From Protection to Preparation
Last year, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, representatives from local, state and federal firefighting agencies and the Nevada Fire Safe Council introduced the concept of Fire Adapted Communities (FACs) to several Washoe County neighborhoods. FACs are communities located in wildfire-prone areas that can survive wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters. During a wildfire, FACs reduce the potential for loss of human life, minimize damage to homes and infrastructure, and reduce firefighting costs.
The FAC concept represents a departure from traditional thinking about our response to the wildfire threat. Historically, we responded by protecting communities with firefighters and equipment when wildfire occurred. In FACs, the emphasis changes from "protection of communities" to "preparation of communities."
Why the change? In 2009, the nation’s wildfire experts were assembled to discuss some disturbing projections. These projections included:
- Fire seasons will become longer, more intense and wildfires will be more difficult to control.
- The number of people living in or adjacent to high fire-hazard areas will increase.
- Our firefighting resources will not keep pace with the increased wildfire threat.
They concluded that the economic, environmental and societal costs of wildfire will dramatically increase in the future. In response, FACs were identified as a key component to minimizing the anticipated impacts from wildfire.
The FAC concept also shifts the responsibility for dealing with the wildfire threat from being solely the fire department’s task to the community as a whole. Properly preparing a community to survive a wildfire takes a diverse group of individuals and skills including:
Roofers: To install fire-rated roofs, repair roofs in poor condition and install birdstops in barrel tile roofs.
Construction workers: To replace single-paned windows, install flame- and ember-resistant vents or cover vents with wire mesh, use ignition-resistant siding materials and fill gaps between siding and trim with caulk.
Landscape professionals: To design attractive landscapes that are also effective as defensible space, prune trees to remove ladder fuels, thin sagebrush, use ignition-resistant plant materials near the home, mow weeds and install irrigation.
Fire department defensible space inspectors: Meet with homeowners, conduct property evaluations, identify problems and offer mitigation advice.
Nevada Fire Safe Council chapter leader: To organize community members, host events, coordinate wildfire fuels reduction projects and help pursue grants for community projects.
Local, state, federal and private fuel managers: To thin shrubs and trees to create community fuelbreaks, use prescribed fire to reduce fuels and graze livestock to consume grass fuels.
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension educators: To teach wildfire threat-reduction skills to homeowners, produce Living With Fire education materials, write newspaper articles about FACs and conduct applied research on wildfire-related topics.
In addition to these examples, there are many other people who have a role in creating FACs, such as architects, planners, law enforcement, youth groups, Red Cross volunteers, open space managers, insurance agents, Realtors and others. But often the most important person is the homeowner.
Creating FACs won’t happen overnight, but we can start the journey today. Use the FAC concept to influence your decisions about home maintenance, landscaping, management of community open space and other aspects of your community. Builders, roofers, landscapers and other businesses can use FAC concepts in promoting the need for their services. For more information about FACs, go to www.LivingWithFire.info.