Communities share forest fire preparedness activities with the online Firewise reporting tool

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Removing pine leaves and needles from gutters reduces materials that embers can ignite.

July 13, 2021 – By Pamela Kan-Rice – Forest fires are more and more frequent, intense and destructive in California. While there are several steps residents can take to reduce the risk of wildfires – including maintaining a defensible space, strengthening homes, and planning evacuations – their collective efforts may be more effective at community-wide, says a co-op extension advisor at the University of California.

“Californians can collaborate and motivate themselves to prepare for forest fires” said Ryan Tompkins, UC Cooperative Extension forester and natural resources advisor. “The more neighbors who prepare their property and their homes, the safer a community is. “

Tompkins worked with communities in Plumas and Sierra counties to become more resilient to wildfires by participating in the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Site USA program. This spring, the town of Quincy officially celebrated its Firewise Site USA status at a wildfire preparedness event hosted by the Plumas County Fire Safe Council and UC Cooperative Extension.

“Once we started to raise awareness in the community, Quincy Firewise achieved our certification quite quickly due to the ease of reporting through the online tool,” said Mike Flanigan, co-owner of the Flanigan-insurance agency. Leavitt to Quincy and Co-Chair of the Quincy Firewise Community. . “The online tool significantly speeds up the collection and reporting processes.

Firewise United States Site requires a community assessment, an assessment-based action plan, and an annual report on volunteer hours and financial investment in accepted forest fire preparedness activities. To save lives and property from wildfires, the program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters.

As part of this effort, Tomkins and Shane Feirer, his colleague in the Computer and Geographic Information System program at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, created an online reporting tool on the Firewise USA site to help communities track the time and money spent clearing vegetation to maintain a defensible space. , public education on forest fires and home improvement.

Ryan Tompkins, seen from behind, slides a flaming block of wood under a wooden deck.
Ryan Tompkins shows how embers can ignite flammable objects under bridges and burn across bridges.

“Not only does this help save the investments of volunteers, but communities can see where the work is taking place and what parts of the community may be underserved by wildfire preparedness efforts,” said Tompkins, who developed the tool for Plumas and Sierra counties has over 25 Firewise USA sites and continues to add more recognized sites.

Richard Stockton, Co-Chair of the Quincy Firewise Community, is pleased with the convenience of UC Cooperative Extension’s electronic reporting tool for Quincy Firewise.

“When we entered into the discussion of creating one of the largest Firewise communities in the state, we wondered how we would have about 2,400 households to report their time and dollars invested using the spreadsheet. volunteer / in-kind tracking, ”Stockton said. , who is an agent for State Farm Insurance in Quincy.

“Mike Flanigan and I are freelancers and we talked about having one of our paid staff put together the current paper tracking sheets and then manually enter the data for our community,” Stockton said. “We didn’t like the idea, but it was what we were willing to do until we found a dedicated volunteer to step in. When Ryan introduced us to the electronic reporting tool, he answered many of our questions about how we were going to print, distribute, collate and then manually enter the paper tracking sheets.

While the idea of ​​the electronic reporting tool wowed Stockton, he retained his judgment until he personally tested its ease of use.

“I downloaded the link to my laptop and smartphone first,” Stockton said. “I was very happy that the tool was easy to use on both devices. I was able to easily enter my data and upload photos. The tool has proven to be easy to pass on to members of our community with a high level of accuracy and efficiency. We need to make sure we have safeguards to protect reporting participants and their personal information. ”

Making it easier to report encourages more people to participate in Firewise USA sites.

“With the precision and efficiency mentioned by Richard, we are well positioned to make a lot more community investments, and at a faster rate than a paper system would deliver,” said Flanagan.

UCCE's Firewise reporting tool shows where residents have taken wildfire prevention measures such as clearing vegetation to maintain a defensible space.
The UCCE Firewise reporting tool shows where residents have taken wildfire prevention measures such as clearing vegetation to maintain a defensible space.

Based on the data, over a three-month period, residents of Plumas and Sierra counties reported investing $ 525,000 in volunteer hours and expenses for wildfire preparedness.

“This includes more than 5,100 hours of volunteer work and almost $ 385,000 of investment in the cost of home improvement contractors, equipment and materials,” Tompkins said. “Not only does this quantify the work that rural residents do, but it demonstrates the potential impact that community efforts could have on wildfire preparedness if they were given more funding to build capacity. This is essential for rural, economically diverse counties with very small populations where capacity through community issues is an eternal stretch. ”

Tompkins believes seeing the cumulative results of residents spending their limited time and hard-earned money to improve the resilience of their community will encourage greater participation.

“Once we have enough data to analyze, we’ll be able to use the tool to identify future areas of our Quincy Firewise community that were missing and that needed more of our focus and attention,” Stockton said.

“I love the electronic reporting tool and the timing is perfect for us as we work with a very large Firewise community.”

The online declaration tool at https://arcg.is/1ebvbL can be modified for use by other communities. For more information on how to prepare for wildfires, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare.
Source: UC ANR



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