Florida Division of Forestry Mitigation Specialists
Following devastating losses from a severe Florida wildfire season in 1998, the Florida Division of Forestry Mitigation Specialists has worked to coordinate mitigation activity throughout the entire state. Specialists manage fuel loads, public information, education, and training. Tasked to make Florida communities safer from wildfire damage, these specialists work to identify and quantify a community’s wildfire risk, assist the community to develop a wildfire plan and take the necessary steps to assist the community to implement the plan. The division’s efforts have been instrumental in more than 40 communities receiving and maintaining Firewise Communities recognition. Additionally, fuel management work has been completed on almost 95,000 acres that impact nearly 60,000 homes and businesses.
Texas Forest Service Prevention and Mitigation Department
The Texas Forest Service Prevention and Mitigation Department is responsible for ensuring that the entire state of Texas has the wildfire training and resources needed to prepare for and withstand wildfire. Its staff of 27 has launched educational programs, training classes and mitigation projects to root Firewise concepts across the state. Program offerings include Firewise Community trainings, Community Wildfire Protection Plan Trainings, Firewise Landscaping Training, and many others. To date, the team has recruited 35 Firewise Communities across Texas with 100 percent retention in the program, and the department continues to expand its wildfire education offerings.
Local level winners:
Melissa Yunas, Florida Division of Forestry, Fla.
As a mitigation specialist, Yunas is responsible for planning and coordinating wildfire mitigation projects in six counties covering over 4,000 square miles surrounding Lake Okeechobee in the southeastern part of Florida’s central peninsula. Her region has a diverse population that exceeds 637,500 residents, many of whom reside seasonally. Because of the sheer size of the region, Yunas leads and teaches other district personnel and non-Division of Forestry partners as a coordinated workgroup to develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans. To date, Yunas has assisted 15 communities in earning Firewise Communities recognition. She is currently working with Glades County leaders to have every community recognized as a Firewise Community.
Seth Sommers, Volunteer Firefighter, Hector Volunteer Fire Department, Ark.
Seth Sommers’ belief in Firewise principles goes far beyond his work as a volunteer firefighter at the Hector Volunteer Fire Department. Completing more than 600 hours of risk assessments as part of a college project, Sommers partnered with the Arkansas Firewise Team to create a wildfire safety presentation which inspired area-specific literature and a series of projects ranging from controlled burns near key residential areas and parks and the removal of brush near a senior citizen center. Sommers’ initial class project has resulted in the certification of six new Firewise Communities in the Pope County area.
Diamondhead Community, Ark.
Diamondhead is recognized for integrating Firewise into the social fabric of its community. Firewise is now a focus of the faith community, private clubs, the local homeowner’s association and public services departments. Community-wide efforts include a designated burn pile to prevent residential yard burns, a beautification committee which keeps trash and debris cleared from ditches and roadways and a liaison to the fire department who monitors for downed debris. The community’s collective efforts have contributed to a 30 percent reduction in the local fire district’s “out of control” burns in the five years of program participation.
The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Communities program encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters, and others in the effort to protect people and property from the risk of wildfire. The program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters. For more information, visit www.firewise.org.