Firewise Communities: What you need to know

Each community is different but they all share a common goal of keeping the area safe from wildfires.

Is your community interested in becoming part of the Firewise USA Program?

The Firewise USA Program provides a framework for community residents to make their community more resilient. In addition to individuals taking responsibility for their own properties, they empower themselves as a community.

While each community is different and has various requirements and needs, they all share a common goal of keeping the area safe from wildfires. Idaho Firewise has made its top priority teaching people how to adapt to a life where wildfires are frequent. In doing this, they're able to successfully teach communities how to band together and take action in the wake of an emergency so that losses are mitigated.

Why Firewise USA works

With 24 nationally-recognized Firewise USA Communities located throughout the state, Idaho is quickly becoming one of the nation's Firewise program leaders. That said, Firewise has been proven to work throughout the entire country.

In 2018, Durango, Colorado was put to the ultimate test after a brush fire ignited early on June 1, setting over 25 acres ablaze in under 15 minutes. With the fire spreading so rapidly and uncontrollably, it seemed impossible for firefighters to coordinate where and how they were going to put the flames out.

That is until they realized Falls Creek—a community in Durango—was a Firewise USA Community.

Charlie Landsman, a wildlife adaptive partnership coordinator in La Plata County, Colorado, noted how Falls Creek has "committed for the last ten-plus years to reducing their wildfire risks, and they've really taken ownership of the fact that they live in an area that is prone to wildfires." By making an effort to reduce their risks, the community gave firefighters a chance to stop the flames before they engulfed their town—and it worked.

The firefighters were able to turn the flames westward, away from the Durango, because of the community's efforts through Firewise.

Bill Rebovich, a Falls Creek homeowner, takes pride in the fact that he was able to help his community on what could have been a deadly, life-altering day. "I think any homeowner's responsibility, living in a forest, like we do, is to help these firemen protect your home. You don't know if [a fire] is going to happen today, tomorrow, or when, but it is a possibility. You have to clear your home if you want to keep your home. Sometimes, you make your own luck, and that is what we did."

How can your community get involved?

The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) has made it simpler than ever for your community to become a Firewise USA site. According to their website, you must follow these three steps to become part of the program:

  • Organize it: Create a group within your community that is willing to collaborate to identify your site's total size and boundaries. It is essential to know that multiple locations can be included in one master community.
  • Plan it: Obtain a written wildfire risk assessment that identifies where you've successfully reduced the risk of wildfires and where your community still needs to improve. This must be updated every five years.
  • Do it: Each site, at minimum, is required to "annually invest the equivalent of one volunteer hour per dwelling unit in wildfire risk reduction actions." So, if your site or community has 50 total houses in it, you will be obligated to log at least 50 hours of work to help prevent potential fire damage.

For further assistance with navigating the process, click here to contact the Idaho Firewise team.

Becoming a Firewise community can be hard work, but as Falls Creek is well aware, the effort is more than worth it. Protect both your loved ones and cherished possessions now by starting an application today.