What’s Firwise, And Why Should I Know About It?
The simplest answer is because it can save your life, your home, and your community.
Firewise is a technique homeowners can utilize to reduce the risk of loss of life and destruction by wildfire.
In the late 90s, a group of scientists conducted an experiment to learn about how fires act, and what causes them to ignite. High-quality data was collected on how close vegetation could be to a structure to not put that structure at risk of igniting. Materials were also tested and compared for flammability.
Some of the main takeaways are;
Homes ignite from surface fuels, ladder fuels, and crown fuels (A crown fuel are the forest canopies, which can turn into crown fires and are defined as a fire that has ascended from the ground into the forest canopy and is spreading through it, usually in conjunction with the surface fuels.).
What does being a Firewise Community mean?
Firewise communities reduce wildfire risks by thinning overgrown brush and tree stands. A home and a community that has clear defensible space are more likely to survive a wildfire, plus it keeps our firefighters on the ground safe when they are working to save your property. Wildfires don’t have to be a disaster. Your home CAN survive a wildfire if you Firewise your property.
Organizing a Firewise Community can be a challenging task as it is a voluntary program and requires the cooperation of homeowners who may have little in common except living in the same neighborhood, and having a preference that their house not be engulfed by flames. The minimum requirement is two neighbors. On almost every occasion where a Firewise community is successfully formed, the work that made that happen began with one or two individuals with the interest and energy, who inspired the rest of the community to join in.
How do you become a Firewise Community?
1. Organize it
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’s point of contact. The board or committee defines the boundaries of the site and determines the number of individual single-family dwelling units.
Community size: Minimum of 8 dwelling units and a maximum of 2,500. Multiple Firewise USA sites can be located within a city/town or master-planned community/HOA.
2. Plan it
The board or committee will collaborate with their local wildfire expert to complete a community wildfire risk assessment. The assessment should be a community-wide view that identifies areas of successful wildfire risk reduction and areas where improvements could be made. Emphasis should be on the general conditions of homes and related home ignition zones. The assessment is a living document and needs to be updated at a minimum every 5 years.
- Contact your state liaison to learn more about the requirements and how to get started
- Some states use the Firewise USA template. (PDF)
- Online training – Community Wildfire Risk Assessment Tutorial
The board/committee will use the risk assessment to create a three-year action plan, broken down by year, that identifies and prioritizes actions to reduce ignition risk to homes. These can include communitywide investments along with suggested homeowner actions and education activities that participants will strive to complete annually, or over a period of multiple years. This document is required to be updated at least every three years. As circumstances change (e.g., completing activities, experiencing a fire or a natural disaster, new construction in the community, etc.), the action plan may need to be updated more frequently
3. Do it
Each year, neighbors complete educational and risk reduction actions identified in the plan. These go towards your site’s annual reporting efforts.
- Find examples (PDF) of activities that count towards your investment.
- Use our volunteer hourly worksheet (PDF) to collect information from residents in your community
At a minimum, each site is required to annually invest the equivalent of one volunteer hour per dwelling unit in wildfire risk reduction actions. If your site has identified 100 homes within its boundary, then 100 hours of work or the monetary equivalent, based on the independent sector value of volunteer time, need to be completed for that year.
4. Tell NFPA about it
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 on the site. Each year, sites renew their status by reporting their activity.
Please note: Individual states can request additional application requirements.