Firewise Community designation may open door for firefighting grants.

By:Marcia Miller, Telegraph Staff Writer June 05, 2003

Lakewood Improvement Association, an organization which oversees the Lakewood Subdivision on the western edge of Starke, recently decided to seek designation as the first Firewise Community in northeast Florida.

Firewise Communities/USA is a national program whose goal is to encourage activities that minimize the loss of homes to wildfire. There are only two Firewise Communities in the state of Florida, one located in Orange County and one in Ormond Beach.

There are a number of hoops through which Lakewood will have to jump in order to achieve a Firewise designation - but if that designation can be achieved, then the way will be open for the city of Starke, the county or even the Division of Forestry to apply for state and federal grants that will improve fire service to the Lakewood area.

For example, said DOF Ranger Mike Work, Lakewood could ask DOF for services like controlled burning or plowing of forested lands adjacent to the homes in the subdivision to reduce the risk of wildfire damaging the homes. DOF could then complete a grant application and would likely get funding to furnish those services to Lakewood for free (even if the area does not qualify for a free mitigation burn-see related story).

Grants might even be secured to fund additional fire equipment to fire stations that serve Lakewood. Any equipment or service that reduces the risk of fire to a Firewise Community might be eligible for state or federal grant funding, said Work.

Lakewood has voted to apply for the Firewise status and has completed an assessment process aimed at identifying the fire hazards in the neighborhood. Arch Thomas, president of Lakewood Improvement Association, said recently that Lakewood's assessment showed its fire risk level as "very high."


The assessment took into consideration things like:


* How easy would access to the subdivision be for firetrucks and emergency vehicles? Dead-end roads and cul-de-sacs in the community would pose problems for large emergency vehicles.


* How heavy is the underbrush on property adjacent to homes? There are some heavily forested areas with dense underbrush nearby.


* Are there pressurized fire hydrants in the neighborhood? Lakewood does not have fire hydrants.


* Are utility rights of way maintained properly? Rights of way are overgrown.
* Etc.


Firewise Communities/USA will also send an inspector to Lakewood who specializes in assessing the fire danger to areas where homes and forest or wildlands are adjacent to one another.

The Lakewood Improvement Association will now form a Firewise Board to recommend improvements to the community that will reduce the risk of property loss to fire. A Firewise Committee will oversee those improvements and maintain the Firewise program.

Some of the improvements will be done through private funding by landowners, but some could also be completed through securing special grant funds.

Thomas said he is excited about the decision of the association to seek Firewise status. A large muck fire that burned for several months near the Lakewood Subdivision last year had property owners there concerned about the safety of their homes. "The successful implementation of the Firewise Communities/USA program will truly be a credit to everyone involved," said Thomas.

For more information on Firewise Communities, see the Web site at www.firewise.org/usa or contact DOF at 386-496-3311.