Communities can protect themselves from wildfires
by Rachel Davis
Jul 09, 2012 | 1714 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jason Berry participates in a Firewise program at Copeland Ferry Fire Department. Photo special to the Eagle
Jason Berry participates in a Firewise program at Copeland Ferry Fire Department. Photo special to the Eagle
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People across the country have watched as wildfires rage across Colorado, decimating forests and sending residents fleeing from their homes.

Although Alabama hasn’t experienced the type of widespread fire damage that those in the Midwest have, conditions are right for that exact type of destruction.

The extreme heat, dense forestry and dry summer could combine with devastating results, according to Forest Ranger Technician Jason Berry. He also said that many local homes are built in wooded areas, surrounded by trees and grass.

“Too many people don’t give themselves a lot of defensible space,” Berry said. “A lot of people don’t take precautions.”

There are two programs in place to help communities defend themselves against fire dangers. The first is called Firewise.

Firewise is a resident/home owner-driven program that focuses on educating residents and keeping them informed on how to best defend their property from fire.

In order to become a Firewise community, there are five steps that must be taken:

• Form a Firewise Board. This board must set meeting dates and times and select a president.

• Invest at least $2/capita in Firewise projects. A volunteer hour is worth $21.36 currently. Fire equipment purchases can also count toward this amount.

• Complete a community assessment. This assessment must be conducted and a copy of the report must be given to the state Firewise representative.

• Create a plan. This plan must also be provided to the state Firewise representative.

• Hold an annual Firewise Day. This informs the public about the Firewise effort and gives them tools to help prevent fires around their homes, businesses and community.

Copeland Ferry is the first Walker County community to become Firewise certified. They held their Firewise Day on June 16.

Oakman is slated to become the next Firewise community in Walker County. They have already begun the process.

The second step for community protection is a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The CWPP requires more involvement of local government, local fire department members, state forestry officials and other partners that are not required for the resident-driven Firewise program.

To become a CWPP community, local government (either city or county), local fire departments and the state entity responsible for forest management must all agree on the final plan. Elements of the plan development include:

• Collaboration of all officials who must agree on the final plan.

• Prioritized fuel reduction plan that identifiesand prioritizes fuel reduction treatment on federal and non-federal land in the area. This must also include a recommendation on the types and methods of protecting at-risk community elements and infrastructure.

• Treatment of structural integrity that recommends steps homeowners and communities can take to reduce the chances of structure fires.

Anyone with questions about either of the programs should contact Jason Berry at (205) 384-6344.