The Firewise Program
Incredible community efforts are being made by locals in order to protect their neighborhoods from future wildfires.
This quarter's Hooray! is all about the Firewise program - A program that can be implemented by neighbors in your community to protect your neighborhood from the threat of wildfires - and the folks in the Berkeley Hills who are making moves to assemble their own Firewise groups.
The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise program teaches people living within the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) how to adapt to living with wildfire by preparing for a fire before it occurs. It provides a collaborative framework to help neighbors in a geographic area get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and community and to reduce wildfire risks at the local level (with projects such as fire-proofing homes and clearing vegetation along evacuation routes). Any community that meets a set of voluntary criteria on an annual basis and retains an “In Good Standing Status” may identify itself as being a Firewise Site.
What does it take to become a Firewise Community?
Organize — Create a board or committee of volunteers to represent your community, including residents and partners such as local forestry agencies or the fire department. Identify a resident leader who will be the program point of contact.
Plan — The board or committee defines the boundaries of the site and obtains a community wildfire risk assessment. From the risk assessment, the board/committee creates a multi-year action plan to identify and prioritize actions to reduce ignition risk to homes.
Do — Each year, neighbors complete educational and risk reduction actions identified in the plan.
Tell — When the above criteria have been met, the Resident Leader applies for recognition through the Firewise® Portal (portal.firewise.org), describing educational and mitigation work in the site. Each year, sites renew their status by reporting their activity.
As climate change progresses, the likelihood of catastrophic fires continues to increase. For the first time in Berkeley history, the city inspected every hillside property, and a 5 foot ember-resistant zone around all structures that exist in the hills will soon be a legal requirement.
Firewise works to note that folks in wildfire zones benefit from ensuring that their neighbor's properties are safe from fire, as it protects your own property, and that establishing relationships with your local fire service before a disaster happens helps everyone involved better prepare for the possibility.
There have been several people in Berkeley who have been making moves to spearhead the creation of Firewise groups in their own neighborhoods - notably Doug Kidder & Dave Winnacker, as noted in this Berkeleyside article. To form a Firewise community in Berkeley, all it requires is a pledge of commitment from members to do a specific amount of volunteer fire prevention activities each year, outlined in a three-year plan designed for the community by Berkeley Fire, then reviewed & approved by both Cal Fire and NFPA.
Some of the notable benefits of communities joining Firewise programs include being five times more likely to receive access to grants and other types of fire prevention funding. Also, the USAA, California Automobile Insurance Company, and State Farm all extend discounts to those who participate & live in acknowledged Firewise communities -- a huge plus as homes in high fire risk neighborhoods are becoming increasingly expensive & difficult to insure.
Interested in joining one of the Firewise communities in your area? Click here to access Firewise' interactive map, to find a local group and get in touch for your next steps. Interested in starting your own Firewise community in your neighborhood? Click here to find our your next steps in establishing your own group in your neighborhood.
As we continue to grapple with the devastating effects of climate change, it is incredibly important that we all begin to work together - right now - to do what we can to protect both ourselves, and our communities at large. I love to see the work that locals in our community are doing to keep us safe, as a collective.