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Firewise Offers a Framework for Community-Level Wildfire Preparedness 

By Tom Saxton Rise Writer
Jul 10, 2021

Fire has long been an integral part of terrestrial ecosystems on Earth. Some indigenous peoples in North America refer to fire as 'medicine' and cherish their rich history managing the land with fire. By the time Euro-Asians arrived in recent centuries, many regions of North America were fire-dependent ecosystems that experienced frequent but low-intensity fires. The forest and vegetation composition consisted primarily of species that flourished with fire. Since the 1900s, fire suppression has become a significant focus of both the US and Canadian governments. Fire suppression efforts have largely failed over the past century. They have even increased our wildfire risk due to the dangerous levels of vegetative fuel buildup in ecosystems that historically burned regularly. Efficiency at fire suppression has allowed vegetation species that do not have an inherent resistance to fire to dominate. Combine this with climate change, an increasingly complex wildland-urban interface, and a booming population, and we are now faced with a massive challenge on our hands. 

In many areas today, wildfires aren't a matter of if but of when. If you live on the wildland-urban interface, you must educate yourself on wildfire risk and take a few precautionary measures around infrastructure. Don't wait around and expect firefighters to save you and your structure if a wildfire hits. Take ownership and action to protect yourself and your family. It's our responsibility to prepare for wildfires and adapt to them – they have long been a part of North American ecosystems. No matter how much we try to stop them, they will continue to play a role.

Firewise USA
Firewise USA. Photo Credit: National Fire Protection Association

What Is Firewise Certification?

Firewise is a US-based voluntary recognition program that takes a holistic approach to reduce wildfire risk and make communities a safer place to live. Firewise advances community resiliency to wildfire risk by providing a framework for homeowners and communities to partner and collaborate in taking actions to increase the ignition resistance of their built environments. 

They offer numerous educational materials that guide best management practices in reducing building risk to wildfire. You can use their checklists and grading system yourself to assess your home or hire a knowledgeable natural resource professional to assist you.

In order to get the best guidance on Firewise, assessments are conducted between residents and their state forestry agency or local fire department. Many states offer cost-share programs for homeowners to financially mitigate fire risk after the assessment. Firewise communities can use these programs to fund mitigation measures that reduce community risk to wildfire.

What Are the Pros of Firewise Certification?

Wildfires are processes that keep many types of ecosystems across the world healthy. With planning and cooperation among community members, wildfires can occur without the disastrous loss of human life, property, and resources. Through Firewise guidance, homeowners can access valuable information and resources on how to reduce their home's risk of fire. Losing a house or a loved one to a wildfire can be catastrophic, and any measure to reduce risk is priceless. 

Some insurance providers in the US will offer discounts to Firewise designated sites, as some do for sustainable homes. Insurance companies are beginning to take a hard look at areas with heightened fire risk. Firewise designations can help protect you from increased costs or even removed coverage for high-risk homes.

What Are Firewise's Main Areas of Focus?

Firewise focuses on community planning and cooperation that utilizes fire-resistant building design, materials use, and landscaping. Examples include:

  • thinning forests surrounding infrastructures
  • clearing brush near buildings to create defensible spaces
  • landscaping with fire-resistant vegetation
  • choosing fire-resistant building materials
  • keeping structures away from slopes, and 
  • working on a community evacuation plan.

What Types of Homes Can Get Certified with Firewise? 

Firewise is geared towards homeowners and small communities comprised of between 8 and 2,500 single-family units. As an individual home, one can still use the guidelines and recommendations of Firewise communities to reduce fire danger to their structures without going through the certification process.

California Firewise Sites 2020 NFPA
California Firewise Sites 2020. Photo Credit: National Fire Protection Association

How Many Homes Have Been Certified with Firewise?

The Firewise USA Recognition Program has around 1,000 active member communities across 40 states. Over the past decade, it has had a participation retention rate of 80 percent. As wildfires increase in frequency and intensity, Firewise communities will likely become more common out of necessity. 

FireSmart App
FireSmart App. Photo Credit: FireSmart Canada

Is There a Program Similar to Firewise in Canada? 

FireSmart Canada offers a unique self-conducted home assessment app to help homeowners mitigate their fire risks. This program is an excellent option for Canadians or even Americans looking for straightforward guidance on reducing wildfire risk on their own. This program seems to be less of a community-level approach and is most pertinent to individual homeowners.

What Are the Steps to Firewise Certification?

The first step is to organize a group interested in collaborating on fire risk mitigation efforts. The group will then create a committee to represent your community group and identify a leader as the program's point of contact. The group will designate the boundaries of the Firewise site and conduct a community wildfire risk assessment in collaboration with state forestry agencies or the local fire department. Using the risk assessment, the committee will create a multi-year action plan that prioritizes actions to reduce fire risk to homes. When this criterion is met, the group can apply for Firewise designation through the Firewise Portal. Annual wildfire risk reduction activities and education are completed to stick to the action plan's goals. These steps are reported to maintain status as a Firewise site. The application team should update the site's risk assessment every five years.


How Much Does Firewise Certification Cost?

The cost to participate in Firewise certifications is associated with the chosen mitigation measures. There is an annual requirement to spend $24.14 annually to reduce wildfire hazards and risks on your property. This cost is for each participant in the site's certification; however, the investment is cumulative - not every participant needs to spend money individually each year. Don't forget; you can potentially receive state forestry agency-sponsored cost-share grants to do this work.

What is the Projected Value of Firewise Certification?

The value of increasing protection to you, your family, and your community from catastrophic wildfires is priceless. A few US-based insurance providers, like USAA, will offer discounts for residents in designated Firewise USA sites. This trend will likely continue to grow, but currently, most homeowners will not see values reflected in their insurance. Communities with Firewise USA status are more likely to retain insurance coverage and not have their policy canceled as insurance companies identify areas of high wildfire risk.

What Home Products Can Help Mitigate the Health Risks of Wildfires?

When large wildfires are burning, they can release a lot of pollutants into the air. Smoke can slowly creep into buildings, and air quality can suffer. Air purifiers can filter down to 0.3 microns.

Choosing flame-resistant home products is essential to lowering fire risk. Sheep's wool is a renewable product that offers a high degree of flame resistance. We provide wool mattresses and wool rugs

On the insulation front, we provide hemp wool insulation that exhibits a degree of flame resistance. These products all have inherent fire resistance without adding toxic flame retardants, like foam insulation and polyurethane cushioning for mattresses do. Unlike foams, these materials will not release toxic fumes if they do burn. 

GoSun Charger
GoSun Charger. Photo Credit: GoSun

When wildfires are in your area, you might lose electrical power for an extended period of days to even weeks. We offer an increasing range of solar appliances for an off-grid backup electrical system. You can also check out our home energy monitors to aid with electrical setups and help guide a reduction in your energy consumption.

Forest Fire

Fire is a natural component and essential element of many ecosystems globally. In systems where fires are suppressed, wildfire threat can increase over the long term by increasing combustible fuel loads, forest floor depth and altering forest species composition by allowing species that are not resilient to fire to become dominant. Climate change increases fire intensity and lengthens fire seasons. Immediate steps we can take to reduce wildfire risk on the wildland-urban interface are hiring professionals to utilize prescribed burns under controlled conditions, deploying sustainable forest management techniques, and taking measures to minimize ignition risk in and around our built environments with guidance from resources like Firewise USA and FireSmart Canada. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-15T12:23:47+0000
Tom Saxton

Article by:

Tom Saxton

Based in Washington State, Tom's education focuses on holistic land management that sustainably grows renewable building materials in a way that replenishes natural systems. His interest is in building systems that combine old techniques and modern science.