Firewise Frequently Asked Questions

Firewise USA

The Firewise USA® program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters.  

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The Firewise USA Program encourages local solutions for safety by involving homeowners in taking individual responsibility for preparing their homes from the risk of wildfire. The program provides resources to help homeowners learn how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together to act now to prevent losses. Initiated in 2002 with 12 pilot neighborhoods, the national Firewise USA® Recognition Program has nearly 1,600 active member communities in 40 states, as well as a participation retention rate of 80 percent over the past decade. The program, aimed at homeowners, provides specific criteria for communities regarding wildfire preparedness, and based on these criteria, offers national recognition for their work.

As America’s population continues to expand, much of the development to accommodate that growth has flowed into traditionally natural areas. A trend toward migration from urban centers and suburbs into formerly rural and wild areas places many more people in the path of potential wildfire. Threats to life and property from wildfires and costs for suppressing them are expanding at an astounding rate.

In 2020, over 58,250 wildfires burned 10.3 million acres; nearly 40% of these acres were in California ( Once a fire starts, there is only so much fire service professionals can do to protect structures. The Firewise USA® Program empowers individual homeowners to take an active role in protecting structures before a fire starts.

Firewise communities are those that have taken appropriate measures to become more resistant to wildfire structural damage. An online Firewise Toolkit, including a Firewise tips checklist for homeowners, is available on the Firewise website.

Firewise techniques include minimizing the risk of home ignition by carefully landscaping around residential structures such as thinning trees and brush and choosing fire-resistant plants, selecting ignition-resistant building materials and positioning structures away from slopes.

In addition, communities that have earned the special distinction of being recognized under the Firewise USA™ Program have followed a systematic approach to organizing and implementing a Firewise mitigation plan in their neighborhood. Program criteria and additional information about the Program can be found on the Firewise website.

Using Firewise principles on your property will start to reduce your likelihood of damage and loss. Homes or other property within 100 feet of your home can be a risk factor if they are not Firewise. Here are some ideas to help you work with neighbors to be safer: Check the Firewise website for tips on mentoring your neighbors and starting a Firewise USA™ site in your area.

NFPA’s online wildfire catalog has free brochures, DVDs and other useful materials to share with your neighbors.

Call your local fire department or state forestry office to find out if a fire expert can come to a neighborhood meeting to discuss Firewise principles. There are also state liaisons who can help answer your questions and point you in the right direction.

Today’s fire-resistant building materials can be attractive and complement the area’s culture and style. Firewise landscaping techniques can improve the aesthetic quality of your home by clearing out dry and dead vegetation and allowing space between trees and plants. More information about landscaping can be found on the “Home and Landscape” page of the Firewise website.

Preparing your property for fire does not mean removing all your trees. There are many things you can do to make your home resistant from embers or firebrands that may involve simply removing overhanging branches or limbing trees up from the ground.

Remember that healthy, well-maintained trees or forestland on your property will provide many benefits and not necessarily pose a major risk for wildfire spread. Your site-specific risk depends on the species and arrangement of the trees, as well as other factors. Consult an arborist or forester to learn more about the health of your landscape. Removing or thinning out some trees may be necessary to maintain the health of the rest, but complete removal of mature trees is not normally required to create a fire resistant landscape.

No, being a Firewise USA® site is a great step toward improving the chances of a home’s survival from wildfire. But your home and neighborhood is just one important part of a whole community that requires protection. This means residents must look at everything at risk, including businesses, infrastructure, cultural resources, and natural areas. Fire Adapted Communities, an initiative coordinated by NFPA and USDA Forest Service addresses this “whole” community approach.

Long term maintenance is critical. The Firewise USA process is ongoing and must be undertaken every year for as long as people intend to live in your neighborhood! This process should eventually become a lifestyle adaptation, with good choices of vegetation and building materials and design, and routine upkeep and maintenance becoming part of the culture of your community.

Fire Adapted Communities is a collaborative approach to reducing wildfire risks throughout an entire community and helps connect all those who play a role in wildfire preparedness like community officials, planners or developers, residents and business owners, emergency responders, insurance representatives and land managers and public utilities, with the organizations and programs that provide resources for their (these) specific wildfire preparedness needs. NFPA’s Firewise USA® Program is a key component of the fire adapted approach and provides the framework to help residents reduce the risk of losing their homes and property to wildfire.

No, it is never too late. Even if your community recently experienced a fire, the recovery phase is a great time to create a plan that highlights Firewise principles that you can start using around your home today. By opening a dialogue with town officials and your local fire service, residents can also address such issues as establishing fire risk reduction building codes, improving ingress/egress routes, protecting businesses, parks, utilities, and other important community assets. Visit the Fire Adapted Communities website to learn more about your role in wildfire preparedness and what you can do.

Yes, you can expand your community boundary. Send in a new map to the Firewise USA website. You will also need to update your dwelling unit count in your application document. If you have a new count, you can send it with the map, and they will update in your records.

The intent of Firewise is to be very community and resident driven. The educational and investment requirements are intended to be incorporating the entire community. Some of the organizational stuff and coming up with a plan for your site can be done by just a few people, but the educational outreach is meant to be aimed at the community as a whole and is a requirement for approval. Also, having an idea of your neighborhood interest is going to help you determine some of the things you may need to focus on. For example, less interest means you may have to put more energy into gaining interest and be very intentional with your educational outreach. If you have a community with less interest, it may be a good idea to start with a smaller boundary, see if you can have success and then grow it. One of the main goals of the program is to encourage residents to take individual responsibility for their home and property and to get them to take the actions that are going to reduce their risk. It would be hard to accomplish this without engaging neighbors in this process. Even if you have resistance from some neighbors you can still push forward with your Firewise USA® without every community member’s approval.

There is no template in our state (CA) for the action plans. Most usually put together a word document. The Action Plan is meant to be a list of your goals and priorities. Some get specific and put timelines on them. You are not required to have timelines, but many find it helpful. The only requirement is that it covers a 3-year timeframe. It must be updated every 3 years.

The process takes anywhere from one month to one year to complete, depending on engagement and participation among neighbors. The Firewise committee, which steers and manages the process, should expect to invest at least 8 hours in the assessment and application process. Planning events (2 per year) and engaging neighbors may require extra time but is usually easily manageable even by people with busy schedules. The work (“investment”) is often work that is already being completed by you and your neighbors. The Firewise USA program will help ensure that you focus on the right areas – hardening your home, removal of the RIGHT vegetation, and will maximize the efficiency of your hard work.

Ongoing maintenance of your recognition status usually only requires about 4-8 hours per year, not including the risk reduction investment and educational events you’ll host in your neighborhood.

No! The Firewise USA program is intended to give you and your neighbors the grass-roots framework for organizing yourselves to reduce risk. Your Fire Department Representative and the Firewise Coordinator should be kept “in-the-loop” and will be there for you when you need support or run into questions you are unable to answer. Your Firewise committee can start the risk assessment and application process on their own.

No! The Firewise USA program is intended to give you and your neighbors the grass-roots framework for organizing yourselves to reduce risk. Your Fire Department Representative and the Firewise Coordinator should be kept “in-the-loop” and will be there for you when you need support or run into questions you are unable to answer. Your Firewise committee can start the risk assessment and application process on their own.

If you are in Tuolumne County, CA, you can list the Tuolumne Fire Safe Council, Firewise Coordinator, as your regional coordinator, and/or an additional representative from your Fire Department. Only one representative is required.

Start by asking yourself how you would describe your neighborhood or the area you live in. Your answer is probably how you will define your Firewise USA Site. However, meeting with residents and gauging interest may result in a different boundary. You may decide to start smaller with a group of motivated homeowners and expand as more join in. Boundaries should be a contiguous line, encompassing all the homes in your defined area, even if all the homeowners may not. Examples: residents gathered along a road or group of roads, geographic boundaries, full or partial residential developments, etc. Firewise does not require an HOA to participate.

That is OK. Few communities will see 100% participation. Participation is voluntary, often when neighbors see results and a cleaner neighborhood, they are likely to join in. This is a lifetime process, so they will have time to warm up to the concepts even if they do not join in on “year-one.”

It is FREE! There is no cost to participate, and no money changes hands. The $24.14 annual (minimum) investment is simply recorded in the work you complete, or in the money you spend to reduce the hazard and risk on your own property. It is documented in your annual accomplishment reporting. Although the minimum is set based on the number of homes in your site, you do not need to record the investment for each neighbor. The investment is cumulative, and most Firewise USA sites far exceed the minimum.

Yes, if you pay someone else it can be listed as a cash expense. Examples – hiring a tree company or landscaping work and maintenance (as long the work is done to remove hazardous plants or install fire-resistant plants, create a fuel break, or improve a home’s fire-resistance).

Yes! You can order additional signs online by following this link. The price is $21.95, plus a $9 handling fee.

Updated by Tuolumne Fire Safe Council, Firewise Coordinator, January 2021.