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Community with Firewise USA signsThere are many things you can do to prepare your family and home for wildfire, but it is also important to have a plan for your community. September marks National Preparedness Month, sponsored by FEMA, and the focus for this week is all about getting your community prepared.

Why is it important to get involved in community preparedness?

Ultimately, a more prepared community is going to help you reduce your individual wildfire risk. Research shows that embers and small surface fires are the primary reason for homes burning in a wildfire. The key to defending our homes is to prepare the area zero to 100 feet surrounding our home, known as the home ignition zones.  In many communities, those zones around homes overlap, so your risk can be impacted by your neighbor’s risk. This is why it is so important to work with our neighbors and have an overall strategy to educate, plan and prepare your community.Diagram of three overlapping home ignition zones

What are some of the things we can do to prepare our community?

  1. Lead by example – It is hard to take advice from someone who doesn’t take their own advice. So before telling your neighbor what they should do on their property, think about what you can do on yours. Consider having an individual home assessment done with a local wildfire mitigation specialist. They can help you identify and address specific risks for your home. This visit or the home repair and landscaping projects you do afterward are both good opportunities to share what you are doing with your neighbors. It may inspire them to think about what they can do as well.
  2. Provide support – You can provide your neighbors with support both educationally and physically. New homeowners moving into the area might not know about the wildfire risk your community faces, so welcoming them with some handy information about the neighborhood and what they can do to reduce their risk, is a great way to introduce yourself and get a conversation started. There may be neighbors living in your community who cannot physically do some of the home and landscaping projects needed to reduce their risk. Offer to lend a hand. Remember you are not only helping them but reducing the overall risk to the community and your home as well.Chipper day in Idaho
  3. Plan community events – Hold a day of action in your community that gets people outside and working together. People are more likely to take action when there is a specific day with a call to action. It is always good to include incentives for people to participate, like the use of chipper or an evening potluck to celebrate.
  4. Take it to the next level - The Firewise USA program helps communities build a framework for working with neighbors to create a more ignition-resistant community. The steps to becoming a Firewise USA site help your community learn about your risk, come up with a plan to address it and encourage neighbors to work together to take action. To share information with your neighbors on the Firewise USA program, consider ordering our newest brochure Taking Control of your Wildfire Risk. The brochure speaks to the importance of working together as a community.

You can find more information about preparing homes for wildfire and getting youth involved in wildfire preparedness on our website. Follow my colleague Lisa Braxton on Safety Source as she shares more resources for National Preparedness Month on home fires and other disasters.

Image credits: NFPA; Taylor Hunsaker of Kimberly, Idaho.

 

The Firewise USA renewal deadline is fast approaching. We can’t wait to hear what your site has accomplished in wildfire risk reduction this year!

This year’s renewal deadline is November 15th, 2019. In order for you site to remain a participant in good standing with the program next year you will need to complete the renewal criteria. Please Note: sites that became recognized for the first time in 2019 do not need to renew. 

Here’s some tips to help you along the process:

1. Logging into the system: The renewal application is online and you will need to log-in to get to your community profile. Make sure you can log-in at: portal.firewise.org. If you forget your password, you can use the “forgot password” link underneath the log-in button. If you are continuing to have trouble, email us at firewise@nfpa.org.

2. Check to make sure your community contact address is up-to-date: This will be on the first page of your renewal application and the address provided is where your renewal certificate will be sent. If you provide us with a P.O. Box, we will use it when sending items through the US Postal Service.

3. Add another resident leader contact: You can add another resident leader contact if you have another resident who you want to have access to your application and the ability to update it. To add someone, click into the renewal application or go to your site dashboard. In both places, you’ll find a “Manage Contacts” button. You can add a send resident leader by inputting their email address. If they don’t have a log-in account set up, the system will send them an email inviting them to set up an account.

4. The information you will need to provide: You will need to provide information about your 2019 educational event and 2019 risk reduction investment information. We are looking for information on what your community did during the calendar year. For more information on this, visit our renewal resources webpage.

5. Tool for risk reduction investment: If you need help collecting investment information from community members, consider using the volunteer hourly worksheet. You can have residents turn them into you and then total up the work by inputting it into the renewal application.

6. Submit early: If you have reached the minimum amount needed to complete your renewal, you can submit it early. It will be frozen while it is under review, but once it is approved you can go back and add more information until the end of the year.

We listened to your feedback from last year and made small updates to the portal to make it easier for you to use. You can view a short walk through video of the renewal application on our renewal resources webpage. If you have questions, email us at firewise@nfpa.org.

NFPA’s Wildfire Division is excited to announce the release of a new brochure: Taking Control of Your Wildfire Risk. This brochure is an introduction to the Firewise USA program with information on the critical role that residents play in reducing their wildfire risk and why it is also important to work together with neighbors.

The brochure is useful for handouts at events for new communities that are getting started in the Firewise USA program. It will also be a good tool for existing Firewise USA sites to reach new participants within their community.

This product is now available for free in our online catalog. Orders come in packages of 50 brochures.

In addition, we also have educational materials to address the specific steps homeowners can take to make their home more ignition-resistant. How to Prepare Your Home for Wildfire is a tri-fold brochure that explains actions you can take around your home and Reducing Wildfire Risks in the Home Ignition Zones poster gives a more in-depth look at each of the home ignition zones. Both of these educational materials will continue to be available in our catalog.

Ashland Oregon community Firewise meetingThe Firewise USA® program is thriving in the City of Ashland, Oregon. The city boasts one of the highest numbers of Firewise sites in the country. When I reached out to learn more about how Ashland continues to keep people participating in wildfire risk reduction, I found out that it has a lot to do with the residents themselves. Ashland is a place where neighbors talk to each other face-to-face and Firewise participants in the city have turned that talk into action.

The Firewise program got its start in Ashland in 2011, after a wildfire the previous year made the city think differently about their wildfire risk. The 2010 Oak Knoll fire destroyed 11 homes within just 45 minutes in an area of the city that wasn’t thought of as high-risk. From that point on, Ashland Fire & Rescue knew they had to get residents involved in reducing their wildfire risk. “Firewise was a grassroots way to get the focus on the residents themselves, a bottom-up approach instead of top-down, which has proven to be successful,” says Alison Lerch of Ashland Fire & Rescue. Within the first year of introducing the Firewise USA program, Ashland Fire & Rescue was able to get seven communities on board.

Since 2011, the interest in Firewise has grown year after year and now the city has 35 active communities. Ashland Fire & Rescue staff supports neighborhood Firewise champions through the challenges they may run into with landowner buy-in. One common challenge that communities across the country have is how to deal with the neighbor who isn't interested in participating. In Ashland, residents have dealt with this simply by not giving up on those residents who aren’t participating. They continue to do the work they can around their own homes and find friendly ways to offer education and support to those who haven’t yet taken action.

 

One tool that has driven a lot of on-the-ground action is Ashland Fire Rescue’s Individual Home Assessment program. The fire department offers this service to homeowners for free. Brian Hendrix from Ashland Fire & Rescue performs approximately one hundred home assessments a year. "Being one-on-one with a homeowner is the most effective tool we have because you are taking all the science and information that is out there and applying it directly to them. They tend to walk away with a better understanding of the actions they can take.” Word-of-mouth about this service has kept Hendrix busy and a visit to one home often sparks interest from neighbors.  “Once we go out to one property, neighbors tend to follow,” says Hendrix.

As the program progresses, Ashland Fire & Rescue is encouraging communities to start thinking about expanding their boundaries in order to educate even more people in the city and inspire action. Ashland’s 35 communities, with guidance from Ashland Fire & Rescue, are starting to create their own alliance, with the goal of meeting up to talk about what is working in their neighborhoods and learning from each other.  Lerch says she wants the communities in Ashland to know that they are not alone in their efforts and it is a sentiment that can be applied to every Firewise USA site. “We try to remind our communities that they are not just part of their local network, but they are a part of a network of more than 1,500 neighborhoods across the country all working to reduce their wildfire risk.”  

Photos provided by Brian Hendrix of Ashland Fire & Rescue.

Follow Marie Snow on twitter @MarieSnowNFPA 

The action plan is one of the most important steps for your Firewise USA® site to complete. Once it is written, it is easy to file away and forget about, however, it can be one of the best tools your community has as a road map to success.

A well-thought out action plan can help your community stay organized and focused. Whether you are starting to write your first action plan or your just refreshing it, here are some tips you can consider:

  1. Use your risk assessment as your guide: When setting your priorities think about what you learned from the risk assessment and actions you can take to address your challenges.
  2. Think about what residents can do at their individual homes: The most important place to start when reducing your wildfire risk is at the home itself and its immediate surroundings. Select some goals that encourage residents to take action at their own homes and think about how you can motivate them to do so.
  3. Include the positive: You don’t have to limit your action plan to the tasks that your community needs to improve upon. Include events or goals that your community has had success with. This is a reminder of what is working for your community and the activities you want to maintain throughout the years.
  4. Set specific and measurable goals: Set benchmarks and ways to measure the progress in your community. Dates and deadlines may help you stay on track. Remember that you can always make changes to these goals based on what you learn is achievable for your community.
  5. Check in with your goals throughout the year: Consider your action plan as a living document. Set aside some time once or twice a year to review it and see where you are making progress. It may even helpful to write down comments on how you have addressed some of your goals or which goals have been more challenging. For those more challenging goals, your board/committee may want to set aside time to brainstorm or research new ways to approach the issue.

 We sometimes get wrapped up in reaching the risk reduction investment every year that we forget to really see what we have accomplished on our action plan. If you use your action plan to guide your activities, the investment will follow. It also allows for a record for future board members to carry on the work that you have started in your community.

In some states, you may be asked follow a specific template. Before starting your action plan, check in with your regional coordinator or state liaison to see if they have a template for you to follow.

Learn more about starting your Firewise USA site at our website, You can follow Marie Snow on twitter @MarieSnowNFPA

There’s a movement happening in Marin County, California. Residents living in the county of more than 260,000 people are taking a more active approach in preparing their homes and communities for wildfire. 

Last year brought an explosion of growth in the number of Firewise USA® sites in the county, making it the fastest growing county of the year. Prior to 2018, the county had nine participating sites, the first site getting its start in 2009. Marin County has now grown to 30 recognized sites and has the fourth highest participation in site numbers by county in the country. 

Todd Lando of FIRESafe Marin said after the 2017 fires in the North Bay, local fire departments were overwhelmed with questions from residents. They used the Firewise USA® program to start to teach homeowners what they can do to reduce their wildfire risk. 

The program allowed local experts to handle the overwhelming interest because neighbors were working together and helping each other learn about the things they could do to make their home more ignition resistant.  

Lando says the communities are seeing the added benefit of getting to know each other and bond with each other by working towards the same goal. 

It can sometimes be a challenge to talk to your neighbors about wildfire risk reduction. One tip Lando gives to homeowners is to start with working on your own home. Once you start taking action around your property, it can be easier to talk to neighbors about why you are doing the work and what they can do as well. 

The success in Marin County was recently highlighted in the Marin Independent Journal. Program participants explained to the paper why they’ve decided to participate in Firewise USA®. The spread in the number of sites was described as contagious. Mill Valley fire Battalion Chief Scott Barnes told the Journal, “Someone hears about a neighborhood forming a Firewise community, and then they say, maybe we should think about the same.”

Lando doesn’t expect the interest in Marin to slow down anytime soon. He is already working with several more communities that plan to apply for recognition in 2019. 

Photo Courtesy Todd Lando. Marin County residents meet to learn about reducing their wildfire risk. 

Follow  Marie Snow on twitter @MarieSnowNFPA.

While this past year we watched devastating wildfires make the television news cycle throughout the country, quietly thousands of people decided to take action to reduce their wildfire risk. Wildfire preparedness doesn’t often make national headlines, but it is becoming a topic of discussion in neighborhoods across the country. The Firewise USA® program is geared towards helping residents work together to not only learn about the wildfire risk in their community, but to take steps to make their neighborhood safer from wildfire. 

In 2018, we asked our Firewise sitesto take even more action than they did in the past by increasing the minimum requirement to become a Firewise USA® site. Despite this change, we saw neighborhoods across the country step up to the plate. 2018 welcomed 163 new sites across the country, with an increased sites in states like California, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado & Georgia. 

The Firewise USA ®  program began in 2002 with 12 pilot sites and currently has a total of 1,478 active participating sites in 42 states. 
Program-wide in 2018, Firewise USA® sites invested more than $65 million in risk reduction efforts.  This included over 1.3 million volunteer hours of "sweat equity".   

Science shows us that wildfires are inevitable in the wildland urban interface, but there are things we can all do to make our homes more likely to survive when this does happen. The 1,478 sites within the Firewise USA® program have committed to a continued collaborative effort in wildfire risk reduction. Every year sites are required to report their accomplishments and reach a minimum investment equivalent to one hour of work per home within the site.

 

The mission does not end here! We look forward to 2019 and encouraging even more achievements in the sites that have begun their journey to be safer from wildfire. 

 

Photo Credits: NFPA wildfire photo library

Wildfire burning across the country are putting homeowners on heightened awareness. It’s a reminder that there are things we can do to prepare ourselves before an evacuation hits our neighborhood.

 

The National Interagency Coordination Center reported 16 uncontained wildfires were burning as of Tuesday June 26.

 

In Northern California, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Monday in Lake County where the Pawnee Fire is burning.  Cal Fire reported this morning that more than 22 structures had been destroyed and 3,000 people have been evacuated.

 

Near Durango, Colorado homeowners remain on a pre-evacuation notice as firefighters work to get control of the 416 fire which forced them out of their community earlier this month.

 

Wildfires have threatened communities all over the nation in the last month, including fires in Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico & Texas.

 

It’s a reminder that we need to prepare our family and homes. When a wildfire is burning nearby your neighborhood, there are things you can do to make your home and family safer.

 

First and foremost, if an evacuation notice is given to your neighborhood, leave as early as possible. This not only ensures your safety, but it clears the roadways for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire. Lynnette Round, a spokesperson with Cal Fire, emphasized the importance of staying aware and following evacuations. She told the Sacramento Bee sometimes people wait too long to leave. 

 

Before you get an evacuation notice or if your home is on a pre-evacuation notice, here are 5 tips for protecting your family and home.

 

  1. Stay aware of the latest information on the fire from your local fire officials and local news media.

  2. Place your emergency supply kit and other valuables in your vehicle. If you have household pets, you’ll want to remember to include the supplies they will need as well.

  3. Move patio furniture indoors to a shed or garage. If you can’t do that, move them as far away from the home as you can.

  4. Close and protect your home’s openings, including attic and basement doors and vents, windows, pet doors and any openings that may allow embers to get inside your home.

  5. Connect your garden hose and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water. Firefighters have been known to use the hoses to put out fires on rooftops.

NFPA offers even more wildfire safety tips and you can also learn more about the actions you can take to reduce your wildfire risk.

Midland Hills Country Club has transformed their community in just their first year of participating in the Firewise USA™ Program. I interviewed residents Margaret Anderson and Jesse Riechman as we featured their Firewise USA™ site in the January 2018 newsletter for the Northeast Region Cohesive Strategy Committee (NE RSC).

Midland Hills Community members came together to celebrate their recognition as a Firewise USA site. Photo Courtesy: Margaret Anderson

I choose the community because they are the first in the state of Illinois and they have done a lot of work to reduce their wildfire risk. Speaking with these residents I was even more energized to write about their Firewise USA™ site because of the pride they have for their community and the work they’ve done.

 

Margaret Anderson told me she loves living in the community because they value their privacy and it’s a great place to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking. It’s this pride for her community that made her want to work with her neighbors to become a recognized Firewise USA™ site.

 

One of the challenges that some Firewise USA™ sites can sometimes struggle with is keeping participation high. Midland Hills Country Club is a unique community where the land is co-owned by the Homeowners Association.

 

Because of this, it was very important that residents agreed on the work they did on their land to reduce their wildfire risk.

 

Read how their community came together and their advice for others who want to participate in the Firewise USA™ Program in this month’s issue of the NE RSC’s newsletter.

Midland Hills receiving their Firewise USA plaque for the work they have done to reduce their wildfire risk. Photo Courtesy: Margaret Anderson

 

The Northeast Regional Strategy Committee works to support the mission of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy which includes restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes, creating Fire-Adapted Communities and effectively responding to wildfire.

 

 

A recent update to the Firewise USA™ annual renewal process was developed to make submitting the required information easier, but to also help NFPA collect better data on the risk reduction activities completed across the country throughout the year. As a result, you may notice some changes when submitting this year’s information. This year resident leaders will use the new Firewise portal launched in July to complete their renewals. The portal is a more efficient system than what we’ve had in the past, and at the end of this year we believe it will allow us to tell a better

story about the accomplishments Firewise sites have made.

 

Renewal blog photoThis year, NFPA will still be collecting the investment data that sites have contributed to their risk reduction efforts, but through the new portal, both monetary efforts and time contributions are automatically calculated. The new renewal breaks down the investment into categories where you just input the dollars and hours you’ve spent. This will allow you to add and save your activities throughout the year and help you keep track of the work being done. When it comes to reporting your volunteer hours, we’re asking participants to share what type of work is being done and where. Having this information provides a clearer picture of the accomplishments each Firewise site has made and it will help you keep better historical information to look back on in future years.

 

The Vegetation Removal section is a brand new feature that was added based on feedback we’ve received during past renewal seasons. Along with their Chipper Day, many Firewise sites also give us a total amount of vegetation taken out of their community in their narrative. Now the Firewise portal provides a place to capture and store that information, so over the years it will be easier to view and track efforts.

 

There’s a lot of great work being done to reduce wildfire risk within the more than 1,400 Firewise sites across the country. Our goals this year were to create a tool to help you manage your Firewise site and to gather information that participants can be proud of!

 

With any new system, there are questions and we have a training document and a training video available to help guide you through the portal. This year’s renewal deadline is November 15, 2017. If you have any questions about how to log-in, use the portal or what information you can include in your renewal, you can reach our customer service team at firewise@nfpa.org

Our thoughts and concerns are with the people of Southeastern Texas today and everyone affected by the flooding and impact of Tropical Storm Harvey. It is hard to remove our minds from the devastating images of the destruction that has been done across the state of Texas.

 

We have more than 85 sites recognized in the Firewise USA™ program in Texas, several of them in regions affected by Harvey. The NFPA’s Wildfire Division has been committed to helping these communities reduce their wildfire risk and we truly know how recovering from any natural disaster can be a long and difficult process.

 

We are also thinking about the safety of the residents affected and the rescue workers. According to our state partners in Texas, more than 170 staff members from the Texas A&M Forest Service have been deployed to help with relief efforts. This is a reminder for us of the great partners we have in Texas and their ability to lend assistance during this time of need.

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