The Firewise USA® program has received a lot of attention in East Tennessee after the devastating wildfires of 2016. The program is a major component in helping to make our communities safer by reducing hazardous vegetation, improving the fire resiliency of our homes, businesses and other structures, improving access, and other mitigation measures. The Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) concept takes this several steps further. The FAC model looks beyond just trying to reduce fire hazards in our individual homes and communities, and incorporates a much broader array of components. FAC accepts fire as a risk to the community, and uses a collaborative approach to involve everyone, including residents, businesses, local, state, and government officials, non-government organizations, utilities, and other community assets. Each of these entities has a role in reducing the threats of wildfire in the community before fire happens. FAC also incorporates a well-rounded approach to keeping the entire community safe from fire, and includes the following components:
- Firewise USA® – involving home and property owners within the community to reduce fire hazards,
- Ignition-Resistant Structures – involving builders, homeowners, community managers, planners, and inspectors to facilitate fire resistant construction materials and methods,
- Internal Safety Zones – develops safety zones within the community where people can be safe if a fire does occur,
- Land Management – local, state, and federal agencies, and private landowners and organizations that manage land as parks, forests or other agricultural or public interest use best management practices that take into account fire prevention concerns,
- Community Fuel Breaks – fuel breaks around communities are considered and/or utilized to provide a physical break in fuel between wildland and the urban environment,
- Ready-Set-Go Program – promotes preparedness, awareness, ,evacuation for wildland fire emergencies,
- Evacuation Planning – work with all partner agencies and organizations to facilitate planning for mass evacuation and sheltering in the event of an emergency,
- Codes and Ordinances – consider the use of codes and ordinances, through city, county, home owners associations, and other governing bodies to improve fire safety within the community,
- Prevention Education – an active program to promote fire preparedness education, teaching homeowners to prepare their property and their community how to prevent, prepare, and adapt well in advance of a fire event,
- Incident Response Capabilities – determines what resources fire organizations in the community, including cooperating agencies are capable of providing in the event of a fire,
- Cooperative Fire Agreements – develops mutual aid agreements with all local, state, federal and non-government organizations to aid in protection, response, and recovery from wildfires,
- Post Fire Recovery – includes a comprehensive action plan that takes into account what the recovery needs of the community in the event of a devastating fire, and
- Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) – Involves an comprehensive plan for the community to reduce hazards and threats of wildfire in the community.
These FAC components will be explored in more detail in future issues of this newsletter. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry also has excellent publications on FAC. Contact your local Forestry Office for details.
By: Rick Brown, Tennessee Department of Forestry and Holly Campbell, Southern Regional Extension Forestry.
This article previously appeared in the Wildland Fire in the Southeast newsletter.
Appalachian RC&D Council administers Firewise USA® grants provided through the Tennessee Division of Forestry.
Located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the southern Appalachian Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a popular tourist destination. During the fall of 2016, the Southern Appalachian Mountains Region of east Tennessee was experiencing an extreme and prolonged drought. As a result of the dry conditions, several significant wildfires were burning throughout many areas of this region. When an arson fire was ignited on Chimney Tops Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (located about eight miles south of Gatlinburg) around Thanksgiving, few could have predicted the devastating effects the fire would have.
On November 28, 2016, very dry conditions coupled with high winds (over 80 mph) led to firestorm-like conditions in and around Gatlinburg, making it difficult for people to evacuate in a timely manner. Lines of communication failed when trees fell across power, telephone, and cable lines, and disabled cellular and radio towers and equipment.
High winds knocked down trees, blocking many of the narrow, winding roads (as well as some main roads), making many mountain roads inaccessible and causing evacuation problems throughout Gatlinburg and neighboring areas. In all, over 14,000 people were forced to evacuate Gatlinburg and neighboring areas on November 28th.
The fire moved through the Gatlinburg area and on into other areas of Sevier County in a matter of hours. Tragically, the Chimney Tops II Fire, as well as other fires ignited by power lines knocked down by the high winds, resulted in the loss of 14 lives, 176 people injured, 2460 structures damaged or destroyed, 17,140 acres burned, and approximately $1 billion in damages.
To reduce the likeliness of this tragedy occurring again, the City of Gatlinburg is working to improve its emergency management communications and procedures, and has become a recognized Firewise USA® site. In addition, other communities within the City of Gatlinburg have also completed, or are in the process of developing, Community Wildfire Protection Plans and are also seeking Firewise USA® recognition status. The Firewise USA® program is designed to work with communities to help home and property owners reduce their fire risk and become more resilient toward the threat of wildfire. The community of Chalet Village, which is located within the city limits of Gatlinburg, experienced numerous home losses during the 2016 fires. The neighborhood has also obtained recognition as a Firewise USA® site and has begun an aggressive program to adopt Firewise USA® recommendations. One Chalet Village homeowner who lost their home in the fire took the rebuilding process one step further by reconstructing their home with much a much higher level of fire- resistant materials and methods. Even though the homeowners rebuilt in the same location, in heavily forested and steep mountainous terrain, they incorporated significant improvements in the design of the home to improve the fire resiliency of their home.
To reduce fire risk, the entire pedestal type foundation was constructed of concrete. The siding on the home is also made of a concrete, which is one 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick. The patented siding product- made by Old Kentucky Logs in Corbin, Kentucky- is similar to hardy board but resembles the look and feel of antique hand-hewed logs, and is much thicker than hardy board and similar products. This concrete siding is known for its fire-resistance and strength of attachment. In addition, the expansive deck on the residence was constructed with steel supports instead of wood, and the home was constructed with a metal roof. The house sits on a steep slope which contains a heavy fuel loading of dead and regenerating vegetation. For this reason, the homeowner plans to further reduce fire risk by reducing vegetation around the home; and, because of its steep inaccessible grades below the house, is considering the use of goats to help reduce hazardous fuels that may be a threat in the future.
Even though the concrete siding used on the home costs approximately 20% more than other types of siding, it’s potential to significantly decrease future fire risk is critical to making this home more fire-resistant. The builder who constructed this home is interested in helping to promote fire-resilient building standards in the area by using this project as an example of what can be done to make homes more fire-resistant, and safer for the residents and the community.
This project supports the national Cohesive Fire Strategy goal of Promoting Fire Adapted Communities (by incorporating fire-resistant construction materials). This project also supports the Cohesive Fire Strategy’s Southeast Regional Action Plan through:
- Promoting establishment of insurance incentives, building and landscape ordinances, and ignition resistant construction techniques through communication and collective action with planners and insurers, emphasizing Firewise and other similar concepts when planning communities and building homes to reduce wildfire impacts (2.1.3) and
- Increasing awareness of community and homeowner responsibility for fire preparedness and prevention. (2.1.4)
Partners: Smoky Top Construction, Old Kentucky Logs Company, Tennessee Department of Forestry
Additional resources: http://www.oldkentuckylogs.com/about-us/
Contact: Rick Brown, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, Tennessee Department of Forestry, email@example.com
On Wednesday, December 13, the community of Mullins Cove in Whitwell, Tennessee, celebrated its official recognition as a Firewise USA® site. Mullins Cove is the 25th community in Tennessee to earn this distinction.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture-Division of Forestry (TDF) promotes Firewise USA® as part of its Fire Adapted Communities program.
Mullins Cove is a very remote community in of Marion County. The community is nestled between the Tennessee River and Prentice Cooper State Forest. It lies within a winding stretch of road with 22 miles from one end to the other along Mullins Cove/River Canyon Road. There are 350 homes within the community and a population of 1,550 people. Travel time from end to end varies depending on weather conditions, but usually takes 45 minutes at best, as the road is extremely narrow in places. Forest fuels with in and around the community are very dense.
Many local officials from Marion County and neighboring Hamilton County attended this recognition event as well as several members of the TDF. Also in attendance were members of the Mullins Cove Firewise Committee, which included Chairperson Robert Payne and members Brenda Payne and Roger Gregory.
County Mayor David Jackson addressed the audience and spoke of how proud he was of this community to work so hard to attain this recognition.
Assistant District Forester James Dale introduced the TDF Staff which included District Forester Andy McBride, Wildland Fire Chief Wade Waters, Area Forester Brian Haddock and the local fire crew. Jim spoke of the importance of the homeowners of the community to understand that they were the best defense from a wildfire. By taking steps to create defensible space and keep their homes ember resistant, they would be safer as well as the first responders who serve them. Fire Chief Wade Waters presented a statement from State Forester David Arnold congratulated the community and applauded the community for recognizing that risk and preparing for future wildfire threats by safeguarding homes, developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and earning Firewise USA® recognition.
In becoming a recognized community, several requirements must be met. Perhaps the most important is developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. This plan is based on wildfire risk assessments, which are completed by TDF representatives and the locally selected Firewise USA® committee. The committee works with wildland and structural fire representatives to complete the collaborative CWPP. The plan serves as an opportunity to target potential hazard fuel reduction projects, structure ignition concerns, training needs and prevention strategies, and other issues related to fire protection.
Committee Chairperson Robert Payne highlighted the risks identified with in the CWPP. “As our Firewise Committee developed our Community Wildfire Protection Plan, some of the items that were identified were: the need for dry hydrants, continued interaction with the community helping prepare their homes to be of the need to identify safety zones within the community, emergency notification of Mullins Cove residents and the development of a water evacuation plan to safely cross the river.” In closing, Robert pointed out, “The Community and the Firewise Committee realize that we must continue fine tuning our CWPP and especially the above mentioned highlighted points. In the near future, we will be meeting with different groups and individuals to obtain technical information, guidance and ideas on how we can best continue to implement our CWPP.” Robert stated “I rest a little easier at night just knowing we have worked with Jim Dale and David Fiorella and all the Division of Forestry, we have a plan.”
The event wrapped up with James Dale, Wade Waters and Andy McBride presenting the Firewise USA® community recognition sign and plague to committee members; Robert Payne, Brenda Payne and Roger Gregory. The ceremony concluded with a wonderful lunch reception.
Submitted by David Fiorella, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist
Hi, my name is Leon Konz, and I am one of three Wildfire Mitigation Specialists that work for the Buffalo-Duck River RC&D in Centerville, Tennessee. We help the Tennessee Division of Forestry (TDF) make homes and communities safer from wildfires— just like the Appalachian RC&D does; we just help in a different way. You see, the ARC&D has been helping TDF distribute grant funding to many eligible communities for about 15 years to reduce fire risks. All during those years, individuals like myself and TDF Foresters have been out there on the ground working with the community leaders writing protection plans and helping them spend the ARC&D grants as authorized. So we have been working closely with ARC&D for many years, and it has been a fine partnership!
At this point, you may be wondering where this article is going. Well, all of us share concern about making our homes and communities safer from wildfire; the Sevier County Fires of 2016 clearly demonstrated that catastrophic wildfire losses are not just a Western problem. To help spread the word about learning to live with wildfire, myself and my counterparts will occasionally be writing articles to share information on valuable programs, concepts and newsletters. For example, we will write about topics such as community projects that the ARC&D grants have funded, Fire Adapted Communities Concept, fire prevention, Firewise USA, landscaping considerations, ignition-resistant structures, evacuations, community planning and good housekeeping practices. There is even specialized information we will share for those that live on farms.
Lastly, November is the main part of our fall fire season here in East Tennessee. If you have leaves next to buildings, on your roof, in your gutters, on or under your deck you may be at risk from flames and embers! Please check out www.BurnSafeTN.org for helpful information. And, you can always contact your local TDF office or me at firstname.lastname@example.org, cell phone (865) 414-5667 if you need assistance.
After the devastating wildfires of 2016, Gatlinburg and Sevier County Tennessee are receiving unexpected help from the East Tennessee Homeschoolers (ETH) group. The ETH recently obtained induction into the National Beta Club, a non-profit educational organization that promotes today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders. The motto of the National Beta Club is “Let Us Lead by Serving Others”, emphasizing that Service is one of the foundations of their mission.
When it came time to choose a service project this year the group chose as one of their projects Fire Prevention and Serving the People and Land of the 2016 Wildfire. The club presented their service mission and ideas at a National Beta Leadership Summit Expo, their Service Snapshot won a position as qualifier to present at The National Beta Club Convention in Oklahoma. Additionally the group competed in a National Founder’s Day Contest with the National Beta organization and placed first place in the nation. For the project they used FirewiseUSA as their model; kind messages were written on slices of wood from wildfire damaged trees from the Gatlinburg area and information was attached to show where to learn about fire prevention. These wood slices were then handed out at a public event in the area by group members.
To continue with their mission of service, the group is looking forward to serving their community in three areas: Education, Environment, and Community. In doing so they are working with the Tennessee Division of Forestry (TDF), the City of Gatlinburg, and other area communities to help promote Fire Prevention. In addition, they are currently working with the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and TDF to help support a developing volunteer program that is intended to conduct wildfire mitigation around structures inside the national park.
Check out the National Beta Facebook as well as other social media platforms for the winning Founder’s Day project announcement on Wednesday, October 31st.