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Living With Fire Program receives national Wildfire Mitigation Award

Posted 3/16/2015

Sonya Sistare, Ed Smith and Ann Grant

National Wildfire Mitigation Award recipients, left to right: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Marketing Specialist Sonya Sistare and Natural Resources Specialist Ed Smith; and Ann Grant, Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities advisory board member. Photo courtesy of Theresa Danna-Douglas, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Cooperative Extension creates partnerships to lead the way in establishing fire adapted communities

When those from across the country who are involved in protecting homes and land from wildfires meet in Reno, Nev., at the national Wildland Urban Interface Conference next week, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program will be honored with a national Wildfire Mitigation Award for its leadership role in promoting fire adapted communities. The Living With Fire Program was nominated by the Nevada Bureau of Land Management.

The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are the highest national honor one can receive for outstanding work and significant impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation. Less than two dozen such awards will be presented at 1:30 p.m., March 25, at the conference being held at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno. The awards are jointly sponsored by the heavy-hitters in the field, including the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association and the USDA Forest Service.

Since 1997, the Living With Fire Program has been teaching homeowners how to live more safely with the wildfire threat. The collaborative program is co-managed by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Natural Resources Specialist Ed Smith and Marketing Specialist Sonya Sistare. The program has received numerous awards, and been credited with spurring actions that have saved many homes.

In 2009, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy set establishing fire adapted communities as one of three national goals. Smith and Sistare now incorporate this goal into all their efforts, promoting the idea that a community should collectively strive to be able to survive a wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters. In a survey of homeowners reached by the program in 2013, 92.6 percent of homeowners reported they had taken steps on their properties to become more fire adapted. Last year, the program also established the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities.

"Living With Fire has been way ahead of the curve," said Mike Brown, Fire Chief for North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District and First Vice President of the Nevada Fire Chiefs Association. "The program really helped set the stage for fire adapted communities becoming a national goal. They have been very generous in allowing what they’ve done to be used nationally, and it’s been a great success."

Former Montana Fire Safe Council Executive Director Matt Walcott appreciates the work of the Living With Fire Program, stating, "The Nevada Living With Fire Program is one of the most influential and successful programs of its kind nationwide. Montana has directly benefitted from this program, as have many others."

Smith and Sistare say the success of the program is due to collaboration with numerous organizations and individuals. In fact, one of the program’s longtime volunteers, Ann Grant, an advisory board member of the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities, will also receive one of the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards. Grant’s work since 2005 in her Skyland community at Lake Tahoe has resulted in 200 of the community’s 235 homes (85 percent) now being in compliance with defensible space requirements. She will be recognized with a Community Wildfire Preparedness Pioneer Award at next week’s conference.

"Ann is without a doubt our most valuable asset," Sistare said. "Her tireless energy and devotion is inspiring. She helps residents in her own community, as well as others throughout Nevada, to learn and take action to reduce their wildfire threat."

Living With Fire partners include the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Division of Forestry, Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators, U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Regional Fire Chiefs Association, Nevada State Fire Marshal Division and more than 130 program collaborators statewide. Go to www.livingwithfire.info/ for information on protecting your home and community from the threat of wildfire, and to www.stateforesters.org/mitigation for information on the Wildfire Mitigation Awards.

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