Fire Adapted Communities
I’ve been talking for months about this year’s wildfire potential. You’ve probably heard the news of the Signal Fire, ten miles north of Silver City. At the time of this writing, it’s 5740 acres and only 25% contained. I’ve heard some people say, “Yeah well, that’s in the Gila—doesn’t have anything to do with us.” I beg to differ. In Catron County, we’ve already had thirteen wildfires this year—all of them, including the Signal Fire, human caused. Granted, they were small fires, but it goes to show just how volatile the fuels are this year. It’s not if, but when a wildfire will threaten your community. A wildfire is still a threat, even if it’s miles away. Traveling embers can ignite roofs, decks, fences, mulch, wood piles, and anything else flammable around your home. Fires are part of the natural ecology, and living adjacent to the wilderness means living with a constant threat of fires.
Enter Fire Adapted Communities. The concept of fireadapted communities (FACs) holds that, with proper preparation, communities can withstand the devastating effects of a wildland fire, reducing loss of life and property. Residents of any neighborhood are connected by their wildfire risk. If one home is inadequately prepared, the entire neighborhood is at risk. Everyone’s safety is impacted, including firefighters and other emergency responders. A FAC is a community of informed and prepared citizens working together to reduce that risk.
Vacation homes pose another area of risk. Your community may have a large population of seasonal residents, absentee owners, hunters, and back country campers. These “part-time” residents may not be familiar with the local fire threat and may have misconceptions about fire response capabilities. Many people move to a wildland urban interface, bringing with them the same fire protection expectations they had when living in urban communities. Firefighters can’t always protect every home from wildfire—especially if you haven’t done your part to prepare. There are three threats to your home during a wildfire: windborne embers, radiant heat, and direct flame contact (embers being the most important). When considering the vulnerability of your home to wildfire, you need to evaluate and address all three exposures. You need to thoroughly understand home ignition zone, defensible space, and how to “harden” your home.
If you are uncertain what to do, contact your local fire department for a home assessment.
And yet, the concept of FACs is not just about defensible space. It’s also about building a relationship with your local emergency responders before the fire starts. It’s about knowing what to expect from those emergency responders when the fire does come. It’s about understanding what the environment was like before overgrazing, development, and the introduction of non-indigenous vegetation changed that environment. And it’s about having a preparedness plan for your family and understanding what evacuation means to you and your community.
For more information on how your community can become a FAC, go to usfa.fema.gov and enter Your Role in Fire Adapted Communities in the search field. To find out how your community projects might be funded through various grants, visit nwcg.gov and click on Wildland Fire Grants. The list keeps changing, so check frequently. Use the Wildfire Home Assessment & Checklist to conduct a risk assessment on your property.
Often, communities can access funding though mitigation planning by their State