The Fire Adaptive Communities Program

The fall of 2016 saw a record breaking fire season in Western North Carolina and across Southern Appalachian Mountains. Drought and high temperatures contributed to large blazes that burned across the region. The spring fire season of 2017 was mercifully relatively mild, however the best available information indicates that more intense fire seasons may become increasingly common.

While fire has been a natural part of Western North Carolina for thousands of years, the ever-growing number of people living on the edge of natural areas in the wildland-urban interface as it is known, means that the growing presence of wildfire increasingly threatens homes and lives. For homeowners, many of whom treasure living in the beautiful forests the region offers, this means that taking initiative to protect their homes and families from wildfire is imperative. The narrow roads and steep inclines of the Appalachian Mountains often make wildland fire fighting extremely difficult. Even in the best of circumstances, fires that threaten homes often require firefighters to make difficult decisions about which of those homes can be realistically and safely defended.

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To help communities and homeowners prepare for the eventuality of wildfire, Southwestern NC RC&D has partnered with other RC&D’s in the Appalachian region to assist communities in implementing Firewise programs and principles. Through the Firewise program, Southwestern NC RC&D works with homeowners to implement landscaping and construction that are better adapted to wildfire. Firewise actions range from small changes, like clearing leaves and branches from gutters and areas close to the home, to larger projects such as choosing non-flammable roofing materials. The Firewise Communities program allows groups of homeowners to work together to create a community that is resilient to fire which is an important process given that wildfires occur across ownership boundaries.

Laurel Kays, Firewise coordinator and forestry project manager for the Southwestern NC RC&D, is encouraged by the potential of the program: “Firewise is a great thing in that it really brings communities together to try and address this very difficult issue. And because of everything that happened last year it’s something people are very in tune with.”

Whatever the intensity of future fire seasons, as populations grow in Western North Carolina, homeowners, families, and communities will increasingly be living in close proximity to forests and fire. Ensuring the safety of those homes and people will rely at least in part on their willingness to proactively protect themselves through Firewise programs and principles.

If you or your community is interested in learning more about or starting a Firewise program in your community, contact Southwestern NC RC&D Council at (828) 452-2519.