The first National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is May 3

As most Michigan wildfires occur in the spring, participate in this day of action to reduce your wildfire risk.

On Saturday, May 3, individuals and communities across the United States will be devoting anywhere from a few hours to the entire day performing a variety of tasks to reduce the risk of their homes and property suffering damage or destruction by wildfire. This first nationwide day of effort is being coordinated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in collaboration with Fire Adapted Communities and State Farm Insurance. While NFPA has produced educational, print materials and other resources focused on wildfire prevention for many years, partnering this year with State Farm has enabled them to expand their outreach efforts. They initiated two distinct outreach efforts and with grant funds from State Farm, for the first time ever, NFPA was able to offer a monetary incentive to encourage individuals and communities to take wildfire preparedness actions.

In fall of 2013, NFPA launched their 1,000 Safer Places: the Firewise Challenge to encourage increased participation in the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program. As part of this campaign, NFPA invited enrolled communities to apply for funding to assist with their wildfire mitigation activities during 2014 including chipping brush and removing vegetation to reduce wildfire hazards. Five winning communities were selected to receive $5,000 each while five others were named runner-ups and were granted $900 to purchase safety gear, tools or assist with a mitigation project. The number of communities currently enrolled and actively maintaining their status in this national recognition program stands at an all-time high of 1030 communities located in 41 different states.

Ausable River Estates, near St. Helen in Roscommon County is the first, and only to-date, Michigan community to achieve this status. Located a few miles from the May 2010 Meridian Boundary Fire, residents of this 300-acre subdivision, realized that being surrounded by 40,000 acres of state land, comprised primarily of jack pine and scrub oak, they needed to be proactive and prepare for future wildfires that were likely to strike in their area.

On April 14, 2011, a ceremony was held recognizing their community for completing the five steps required to receive official Firewise Community designation. Initially, a community must obtain a written wildfire risk assessment, from their local fire department or state forestry agency, which in Michigan is the Department of Natural Resources. Secondly, the community is asked to form a board or committee which then is tasked with creating an action plan tailored to the wildfire risk assessment. Holding a Firewise Day event is the next step. The focus of this day can range from educational in nature to a clean-up or chipping day to address existing wildfire mitigation issues.

One requirement is the community invests a minimum $2 per capita in their Firewise activities for the year. In-kind contributions of equipment use and expert volunteers can be included as well as cash to satisfy this requirement. Once the community has met these criteria, they must submit an application to their state Firewise liaison. To maintain ongoing certification, communities submit an annual renewal form reporting briefly on their past year Firewise Day activities and investments.

Ausable River Estates, like many communities across the country, already has plans in place for conducting their annual Firewise Day on May 3 in support of this first National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Dennis McClure, MSU Extension Firewise educator, worked closely with Ausable River Estates during their initial Firewise Community application process. He states, “The Ausable River Estates community has done an incredible job planning, organizing and implementing Firewise projects that have resulted in a large increase in safety from wildfires.”

This year, NFPA’s outreach campaign focused specifically on their inaugural National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, offering grants of $500 to 20 communities for use in completing a wildfire preparedness project of their choosing. Over 80 communities nationwide applied to be named one of the 20 communities selected for funding. Whether selected for funding or not, communities as well as individuals can access their website to browse a variety of wildfire preparedness project ideas and links to websites for other organizations featuring additional preparedness resources. You can learn what steps to take when developing a home evacuation plan, gets tips for creating a family communication plan, and essential items to include in a 3-day emergency kit.

Have a budding artist in the family? Children ages 6-18 can submit an original drawing on the theme of “wildfire preparedness-living compatibly with nature” for NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program 2015 Firewise calendar. Fourteen drawings will be selected with each winning artists receiving a $25 Amazon gift card. Each year the contest focuses on a different wildfire-related theme. Contest rules and a downloadable entry form are available on the Firewise website.

An excellent resource to assist in preparing for wildfire is eXtension’s Wildfire page. The site offers informative articles and webinars posted by members of the eXtension Wildfire Information Network (eWIN). Topics include wildfire behavior; what to do before, during, and after wildfire; and recommendations for construction materials and landscaping in wildfire prone areas.

For Michigan-specific wildfire resources, visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Fire Management page. Learn what you can legally burn outdoors and when it is safe to burn. Burn permit updates are provided daily via an interactive map. Additional wildfire resources, as well as contact information for Extension staff who provide wildfire programming in your area, can be found at the Michigan State University Extension Firewise website

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