Other Voices: Foothill communities get fire wise
This time of the year, summer seems a long way off and the devastating fire season of 2007 is behind us. But despite our cold, wet weather, fire season is just around the corner, and now is the time to prepare. Here in Nevada County, several communities are getting involved with the Nevada County Fire Safe Council to plan for and mitigate wildfire risks. One Penn Valley community in particular has taken fire preparedness to a new level.
Lake Wildwood recently became a nationally recognized Firewise Community. Firewise Communities USA is a program that encourages residents to establish standards and implement local fire mitigation solutions. Since the mid-1990s, Firewise has provided extensive opportunities to communities throughout the country to reduce their risk from severe wildfire. Since 2002, more than 300 communities in 36 states have successfully met the Firewise protocol.
With the help of Sierra Forest Legacy, a conservation organization focused on community protection and enhancement who adopted the Firewise program in 2007, four communities in the Sierra Nevada, including Lake Wildwood, have successfully completed the Firewise process. Although completing the Firewise recognition process does not completely eliminate wildfire risks, it is an official acknowledgment that Lake Wildwood has identified specific problems and has taken the right steps to minimize wildfire hazards.
A big challenge to communities at risk from severe wildfire is the lack of public involvement. Members of the Lake Wildwood Firewise Team were able to get residents engaged by first recognizing the problem, and then working together to find solutions. The need for this local involvement is critical.
Fire departments, no matter how well staffed or equipped, do not have the ability to protect every structure in Lake Wildwood or any other Sierra neighborhood. The actions of Fire Safe Councils, Firewise USA, homeowner associations and other local groups increase the effectiveness of local fire departments, just as Lake Wildwood is doing.
Some of the solutions that Lake Wildwood has implemented are green waste drop off supported by the Nevada County Fire Safe Council, greenbelt fuels reduction and defensible space implementation. Lake Wildwood still has a ways to go, but residents have taken the initiative and are on the path to significantly reducing wildfire threats.
As a registered professional forester with Sierra Forest Legacy, I often work with communities to help guide them through the Firewise process. The first step for Lake Wildwood was a two-day, community-wide evaluation of the community’s risk factors. That process resulted in a formal written assessment, which highlighted the challenges and opportunities that Lake Wildwood could address to make the community firewise. Many recommendations in the assessment are simple, common sense things that folks can do to prevent their home from being destroyed and damaged during a wildfire.
The Firewise Communities/USA program may be appropriate for your community if you and your neighbors share the Firewise vision: Wildfire can occur in areas of residential development without the occurrence of disastrous loss. In fact, a house and its surrounding community can be compatible with the area’s ecosystem.
I encourage everyone to work with your neighbors and initiate solutions to the inevitable wildfire threats that face us every summer and fall. For more information on how to organize your community around the Firewise program, visit http://www.sierraforestlegacy.org or http://www.firewise.org.
David Jaramillo is a registered professional forester and the Fire Protection Coordinator with Sierra Forest Legacy.
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