SD Wildland Fire making push for 'fire wise' communities

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

The Black Hills is no stranger to wildland fires, but with education and the development of "fire wise" communities, property owners have a higher probability of avoiding major damage.

"Firefighters can't do the work alone,” Jeni Lawver, a public information officer for SD Wildland Fire said. “There just aren't enough resources out there for firefighters to be able to save all homes in the wildland-urban interface. So the more that the public does, the more that homeowners and landowners do to help firefighters in the event of a wildland fire, the better chances of a firefighter saving their homes."

A wildland-urban interface is the area between unoccupied land and developed land.

The South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire is taking major steps in establishing fire wise communities.

Silver City Volunteer Fire Chief Todd Tobin describes the program as allowing neighbors and the community to take part in mitigation efforts that would help them in a wildland fire incident. Being a fire wise community isn't only about protecting your own property - instead, it's a group effort to protect everyone.      

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"In a community where the houses are fairly close together, a lot of times they're not able to reach the full home ignition zone treatment, because it goes into your neighbor’s property,” said Logan Brown, an urban interface specialist for SD Wildland Fire. “So you could do work, but if your neighbor doesn't, your home could still be threatened.”

To become a fire wise community, an urban interface specialist must first recommend safety improvements. 

"We'll take pictures of things that the community is doing well and things that the community needs to improve on,” Brown said. “We write this final report or assessment, and we give that to the landowners. Then, over the course of the years, they're able to work on the recommendations in that report."

The initial assessment is free, but it's still up to the community to unite and mitigate around their home.

"There is no start up fee,” Brown said. “They will have to meet a $2 per capita, so $2 per resident at the community, and that can be in the form of payments for fuel reduction projects or volunteer hours for fuel mitigation work."

That $2 stays within the community to pay for mitigation efforts. Once the first mitigation project is completed, they will receive a certificate naming them a fire wise community.

With a high number of wildfires nationwide, fire wise communities are becoming popular across the country. In turn, some insurance companies are beginning to give discounts for homeowners in fire wise communities.

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