Department of Environmental Conservation

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FIREWISE NY Communities

Protect Your Community from Wildland Fires

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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers and the national Firewise Communities program are working to inform New York State residents about wildland fire safety and prevention.

Firewise Communities

Home in a woodland setting

Communities within or bordering wildlands can take collective measures to reduce the risks of death, injury, or damage to the structures for residents of the community. While people can take steps to protect their homes individually, working with their neighbors to protect the entire neighborhood is a more efficient and effective means of providing protection.

When a residential community has taken proactive measures to prepare homes to survive wildland fire, the whole area is better protected, and, in the event of a fire, firefighters are better able to focus more of their resources on the main body of the fire.

Neighborhoods and communities can take a number of measures to reduce wildfire risks:

Fuel Reduction Activities

Man putting limbs into a chipper
  • Host a "chipping day" for residents to remove excess vegetation from their property, as well as community property like parks and the grounds around town halls and libraries.
  • Hold a pine needle or debris removal day in cooperation with the local fire department.
  • Create a fuel removal project that enlists local volunteers.
  • Conduct a Firewise Hazard Assessment and advise homeowners on specific measures they can take to improve their chances of surviving a wildfire.

Education Activities

Classroom of people learning firewise techniques
  • Hold a Firewise education day that provides information about Firewise construction and landscaping practices, introduces local fire prevention and firefighting staff, and distributes pertinent Firewise information.
  • Place articles in the local paper about wildland fire and the need for your community to be prepared.
  • Conduct Firewise landscaping and construction information sessions at a home and garden center or hardware store.
  • Enlist local fire staff to conduct a wildfire hazard overview at a community meeting.Distribute Firewise information at community festivals.
  • Include Firewise tips for homeowners in community newsletters.
  • Conduct Firewise information sessions at neighborhood association meetings.

Planning and Preparation Activities

Prominently displayed house number
  • Modify homeowner association covenants to include Firewise concepts.
  • Develop a wildfire pre-incident plan for the community.
  • Ensure that street and address markings are clearly visible.
  • Ensure that homes are accessible to firefighting equipment.
  • Develop and ensure adequate water supply for fighting fires.
  • Develop evacuation plans and routes.

Municipalities and homeowner associations may also develop planning and zoning statutes, building codes, vegetation management, and other ordinances that incorporate Firewise practices. Ordinances will help guide homebuilders to incorporate Firewise concepts when building. More importantly, communities should not create ordinances that conflict with Firewise concepts, such as a ban on tree removal, or a requirement for a specific type of fence or building material that is highly flammable.

Firewise Communities/USA

Firewise Community USA Logo

In cooperation with National Association of State Foresters (NASF), Firewise Communities has developed a nationwide program to recognize communities that maintain an appropriate level of fire readiness-Firewise Communities/USA. This program is of special interest to small communities and neighborhood associations that are willing to reduce wildfire risks by adopting and implementing programs tailored to their needs. Communities create these programs themselves with cooperative assistance from NYSDEC and local fire staff.

Many states are administering grants for Firewise activities using National Fire Plan monies. For example:

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Region II (which serves New York) - Contact FEMA at 26 Federal Plaza, Room. 1307, New York, NY 10278-0001. Telephone 212-680-3600. - Use the "Grants" link in the right column to electronically find and apply for more than 1,000 competitive grant opportunities from all federal grant-making agencies.

Becoming a Firewise Community

ECO presenting Firewise Communities award
  • Complete a community wildfire risk assessment and create a plan that identifies agreed-upon achievable risk-reduction solutions to be implemented by the community.
  • Sponsor a local Firewise Task Force Committee, which maintains the Firewise Communities/USA program and tracks its progress or status.
  • Observe a Firewise Communities/USA Day each year that is dedicated to a local Firewise project.Invest a minimum of $2.00 per capita annually in local Firewise projects-work by municipal employees or volunteers using municipal and other equipment can used to calculate the investment, as can state and federal grants.
  • Submit an annual report to Firewise Communities/USA that documents continuing compliance with the program.

Contact the DEC Forest Ranger office or visit the Firewise Communities/USA website to find out more about how to begin the process of becoming a Firewise Community/USA.