Southern Perspective

The official blog of the Southern Group of State Foresters

Justin Query

Take responsibility. Take action.

May 3rd, 2019
Wildfire Mitigation Forester
North Carolina Forest Service

The fall of 2016 showed the mountains of North Carolina one of the most extreme fire seasons it had ever seen.  When it was all said and done, over 60,000 acres were scorched and $52 million spent in fire suppression efforts.  It was an eye opening experience for many in the fire service, but also for many homeowners and communities living in the wildland urban interface, aka the WUI. 

JQ home assessment2
JQ home assessment2

The Settings of Black Mountain is a community that took note of that devastating fire season. They decided to take action and contacted the N.C. Forest Service. A meeting was arranged with Dillon Michael, the Buncombe County Ranger, and Jessica Hocz, Executive Director of Mountain Valley’s Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Council. 

“At our first meeting, it was just two neighbors who were seeking professional advice about a large tree on a shared property line, from a wildfire risk perspective. Unexpectedly, those two neighbors took it to their HOA board, and the board enthusiastically supported the move to becoming a Firewise community,” Hocz said. 

The Firewise USA program is an initiative of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to teach people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and act to prevent losses. A community that meets the requirements of the program are recognized as a Firewise USA site.

The Settings of Black Mountain community formed a Firewise Taskforce and acted quickly. They received a Wildfire Hazard and Risk Assessment that revealed the community was at a high risk. Equipped with information from their assessment, they developed several action items that included educational outreach, amendments to the design guidelines for homeowners, community mitigation days and trail maintenance. By June 2018 they were nationally recognized as a Firewise USA site. To help fund some of the activities in their action plan, they applied and later received both a North Carolina Community Firewise Mitigation Grant and a NFPA Wildfire National Preparedness Day award of $500. 

JQ lattice work2
JQ lattice work2

"The amazing support and resources provided by the N.C. Forest Service and Mountain Valley RC&D enabled our Firewise Task Force to successfully obtain recognition as a Firewise community and obtain a federal grant to reduce our community’s wildfire risk within our first year. We are so grateful for the time they have taken to educate our home and property owners and to advise us on where we should focus our efforts for maximum impact," resident leader Roynan Jones said.

Recognizing the importance of education to the Firewise USA program, the HOA held a community outreach and educational event to show residents the importance of a well-managed home ignition zone. Participants learned how to assess their own home’s risk and techniques to mitigate that risk.

 

Leaves under house
Leaves under house

In the winter of 2019, they put their education into action and started several mitigation projects. First, they began by increasing the protection of their drinking water source by replacing the flammable mulch surrounding their club house and water pump houses with non-flammable river rock,. Science tells us that the first five feet out from a structure are the most vulnerable to embers and, therefore, the most important to take action on.

Later that winter, they shifted their focus to disposing of down and dead debris scattered throughout the community. They devoted 145 volunteer hours to cutting and dragging debris to road edges to be later chipped by a contractor. Working together community members managed to remove 85 cubic yards of wood chips, which were later used at the Black Mountain dog park.

The Settings of Black Mountain has several miles of hiking trails throughout the community. Many of these trails were placed in areas that could be used as a fireline in the event of a wildfire. However, when they were installed, much of the brush was simply piled beside the trail, creating a heavy fuel loading.  For their final winter project, they began the daunting task of removing some of that debris. They quickly realized that this would be a multi-year project. 

“You have to find a place to start. Those small changes add up to make a big difference in the end,” said Justin Query, Wildfire Mitigation Forester. “The residents of The Settings of Black Mountain realized that they had a wildfire risk in their community and took responsibility for that risk.  Instead of simply accepting that risk, they took action and started doing something about it. They started taking steps to make their community a safer place to live.” 

Before after rhododenron
Before after rhododenron

If you have questions about your wildfire risk, you’re encouraged to contact your local forest ranger or fire department. If you know that your home and surroundings are at a higher risk, you’re encouraged to take action and do something about it. The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise USA can help your community learn how to work together to prevent losses in the event of a wildfire.

 

For more information on fire mitigation in your state:

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