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What is the cause of most wildfires?
I do not live in a “wildland” – is my home really in danger?
The terms “wildfire” and “wildland fire” can be misleading when it comes to the chance that your home could be ignited by a fire that starts outside in brush, grass, or woods. With just the right conditions – a dry, hot, windy day – and an ignition source — a spark from a vehicle, machinery, or a carelessly tossed cigarette – your home could be in fire’s path faster than you might imagine.
See NFPA’s Brush, Grass and Forest Fires report to learn more about the frequency and locations of fires that could threaten your home.
If a fire starts, won’t the fire department put it out?
Local fire departments are the first responders, and always make their best efforts to deal with fires of any kind. But fires in brush, grass or forests pose a special challenge. First, it may take firefighters longer to find out about the fire if it starts in the woods or a field. They may not get a call until the fire is threatening homes.
Second, about 85% of our nation’s fire departments rely on volunteers. Depending on when the fire happens, it may be difficult for the volunteer departments to respond as quickly as they would like.
Third, wildfires grow in strength as they run uphill. A fire in steep and hilly terrain makes it difficult to access with a fire truck or even on foot.
Finally, if your home or neighborhood is remote from water supplies and has narrow, winding roads and driveways, it is especially challenging to fight fire at each structure. If dozens of homes in your area are threatened, chances are there are not enough firefighters, fire trucks, or water supplies to protect every home.
Ultimately, there is no guarantee that firefighters will be able to protect your home during a wildfire. It is your responsibility to prepare your home and private property before a fire threatens your area. Acting now means your home or community has a better chance of reducing the damage from wildfire without additional protection.
Won’t my insurance cover damage from a wildland fire?
Assuming you are adequately insured, most homeowner policies do typically cover property losses caused by brush, grass or forest fire. However, most policies do not cover home landscaping and plants that could be destroyed in a wildland fire. And no policy can replace personal items such as photographs, artwork, and other memorabilia.
The Insurance Information Institute recommends an annual insurance check-up so that you understand what is and is not covered in your homeowner’s insurance policy. You can also create a home inventory to help get your insurance claim settled faster in the event of fire loss.
If I make my home safer, do I get an insurance discount?
Typically, individual improvement efforts by homeowners are not reflected in discounts to their policy premiums. Most insurance rates are set using other factors, including community fire protection resources such as the presence of fire hydrants. In addition, fire protection is only one small piece of the insurance policy, so discounts for fire protection would be small if they were available.
In areas where wildfires have caused damage, you may find that your insurance company is conducting on-site inspections to recommend wildfire safety actions. Companies that incur large losses from wildfire may be less likely to continue to offer insurance in areas that they consider high-risk.
Homeowners insured by USAA and the California FAIR Plan may be eligible for insurance discounts if they live in a recognized Firewise USA site. State Farm has provided discounts locally in Tuolumne County to homeowners in recognized Firewise Communities. Mercury Insurance recently notified Firewise USA that they would be providing discounts. Other insurers may offer these discounts as well. Contact your agent for questions. These discounts are not guaranteed and are not administered by the 108 Firesafe Council or the NFPA/Firewise USA program.
What are the most important things to do to protect my home?
or under decks and porches, or in vents or other openings in the home. Other homes burn from small flames (surface fire) that can touch the house – such as dry grass that can allow a fire to run right up to the siding. The Firewise Communities Program is a great place to start and find resources and action steps you can use around your home and working your way out into the landscape.
Wildfire safety tips sheets are available on NFPA’s safety information page. You can also find additional information about how to create defensible space around your home on the Firewise website. In California, CAL FIRE, has information specific to State Code requirements and more. See Fire Safety Education Fact Sheets.
What is the Firewise USA® Programs?
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.
Why is the Firewise USA® Program needed?
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 (https://crsreports.congress.gov/). 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.
What makes a community “Firewise?”
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.
I want to be Firewise but how do I engage and encourage my neighbors in the process as well?
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.
Will being Firewise compromise my landscaping or the local ecosystem?
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.
How can I be Firewise and keep my trees?
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.
My neighborhood is already Firewise, isn’t that enough?
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.
What is Fire Adapted Communities and how is it different from the Firewise program?
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.
Our community just had a fire, isn’t it too late to become Firewise or create a fire adapted community?
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.
Can we change and/or expand our boundary?
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.
Should community/resident meetings occur before application submittal or after approval as a Firewise site?
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.
Is there a specific format or template I should use for the Action Plan?
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.
How long does the Firewise USA process take? Is it a huge time commitment?
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.
Does my Fire Department Representative and the Firewise Coordinator need to guide our Firewise Committee through every step of the process?
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.
The Application asks for a Regional Coordinator name. Who is that?
If you are in Tuolumne County, CA, you can list the, Hwy 108 Fire Safe Council, Firewise Coordinator, as your regional coordinator, and/or an additional representative from your Fire Department. Only one representative is required.
How do I select the homes in our site?
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.
What happens if my neighbors do not 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.”
How much does the Program Cost?
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.
Can paying someone else for work on Firewise Projects on my property be included in our investment calculations?
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).
Can our Firewise USA site order additional road signs?
Yes! You can order additional signs online by following this link. The price is $21.95, plus a $9 handling fee.
Updated by Tuolumne Firesafe Council, Firewise Coordinator, January 2021.