Fire Prevention Is Focus In South Dakota

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) -- Steps to guard the city from forest fires have earned Lead a Firewise Community designation, and now the Spearfish Canyon Owners Association wants to follow suit.

Firewise Communities/USA is a project of the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program. It gets communities and citizens involved in protecting themselves from wildfire, mainly by clearing trees and brush around homes to create ``defensible space.''

Jerome Harvey, assistant fire chief in Lead, said it's the first entire municipality to earn the Firewise label.

There are 46 Firewise communities in the nation, but most are neighborhood subdivisions.

Lead was also the first city in the nation to write a community fire plan. It has a Firewise coordinator and workers who thin forests and brush and conduct free property assessments.

The Spearfish Canyon Owners Association on Monday held a Firewise Day, which is one step in a long process toward becoming ``Firewise.'' Cabin owners worked side by side all day with about 30 firefighters and foresters from the Forest Service, cutting trees and hauling debris.

Cabin owners association members already have a five-year plan in place to make their 22-mile-long community safer from wildfire.

Lead has been spending more than $150,000 a year on its Firewise projects.

Most of the funding comes from federal grants, but part of it comes from the city itself, mostly in the form of employees and equipment.

Harvey said he and other Lead officials had been working on the project since 1999, and he doesn't expect that work to end.

``We want to get the point across that this is a way of life,'' Harvey said.

People who live near the Black Hills National Forest will always live with fire.

``We have to trim our trees just like we mow our lawns,'' he said. ``That's just the way it's got to be.''

Information from: Rapid City Journal