This winter, I ran across a term that is becoming prevalent in the firefighting and fire-prevention worlds. It got me excited because it describes so well what FireWise of Southwest Colorado has been promoting for years: fire-adapted communities.
Simply put, this is a community located in a fire-prone area that requires little assistance from firefighters during a wildfire. Residents of these communities accept responsibility for living in a high fire-hazard area and possess the knowledge and skills to:
b Prepare their homes and property to survive wildfire.
b Evacuate early, safely and effectively.
b Survive, if trapped by a wildfire.
There are five elements of a fire-adapted community: access, community protection, defensible space, built environment and evacuation.
Good access helps emergency responders arrive in a timely manner and residents to safely evacuate, often at the same time. Road and home address signs should be made of a reflective, noncombustible material with characters that are at least 4 inches tall. Roads should be at least 20 feet wide, and long driveways should be at least 12 feet wide with a grade of less than 12 percent. Where these conditions do not exist, the community should provide turnouts and turnarounds for emergency vehicles.
Community protection involves creating fuel breaks around and within the community to change the fire behavior. A fuel break basically is an area of land where highly flammable vegetation is treated in order to reduce fire intensity. It could be on private lands or adjoining public lands and is most effective when used in combination with defensible space. Identifying a safe area or designated location within a community where people can go to safely wait out a wildfire also is important. These areas might be irrigated pastures, large parking lots or parks.
Most of you are familiar with defensible space, which involves the proper management of vegetation surrounding a home to reduce the wildfire threat. It includes creating an area of reduced flammability around your home that will allow firefighters to safely defend your property from a wildfire.
The fire-adapted community also focuses on the built environment, or the home itself. Roofs should be composition, metal or tile. Gutters should be kept clean of needles, leaves and debris. Vent openings should be covered with 1/8-inch or smaller wire mesh, as should the area beneath decks and steps. Ideally, siding is fire-resistant, such as stucco, brick, cement board or steel.
Residents of a fire-adapted community know how to evacuate safely and effectively. Here in Southwest Colorado, many subdivisions have just one way in and one way out. Having an evacuation plan for your family as well as the community is critical. Residents should have a disaster supply kit and a to-go bag with essential personal items. Thought should be given to the removal of pets and livestock and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, as immediate help may not always be available. Residents also should have a plan for what they will do if they are unable to evacuate.
May is Fire Prevention and Education Month a good time to become more aware and prepared for wildfire. What are you waiting for? It may seem like a lot to think about, but we can help. Give us a call at 385-8909.
Pam Wilson is program director for FireWise of Southwest Colorado and can be reached at 385-8909 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.