QUINCY, Mass. - Residents in Saddle Ridge, Texas, know the value of wildfire preparedness: $862,000. That's the estimated value of three homes and several outbuildings that were protected from a fire because the residents had reduced the vegetation around their property before a fire ever started. The fire in Saddle Ridge was among the many wildfires that occurred in Texas in late 2005 and into early 2006.
Saddle Ridge is one of 211 communities across the U.S. to be nationally recognized by the Firewise Communities/USA program for their wildfire mitigation efforts. Eighty-two of those communities earned their recognition in 2006 - a growth of more than 47 percent from 2005 - in states from New York to Alaska.
The U.S. had a record year for wildfires in 2006, which underscores the need for residents to take action now to help their communities become safer from potential fire.
"We are seeing a great trend," said Alan Dozier, chair of the interagency Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Working Team that oversees the national Firewise Communities program. "As the number of recognized Firewise Communities/USA sites continues to grow, neighboring communities are learning that there are real benefits to becoming Firewise themselves. These communities are making wildfire mitigation a priority, and it's quickly becoming contagious."
The Firewise Communities/USA recognition program encourages residents to join together with local fire staff to identify wildfire hazards and implement tailored mitigation programs for their communities. Fire and forestry organizations play an integral role in the program, assisting communities with hazard assessment and local plan development.
Since its inception in 2002, the Firewise Communities/USA recognition program has seen tremendous involvement at the state, tribal, and local level and has driven more than $13 million in community investment of time and resources in wildfire mitigation. There are now 211 active Firewise Communities/USA sites in 33 states, with a 92 percent retention rate over five years.
2006 also marked the five year anniversary for the original 11 Firewise Communities/USA sites that still retain their recognition status. Each year these communities have continued to ensure that residents are performing necessary actions to prepare for the threat of wildfires around their homes. In addition, each of the communities has observed a Firewise Communities/USA day each year that is dedicated to a local Firewise project.
"Working with residents of energized communities like the 11 that have made a five-year commitment to Firewise Communities/USA is pure pleasure," said Judith Leraas Cook, project manager for the Firewise Communities/USA program. "The most important part of this program is the people who make it work where they live. Their can-do attitudes and their common purpose make me proud every day."
For more information on the Firewise Communities/USA program, please visit www.firewise.org/usa.
Firewise Communities/USA is a part of the national Firewise Communities program, an interagency program designed to encourage 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 sponsored by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Wildland/Urban Interface Working Team, a consortium of wildland fire agencies that includes the USDA Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, state forestry organizations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Emergency Management Association, the US Fire Administration, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Fire Protection Association. For more information, visit www.firewise.org.