s "Your Personal Wildland Fire Action Guide" provides handy checklists that will walk you through creating a family disaster plan, building emergency kits, identifying where to get wildfire updates from, and knowing when to evacuate. 


Does your household include young children, seniors, or individuals with disabilities?  These populations may need special consideration when preparing for an event such as a wildfire.  The following can help in the planning process:


After building a plan for the human members of your household, it's time to look at the rest of the family. Check out NFPA's TakeAction campaign for the following resources:


Practice it

Once your plan is complete it is time to practice it.   Go over different scenarios such as when people are at work and others are at home, set up drills for day and night time.  Make sure everyone knows where to meet and have a communication plan in place.


For more resources on steps you can take around your home, visit the Fire Prevention Week website for more information.


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.

Three teenage girls raking pine needles and other vegetation debris on to a tarp, clearing around a home

The impacts from disasters such as wildfire or flooding are not just felt by adults, but people of all ages.  During week three of National Preparedness Month we want to take a moment to share ways that teenagers and other young people can be involved in helping their families and neighbors be ready for wildfires.

Through a series of conversations with NFPA, youth living in areas with a wildfire risk expressed a want of knowledge about wildfires and how they can help their family, including pets, be ready to evacuate when needed.  NFPA's TakeAction campaign was developed to meet those needs.  Share the following resources with young adults, teachers, and youth leaders to give them the opportunity to play a role:

Service can be another great way to be involved and feel like you are making a difference.  There are many wildfire risk reduction activities that are safe for young people to do including:

  • Sweeping porches and decks clearing them of leaves and pine needles.
  • Raking under decks, porches, sheds and play structures and dispose of debris
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches

Check out this community service project guide and our preparing homes for wildfire page for more ideas on how to get started.

Follow my colleague Lisa Braxton on Safety Source as she shares other resources to help families prepare for home fires and other disasters.

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.

Flowery trail community members standing with their 2016 Wildfire Community Preparedness Day sign


Set near the base of 49° North Mountain Resort, Flowery Trail is an ideal getaway for ski enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors.  A little over an hour north of Spokane, WA, the community is set in a forest of Lodgepole and other pines.  The location and terrain allow for recreation year round, with skiing in the winter to mountain biking and hiking in the spring and summer.  

While it sounds like the perfect destination to me, there are concerns for residents and local fire officials in regards to wildfire.  Dan Holman, the community’s resident leader, filled me in on the efforts the Flowery Trail Community Association (FTCA) has taken over the years and why they are participating in the Sites of Excellence Pilot Program.

Tell me a little about your community and its journey in wildfire risk reduction.  

In 1972, construction on the ski area was completed.  To help bring in people and revenue, they laid out a community of 100 lots.  The ski area is part of US Forest Service land, but the community was built on state land, with a 100 year land lease with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  (From other conversations I’ve had with Dan, this presents an issue because the residents don’t own the trees.  They have to work with DNR to get permission to remove any large/merchantable timber.   They have had some success in purchasing plats in order to harvest timber and are in talk to complete a land swap.)

This area has a history of fire, with a large one 1910 resulting in a regrowth of Lodgepole pine – which is where we live.  Our community is located in an area of “no man’s land” for fire protection – we don’t fall under a fire district or state response for a home fire.  We have been in a 20+ year discussion with the local city to be included in their protection plan, installing water tanks and hydrants at their request.  Five years ago our proposal was accepted, homeowners are now able get insurance up here.

Our community has recognized the danger of wildfire up here.   Part of our annual dues support our wildfire risk  Flowery trail work day, community members feeding a chipperreduction efforts and we have an annual fuel reduction push in the spring.  Over the years, working with the state, we’ve been able to thin and remove on plats that pose a risk – 34 trucks with trees, we have 10 slash piles the size of houses to remove/burn when appropriate.

Now our efforts are focusing more on the homes and the 0-5 foot space – spreading gravel around home.  We have lot of engagement from our residents and have made excellent progress

What are your goals in the pilot?

We are using the pilot as a way to emphasize the importance of work being 0-5 foot zone.  We have spent a lot of time and effort clearing away trees and brush, this is the next step.  We also see it as a way to get buy-in from the last of the holdouts who haven’t wanted to participate in the cleanup days.

Participating in the pilot also can help provide leverage, showing our commitment.  The Flowery Trail Community Association is working on a land-swap with Washington DNR.   Due to the land lease situation, there hasn’t been any building in the last 15-20 years.

What are some challenges you have faced or think you might face and how do you propose to overcome them?

With the long history of work in our community, a lot of progress has been made.  We did have some resistance at the beginning.  With the help of community pressure/neighbor shaming, maybe of the attitudes have changed.  One thing FTCA implemented that has helped get more people interested is a $100 credit towards annual dues for a full day of volunteer service.  

Flowery trail work day potluck

What else would you like to share?

This type of work takes time.  Use the resources you have and just keep moving forward.

A big thank you to Dan and the Flowery Trail community for sharing their wildfire preparedness journey.   They have been in the game for a long time but it goes to show that the work doesn’t end, rather it just changes in terms of what level and type of work is needed.  Join us in October when we learn more about wildfire preparedness efforts in Wisconsin.

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

Photo credit: all photos provided by Dan Holman, Flowery Trail resident leader

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.

Graphic promoting National Preparedness Month - Prepared, Not Scared.  Week 1: Sept 1-7, Save Early for Disaster Costs; Week 2: Sept 8-14, Make a Plan to Prepare for Disasters; Week 3: Sept 15-21, Teach Youth to Prepare for Disasters; Week 4: Sept 22-30, Get Involved in Your Community's Preparedness

There's no time like the present to help your family prepare for disasters.  Join NFPA throughout the month of September as we participate in National Preparedness Month, sponsored by FEMA.  We'll share different resources from Fire Break and Safety Source to help you address wildfire and home safety concerns. 

Week 1: Save Early for Disaster Costs - Check on your Insurance Policy

Is your home covered in case of a disaster? An unfortunate reality is that most homes are underinsured, meaning they don’t have enough coverage to protect them if they are damaged or destroyed. While we hope you are never faced with making a claim, here are some resources to help make sure you are prepared:

 Complete the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s (PCI) Wildfire Reality Check:  Hands holding house

  • Conduct an annual insurance checkup – call your agent or insurance company to discuss policy limits and coverage. Not sure what to ask? Check out these 10 questions to ask your insurance agent from Linda Masterson, author and wildfire survivor.
  • Know what your policy covers
  • Update your policy to cover home improvements
  • Maintain insurance – continue to carry homeowners insurance after the home is paid off
  • Get renters insurance

Create a home inventory. Having a home inventory is one of the best ways to determine if you have enough coverage to replace your possessions. This task may seem daunting, especially if you’ve been in your home for many years, but it can be manageable. Some simple steps from the Insurance Information Institute include:

  • Pick an easy spot to start, an area that is contained such as a small kitchen appliance cabinet or sporting equipment closet
  • List recent purchases
  • Include basic information – where you bought it, make and model, what you paid
  • County clothing by general category
  • Record serial numbers found on major appliances and electronic equipment
  • Check coverage on big ticket items
  • Don’t forget off-site items
  • Keep proof of value – sales receipts, purchase contracts, appraisals
  • Don’t get overwhelmed – It’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all

When creating your home inventory, embrace technology! Take pictures or videos, back them up digitally. There also many apps available to help organize and store your records.

 For a more in depth discussion on financial preparedness, check out our Firewise Virtual Workshop: Understanding Insurance in the Wildland Urban Interface. Or, listen to Linda Masterson share her experience of losing her home and contents in a wildfire, Firewise Virtual Workshop: Get Prepared, Stay Alive, Rebuild Your Life.

 Along with financial preparedness, it’s never too late to take action around your home. Visit the NFPA’s wildfire division for steps on how to prepare your home for wildfires.


Photos: Top photo courtesy FEMA


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.

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



  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 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 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.

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.

Our third stop on our sites of excellence journey takes us to Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, AZ.   No strangers to wildfire, residents in this community have a history of being engaged in wildfire risk reduction.  We are excited that they are a part of this pilot program, demonstrating a willingness to “do more”.  Pete Kloeber, the community’s resident leader, gives us an inside view of what Forest Highlands means to its residents and the goals they have for keeping their community safe.

Can you describe your community for me and tell me why you choose to have a home there?  What do you and your neighbors love about your community?

Forest Highlands (FH) is a 1,100-acre private residential community with 814 residential lots nestled at 7,000 feet among majestic ponderosa pines and groves of oaks and aspens. FH was approved as a Firewise Community USA in November 2004 – the second such site in Arizona and the 60th in the nation.  FH has been a recognized Firewise Community for 15 consecutive years.  During these past 15 years, the number of residential structures has increased from 655 to 736 – a 12 percent increase. The majority of the residences are 2nd homes.  My wife and I are full-time residents, as are around 50 others.

My neighbors and love Forest Highlands for its tranquil beauty, and mountain/forest atmosphere. 

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA?  Why did you decide to participate in the pilot?

I was a member our community Board of Directors in 2004 and initiated the goal of FH becoming a Firewise Community.  two people at a Firewise day with tables covered in print materials discussing wildfire risk reduction, trailer in the background with Defensible Space and a home ignition zone graphic on the side As mentioned above, we were approved as such in November 2004 - the 2nd in the state of Arizona.  The purpose was simple: make our community safer from a wildfire concern - so we could have a better chance of sustaining our beautiful community for coming generations.  

We decided to participate in the “pilot project” for a several reasons: (1) to continue our quest to make our community safer and more sustainable; (2) to approach and stay on the leading edge of Firewise guidance, assistance, technology, and lessons learned; (3) to hopefully increase the awareness and participation of our residents; (4) to reduce the risk of injury to our residents, guests, and brave first responders; and (5) because it is very simply the “right thing to do." 

What are you goals in the pilot?

The above reasons for participating are essentially our goals in this pilot program.  But simply stated, our goal is for our community to be more Firewise at the end of the pilot program - meaning specifically three things: (1) our residents becoming more aware and supportive; (2) our assessment personnel (in house and fire district) learning even more and becoming even better at conducting assessments; and (3) the residences participating in the pilot program becoming more Firewise and setting the standard for the rest of our community.

Picture of a home highlighting wildfire mitigation work done 0-5 feet from the base of the home.  Shows rock around the base of the home with limited, maintained plants, with a gravel walkway around it.

 What are some challenges you think you might face?  How do you propose to overcome them?

Support of our residents.  Our plan is to involve them early in the process through open communication, and keep them involved during the whole process. 

A big thank you to Pete for sharing the story of his community!  Flagstaff is home to 10 active Firewise USA sites, I hope the work that FH is doing inspires others to take a deeper look at their efforts and for those who aren’t yet engaged in wildfire risk reduction, to take the first steps.  We look forward to following their progress and hearing more from them over the next year and a half.  Stay tuned next month as we travel to Colorado.

Photo credit: Top - Lee Ann Berry, Sites of Excellence training, community members, NFPA staff, Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire.  Middle - Peter Kloeber, Firewise Day table and trailer display.  Bottom - Peter Kloeber, highlighting the use of rock and gravel in the Immediate Zone (0-5 feet from the base of the structure) to decrease the chance of the home igniting.


Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

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 for more wildfire related topics.

For the second blog in our series highlights Sites of Excellence participants, I reached out to Marilyn Cavell with Coal Bank Ridge in Virginia.  Below she shares the journey her community has taken on the wildfire risk reduction path and learn about wildfire risk in Virginia.

Located in the mountains of southwest Virginia just outside Blacksburg, Coal Bank Ridge (CBR) was developed in the early 2000’s with a vision of creating a protected wooded environment for quality, greater than 2,400 square foot homes. The subdivision is guided by a set of covenants and requires owners to be members of its homeowners association. Originally comprised of 57 wooded lots averaging about two to three acres each, the subdivision currently has 37 homes built or under construction (33 are currently occupied). The subdivision is flanked on the northwestern side by a steep, wooded 95 acre conservation easement owned by CBR and protected from development. 

We chose Coal Back Ridge to build our home because of the beauty of the wooded area and its location in close proximity to the town of Blacksburg. In addition, the community offered town water (even though most of the subdivision is outside the town limits) and natural gas, amenities not generally available in similar developments. We love looking out into the woods and observing the constant animal activity including birds, squirrels, deer, and the occasional turkey, fox, or bear. Our neighbors also cherish the peaceful beauty of our wooded community.  

Our Firewise Journey:

In 2007 we were contacted by a Virginia Department of Forestry representative (Brad Wright) who wanted to let us know about the National Firewise USA Recognition Program.   We invited Brad to make a presentation on the value of the Firewise USA at our annual homeowners meeting. With his encouragement and recognizing the value of learning about wildfire preparation and protection, CBR joined and has been a National Firewise USA Community since.   In 2018, CBR was chosen as one of seven communities in the nation as a Sites of Excellence Pilot Program participant. 

What are Our Goals in the Sites of Excellence Pilot Program:   

Our goals are 1) to create a Firewise pilot leadership team (composed of two   property owners and two foresters), 2) to get 100% pilot program participation within our neighborhood, 3) to increase awareness about fire behavior and risk, and 4) to prepare our homes for wildfire by achieving complete mitigation within 30 feet of each dwelling. Each property owner will assess their home and property (with the help of the Firewise team), identify and carry out measures to mitigate fire risk, and document progress over a two-year period. This will take commitment and effort, but the reward would be immeasurable in the event of a wildfire.

What are Some Challenges We Face:

Broadly speaking getting our property owners to engage in Firewise activities takes effort, as wildfire concerns are generally not a high priority. Because CBR is located in the eastern United States where relatively moist conditions exist, people here generally do not fear wildfire to the same degree as those who live in drier, open areas of the western United States. It is easy to think that wildfires simply are not going to happen here. Ironically, that way of thinking may put us at even greater risk. While wildfires do not occur often in our area, they do happen. Coal Bank Ridge is rurally located on a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains where abundant fuel and steep slopes and winds from the southwest present a fire risk to our homes. 

The Firewise USA program has been a valuable tool for raising awareness of fire danger and our property owners are appreciative of our participation. However, it will be challenging for our property owners to achieve the degree of sustained focus on fire prevention required by the Firewise Sites of Excellence Pilot Program. Most challenging will be to get 100% of our property owners interested and engaged. Participation of property owners of undeveloped lots will be difficult as many live outside the area and are not engaged with the community.   

A further challenge is that the very concept of our subdivision runs contrary to the 30 feet mitigation goal.  Promoted as a wooded subdivision, where trees are protected by covenants, many homes in CBR are built with the idea of having minimal impact on the natural environment. 

Overcoming Challenges:

The overall premise of the Firewise Sites of Excellence Pilot Program is that personal responsibility is the preferred approach for preventing fire from destroying homes. Likewise, we recognize that personal responsibility or buy-in on the part of property owners is the best path to full participation. We have established our Firewise pilot leadership team and scheduled a neighborhood meeting to explain the pilot program and promote its value to our property owners. We will discuss and distribute (at the meeting and online) a draft communication/outreach plan that also includes ideas for sharing our efforts with the broader community. Our team will welcome input from property owners. We will discuss and distribute (at the meeting and online) a draft process for implementing the pilot program and communicating with residents. Again, we will welcome input, ideas, and concerns. Also as part of the meeting we will present general fire prevention information and provide the same information online. 

Thank you Marilyn for sharing your story. We appreciate Coal Bank Ridge's commitment to personal responsibility and look forward to your progress over the next year and a half.  Stay tuned for our next blog featuring Arizona.

Photos courtesy of Marilyn Cavell

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

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.

Map of the US showing above and below normal significant wildland fire potentialThe National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services has released its June outlook, and here's what you need to know.  During May, much of the US experienced wetter and cooler temperatures, below traditional averages.  While we did see some large fires in Alaska, Arizona, and Florida, the number of acres burned was about 1/5 of the average (15,148) and the number of fires was around half (280,661).  Moving in to June and the summer months, we can see some areas will pick up in activity as drying and curing of grasses occurs.  There is potential for areas such as the Pacific Northwest, California, parts of Arizona, and the Southeast to experience above normal significant wildfire potential


What does this mean for you?  While the general outlook doesn't seem as dire as in some recent years, wildfire preparedness is still important.  With the abundance of vegetation from the wet spring, taking time to perform annual maintenance around your home and property is critical.

Here are some simple actions in the Home Ignition Zone that can make a big difference:

Home and 0-5 feet from the foundation:

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers
  • Clear any flammable material away from the base of the home such as mulch, leaves and needles, flammable plants

Girl pushing a mower, mowing down grass5-30 feet from the home

  • Keeps lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches
  • Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns

Check out our website for more tips and actions you can take around you 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.


7-R Ranch community and staff

Located in north Texas hill country, 7-R Ranch is an ideal getaway for its residents, most of whom are retired professionals seeking an escape from urban/suburban life. About 1.5 hours from the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area and 45 minutes from a grocery store, the community is set in an area of mesas and canyons, with oak, ash, cedar and juniper, and tall grasses. Residents enjoy birds and other wildlife and can raise horses. It's quiet out there, with truly beautiful sunsets.  

While it sounds idyllic, it also presents concerns for residents and the local fire department in regards to wildfire. I spoke with Rick Best, the community's resident leader, to learn more about their efforts to address their wildfire risk and why they are participating in the Sites of Excellence Pilot Program.   

How did 7-R Ranch get started with its wildfire risk reduction efforts?

Part of the motivation for our community to take action was a wildfire experienced by a nearby, similar community. Seeing what they went through and an evacuation alert for 7-R really got our attention.  Our community has 400 lots that range from 1-10 acres, with approximately 130 houses built. We had concerns from the hilly terrain and local vegetation, some of the homes within the ranch are built at the top of wooded canyons, and there are lots with absentee landowners. With the encouragement of our fire chief, 7-R Ranch joined the Firewise USA® program in late 2017 and we have had lots of support from our community members and our developer. We've taken a lot of the obvious risk reductions steps in the home ignition zone and feel like we're in pretty good shape.  

Why did you decide to participate in the pilot and what are your goals?

Our state forestry representative approached us about the pilot and we said, "why not?" While we've made a lot of progress in 7-R Ranch, the pilot provides us with the opportunity to evaluate our community as a whole to identify our weak areas and where we need to focus our efforts. We're partnering with our local fire department and Texas A&M Forest Service to do individual home assessments. We want to better understand the threats from thTX forest service and homeowners outside doing wildfire risk assessmente canyons - look at the homes and their setbacks from the edge, and what work has been done in the home ignition zone. The Sites of Excellence program gives us an opportunity to systematically assess each home and communicate the results to each homeowner. I believe it will help us get to the next level of participation in our community. 

With this opportunity, we are also in a unique situation to have an impact on a neighboring community that participates in Firewise USA®. We share a committee and are working with our Texas Forest Service partners on a similar pilot with them to increase their engagement in risk reduction actions.

What are some of the challenges in your community?

Some of the challenges we face here are related to the terrain and vegetation - navigating steep slopes, disposing of debris. We also have absentee landowners, who may not be aware of the risk from wildfires or don't have the time or resources to put towards mitigation at this time. Through a targeted approach we hope to make an impact on some of these. As lots are converted to homes, there will be opportunities to engage those new residents and we should see the threat from unmanaged lots go down.


I want to thank Rick for sharing the story of his community and look forward to seeing how they progress over the next year and a half. This is the first in a series of blogs introducing our Sites of Excellence Pilot Sites. Stay tuned for our next blog featuring Virginia.


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


Images courtesy 7-R Ranch and Texas A&M Forest Service

The International Association of Fire Chief's annual Wildland Urban Interface Conference is quickly approaching and we hope to see you there!   Held March 26-28 in Reno, Nevada, the WUI Conference is a great way to connect with other wildland fire professionals and get the latest information on advancements in the field.

NFPA will once again have a strong representation, eager to meet and speak with you. On Tuesday, 3/26, you can connect with staff in a couple of ways: 

We'll be around through the rest of the conference, available at the booth and attending education sessions. 

Don't miss out on this opportunity!  Check out the conference web page for more details and to register for the pre-conference and main sessions.

Can't attend but want to stay on top of what is going on?   You can follow the Firewise USA® Follow our staff as they share their WUI Reno experience: Michele Steinberg is @Michele_NFPA, Lucian Deaton is @Lucian_NFPA, and Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan is @meganfitz34

Research related to how homes ignite and post-wildfire assessments tell us that the majority of home ignitions during a wildfire are from embers and small surface fires. Since 2002, the Firewise USA® program has encouraged residents across the county to take action at the home and surrounding area to reduce the chances of their home igniting.  Residents have invested millions of dollars in volunteer hours and cash investment in this work and have made significant accomplishments.

Over the last decade, while progress has been made, extreme fire conditions have shown us that we all need to do more.  In 2019, Firewise USA® is challenging seven active sites across the country to just that.  Sites of Excellence is a 24-month pilot program designed to increase resident participation in active wildfire risk reduction through a focused approach.  Based on the science we have and the fires we have experienced, we must have more residents engaged and doing more of the right work in the right places.  We must increase the ignition resistance of our homes and our communities if we want to change the results of these wildland urban disasters.

 Our challenge to these participants is:

  • To have 100% participation of homes within the designated pilot boundary (sites were able to self-identify up to 100 co-located homes in each pilot site).
  • To complete identified mitigation tasks within 30 feet of every home, based on recommendations from individual assessments.

We recognize that these are lofty goals, however, in order to effectively move needle on wildfire preparedness and increase the ignition resistance of individual homes and communities, this is the type of effort that needs to occur.   Over the next several months we will feature each site, telling their story of what wildfire preparedness means to them, why they volunteered for the pilot, what they hope to accomplish.   We look forward to sharing in their journey and hope you do to.


Pilot Participants:

7-R Ranch, TX

Coal Bank Ridge , VA

Crystal Lake Club, WI

Flowery Trail, WA

Forest Highlands, AZ

Red Rock Ranch, CO

Summit Park, UT


Photo Credit: Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management

Want to learn more about the Sites of Excellence, Firewise USA® , and other wildfire preparedness efforts? Follow me on Twitter @meganfitz34

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