When your community is on the fire line

Joyce El Kouarti
Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service
June 1st, 2017 at 9:30AM

A photo of Homes built with Firewise landscaping
Homes built with Firewise landscaping can reduce the risk of burning. (Courtesy of Firewise.org)

Reducing fire risk is not the responsibility of one agency or group, but of everyone who lives and works in a community. And it’s important to remember that wildland fire is a natural process within certain ecosystem. However, large wildfires, more prevalent in recent years, can threaten lives and property in the wildland urban interface, or WUI, where communities meet forests and grasslands—the fuel that feeds fires.

As homes and other buildings are constructed in areas that were previously undeveloped, these structures are at a greater risk of encountering a catastrophic wildfire. But many communities that are most likely to live with wildfire have taken active steps to prepare for it and hopefully survive without major structural damage.

One of the ways they do this is by creating coalitions made up of local, state, federal, and private partners, along with residents who all share the responsibility for reducing wildfire risk. These coalitions can include public and private land managers, home owner associations, residents, and a wide variety of other stakeholders whose primary focus is reducing wildfire risk.

Using materials found on the Firewise Website, some groups may work together to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan that identifies where wildfire risks exist and ways to mitigate those risks. Hazardous fuels treatments in and around the community are a key component of risk reduction.

Removing or thinning hazardous vegetation in this zone can help keep wildfire at bay by creating fuel buffers that are less vulnerable to high-risk, extreme fire behavior close to towns and homes. This can be accomplished by trimming trees and undergrowth, by allowing natural occurring fire to safely burn fuels, and by intentionally burning under controlled conditions to reduce fuels.

These treatments are conducted under conditions that minimize smoke impacts and are closely monitored to prevent fire spread: humidity, temperature, cloud cover, wind speed and direction, and the moisture levels of the fuels are all taken into consideration.

Residents can also create defensible space around individual structures. Homeowners should  clean roofs and gutters of leaves and needles, remove leaf piles, dry grass, lawnmowers, lawn furniture, propane tanks, wood piles, and other flammable items from within 100 feet of the structure.

All flammables, including mulch and flammable vegetation, should be removed from within 10 feet of the house. Trees should be at least 10 feet from the structure and overhanging limbs trimmed to 10 feet from the ground. This defensible space helps stop or slow down the fire and provides a safer space for the firefighters to work if the structure is “savable”.

As fire season begins, the U.S. Forest Service reminds folks that firefighter safety is its first priority on any wildland fire and no home or structure is worth a life.