What is Firewise?
The Firewise Program has its origins in the 1985 fire season during which 1,400 homes were destroyed making fire managers
acutely aware that the “wildland urban interface” where residences mix with undeveloped forest and open lands was an
unavoidable reality of contemporary firefighting. It’s also a problem that it is national in scope; in other words, wherever there
are forests. The term “Firewise” was coined in the early 1990s to identify the growing knowledge that landowners could use to
reduce their fire risks. A website by this name was launched in 1997 by the National Fire Program Association.
Focused first on simply raising awareness of the potential for fires in semi-urban settings, Firewise program managers moved on
quickly to the task of developing and providing information about the simple and practical techniques homeowners could use to
reduce the risks of home destruction by wildfire.
The two greatest risks to homes during wildfires are: 1) Flammable roof, vulnerable to the embers thrown during a wildfire and,
2) Vegetation close to a house which can catch fire and generate enough heat or flames to ignite siding or other parts of the
Firewise went to work with this information to learn more about how structures burn and, in particular, what causes them to
ignite. This led to the “International Crown Fire Experiments” of 1998 in the Northwest Territory. Scientists set large fires in, on
and near structures of various types to obtain high quality data about how close vegetation could be to a structure yet not put
that structure at risk of igniting from radiant heat. The three main takeaways from this research were that you can significantly
reduce your fire risk by:
Clearing flammable trees and shrubs 30 feet or more from structures,
Making sure small flames in grass or shrubs cannot touch the home, and
Using nonflammable roof materials to minimize the damage that embers can cause.
With reliable, quantitative data in hand, Firewise and its partners disseminated information broadly with the primary message
being “Your home CAN survive a wildfire.” Publications and videos are great tools but hands-on workshops put homeowners in
direct contact with experts and enable attendees to ask specific questions about home materials, vegetation options and other
factors that may affect their home’s survivability.
Firewise workshops are designed to assist community “spark plugs” and provide them the technical information they need to
make a compelling case for becoming Firewise, as well as provide a flexible tool kit they can use to encourage community
involvement and match need to the community in which they live.
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