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Firewise Communities

About the Program:

If you are already part of a Neighborhood Fire Safe Council, you know the benefits of working with your neighbors to make your community more resilient to wildfire. Firewise USA® offers national recognition and certification as a Firewise Community—a greater level of neighborhood coordination—by providing a process to take action and become more prepared for wildfire. The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council will help your neighborhood navigate the process and complete these steps to become a recognized Firewise USA site.

Some Examples of What a Firewise Community does: 

  1. Get to know one another and develop a contact list for the neighborhood.
  2. Hold regular meetings to share information and plan events.
  3. Promote wildfire education.
  4. Hold evacuation drills.
  5. Hold a neighborhood walk to note areas that need improvement.
  6. Learn from your Fire Department how to make your neighborhood more defendable.
  7. Help organize Community Chipper Day events in your neighborhood.

What are the Benefits: 

Firewise sites promote a culture of readiness and action that will save lives and homes in the event of a wildfire. Working together to identify risks and solve problems, the neighborhood take on projects that may be overwhelming alone. Neighborhood clean-up days and evacuation drills turn burdensome and scary challenges into communal events.

The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council can provide organizational assistance to each Firewise site. We work directly with each Firewise site to inform residents about personal preparedness and the best practices for hardening homes and creating fire-smart lawns. If most homeowners in a neighborhood just do some work to clean up their yards and fireproof their homes, the whole community is much less vulnerable to fire. An active Firewise site is nationally recognized as a fire-adapted community. 

New rules are taking shape in California that will push insurance companies to provide discounts to certified Firewise Communities. For a link to the CA Department of Insurance webpage that lists companies already offering discounts, click HERE. (Always contact your insurance company directly to see if your property qualifies.) 

Steps to become a Firewise Community: 

1. Form a Firewise Board/ Committee

Form a board/committee that’s composed of residents and other applicable wildfire stakeholders. Consider inviting your local fire department and the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council. This group will identify the Firewise site’s boundaries and size, which  need a minimum of 8 individual single-family residential units, with a maximum of 2,500. The group will also develop the site’s risk reduction priorities, a multi-year action plan, and complete the annual renewal requirements needed to retain an “in good standing” status. Every single resident does not need to participate in your Firewise activities to be a part of your Firewise Community, just enough to complete the requirements.

2. Create a Wildfire Risk Assessment

Your Firewise committee will work together to write a wildfire risk assessment with the help of your local fire department and The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council. It’s important that the community take ownership and learn the concepts required to identify and reduce wildfire risks and hazards. The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council will help to organize a one-day tour of the neighborhood in order to complete the assessment, which will be the board/committee’s primary tool in determining the risk reduction priorities within your site’s boundaries. Risk assessments are updated every five years. 

3. Develop an Action Plan

As of 2022, Firewise USA requires California Firewise sites to use the template below for their action plan. An action plan is a prioritized list of risk reduction projects that a Firewise site will complete over three years. It includes suggested homeowner actions and education activities. Action plans are developed by the board/committee and need updating at least every three years. The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council has a list of example activities that we can help to implement to make this action plan simple to complete. 

4. Conduct Educational Outreach

Each participating site is required to have a minimum of one wildfire risk reduction educational outreach event annually. An easy way to accomplish this is to take advantage of the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council’s educational programs. 

5. Make a Wildfire Risk Reduction Investment

Each Firewise Community is required to annually invest one volunteer hour (monetary equivalent $29.95 in CA) for each home within its boundary. Note: Firewise USA Sites are NOT required to invest or pay any cash to meet the risk reduction investment obligation. Your volunteer time, and the time spent by homeowners clearing their property, count toward the investment.  Look at it this way: each homeowner must invest and document one hour of work towards reducing wildfire risk. That’s it! And if you invest two hours of work, you’ve got your neighbor covered.

This Annual Commitment can include meeting attendance, consultations with arborists and fire professionals, and regular defensible-space and home-hardening maintenance done by either you or professional landscape/tree service contractors. Tracking volunteer hours can be as simple or as sophisticated as the group decides. For example, Sherwood Firewise, a longstanding Firewise Community in Brooktrails, northwest of Willits, has created an easy, user-friendly way to track volunteer hours, which you can find here and use as a sample for your own tracking process.

6. Application

The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council will help you prepare your application, and can manage the application and renewal process for you. You may start an application at any point in the overall process by creating a site profile in the Firewise USA™ portal. Once all criteria are complete, the electronic application can be submitted. State liaisons will approve applications, with final processing completed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Then keep up the good work! Continue to fulfill your Annual Commitment and work with the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council to complete projects in your Action Plan and pursue grant funds.

At our online Neighborhood Fire Safe Council leadership meeting on October 25, we enjoyed a very informative and helpful presentation by CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Shane Vargas, who is also our Firewise USA Northern California area liaison officer. 

Chief Vargas shared what it means to be a Firewise Community, how to become one – and why your neighborhood should consider doing that. Watch this 46-minute presentation, and then start talking with your neighbors who might also like to live in a Firewise community. If you’ve already started discussing neighborhood risks and workdays, for instance, you might find you’re already halfway there!

If you have any questions about becoming Firewise, reach out to Eva King, Outreach Coordinator for the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council