Ausable River Estates is Michigan’s first Firewise model community

After the May 2010 Meridian Boundary fire just a few miles north of 300-acre subdivision, concerned residents of Ausable River Estates contacted MSU Extension to begin the process of becoming a Firewise model community.

In May 2010, the residents of Ausable River Estates, a 300-acre subdivison near St. Helen in Roscommon County, experienced something they thought only happened in the southwest United States or California and surely not in norther Michigan—a wildfire. The wildfire near the community, which is surrounded by 40,000 acres of state land consisting primarily of jack pine and scrub oak forests, burned more than 8,500 acres of forest, consumed or damaged 18 residences and 39 outbuildings, according to the Houghton Lake Resorter. In response, residents decided they wanted to make their community safer from wildfires and called Michigan State University Extension Firewise representatives Dennis McClure and Phil Secord for help.

By April 2011, the subdivision became the first Firewise model community in Michigan.  

A Firewise model community is typically a subdivision in which residents have recognized that wildfire is a significant threat to their homes, property, and safety, and have taken actions that will reduce or prevent the impact of a wildfire. To qualify for this program, a community must complete an assessment process, create an action plan, form a Firewise board, hold an annual Firewise Day event and invest a minimum of $2 per capita in a local wildfire mitigation project. They must also submit an application to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which coordinates and sponsors the national Firewise program.

Twenty-five years ago, most people believed wildfires occurred only in California and were the result of fate or bad luck. In 1986, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, state forestry agencies, and the NFPA formed a partnership to help communities in the wildland/urban interface become safer. Within a few years, they had established a Firewise website and shared with countless homeowners some simple steps that could be taken to dramatically reduce the risk of home ignition and destruction. Non-flammable roofing, attention to vulnerable areas such as windows, vents and gutters, and selective removal of plants and other flammable objects within 100 feet of a home are the basic Firewise recommendations.

Using fire science research, the program also created a wide variety of informational materials and conducted workshops to teach residents and firefighters how to be safer from wildfire. As a result of these efforts, today more than 700 communities in 40 states are now nationally recognized as certified Firewise communities actively embracing Firewise principles. At their October 2011 Backyards & Beyond Wildland Fire Education conference in Denver, Colorado, NFPA gave special recognition to nine communities that have achieved ten years of continuous Firewise Communities/USA Recognition.

For more information about how your community can become Firewise, visit the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Firewise Communities project website.

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