Deb Bridges knows firsthand how frightening a wildfire can be to a community. During the 2016 fall wildfire season, the Party Rock Fire burned 7,100 acres just 20 miles away from her home. “It was the second time in my life I’ve had to worry about a wildfire,” recalls Bridges. The first time was 20 years ago when “I woke up with the woods across the street from my home on fire.” She knows preparedness is the key for any community to be ready for the potential devastation of a wildfire, and this has motivated her to lead her neighborhood of Cedarbook, located in the mountains of North Carolina, to be fire ready.
After twice living through the fear of a wildfire, Bridges recognizes the urgency of carrying out wildfire preparedness activities. “For your own personal safety and the safety of all community members, the time to prepare any community for the worst is now. It is not when the wildfire is already at your back door,” says Bridges.
In order to prepare, Cedarbrook decided to formalize their commitment by becoming a National Fire Protection Association Firewise USA® site. By engaging in Firewise USA®, communities make a commitment to take actionable steps to reduce loss of lives, property, and resources to wildland fires. Communities can become a Firewise USA® site through these steps:
- Get organized: Form a committee of residents or other key groups. Invite your state forestry agency, local fire department, elected officials, and any other relevant property management organizations to participate. Identify the site’s boundary and size.
- Plan it: Work with your state forestry agency to conduct a wildfire risk assessment. Develop community guidelines for developing a sustainable action plan. These documents will need to be updated every 3-5 years.
- Execute it: Complete items in your action plan by hosting an event or working with your neighbors.
- Share it: Share your community’s accomplishments by submitting the electronic application to be a National Fire Protection Association Firewise USA® site.
Working together as a community is imperative in Cedarbrook, where the majority of the 36 residents are over 75 years old. The community believes “protecting one home means protecting everyone’s home,” and they embody this by helping anyone with physical limitations to complete fire readiness tasks. As a condominium community, “If one has a loss, we all have a loss,” comments Bridges. The community exemplifies true neighborliness by working together to increase wildfire resilience for every home.
To follow Cedarbrook’s example, here are examples of preparedness activities that could be implemented in your own community:
- Create defensible space within the ignition zone around every home.Reduce fuel loads, natural flammable materials, in nearby woods. Remove dead or unhealthy trees, and limit ground fuel by eradicating highly flammable species.
- Select appropriate plant species for your property using the Fire Performance Plant Selector Tool. Use resources specific to your state to identify flammable species such as the Florida Forest Service’s online guide and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s fact sheet.
- Verify access routes for emergency vehicles.
- Purchase fire extinguishers for every home. Invite a fire safety officer to do an educational presentation about fire safety and demonstration of how to use extinguishers.
- Host a neighborhood clean-up day. Rent a wood chipper for downed trees and broken limbs. Trim trees and clear any fallen debris. Contract a hauling service if necessary.
- Use the home ignition zone checklist to make all homes in your community safer.
Bridges notes that Cedarbrook’s involvement with Firewise “has been a great community builder, socially, even with other neighborhoods outside of ours.” Beth Romer, Information and Education Chief of North Carolina Forest Service comments, “It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm of the Cedarbrook neighborhood facilitating the education of adjacent communities.” Carrying out fire preparedness activities in a collaborative, friendly manner like Cedarbrook is exactly the type of approach needed to help communities learn to live with and prepare for the risks of wildfire.