Fire Adapted Communities is a national wildfire education program that is under development in Towns County, along with 17 other pilot communities across the US. The purpose of the program is to educate the public and first responders about the dangers of uncontrolled wildfire while developing emergency survival plans for the eventual wildfire that, as the experts say, will strike where we live eventually. It’s not a matter of if, but when one strikes as many of us experienced last fall!
The result of the Fire Adapted Communities project is to help make the places where we live and work safer from the ravages of a destructive wildfire. A wildfire doesn’t have to be a major spectacular event like we see on TV news in California, but a small one that destroys a home, barn, equipment shed, or business is just as tragic to the people affected. Most of the TV coverage we see about wildfires in the west shows hundreds of homes destroyed in a matter of minutes when a wildfire rolls through, but what we don’t see are the farms and ranches that the fire had to cross and destroy on their way to the subdivisions.
Losses due to wildfire on farms and ranches can be staggering because of the high value of the equipment, livestock, crops, pastures, timber, water systems. This is along with the other components of farm businesses farmers rely on to make their living on their land and produce food to feed the world. Many of these farm assets are not insurable or not insured so the loss can be complete with no recovery possible. If these things were suddenly taken away from them by a wildfire, their lives would never be the same. It can be relatively easy to replace a home with insurance, but most parts of farms are irreplaceable and a loss can destroy what their ancestors worked for generations to build. Recovery can take many more generations or probably not at all.
My mother’s grandmother’s house is still in use on our farm down here on the river. It was built in 1892 and if it were to be destroyed there is no way to recover that part of our history. Back in the 80’s, the main family house, that was built in the early 1800’s as one of the Unicoi turnpike inns, burned with all the original furnishings. That history is now only a memory and gone forever. This happens more than most people think all around the country. A small fire gets out of control and destroys a years’ worth of hay, fences, calves, equipment, barns, and other essential parts of a farm. Imagine if our yearly salary was taken away suddenly along with your home, what would you do?
A Fire Adapted Community is a way of life that can encompass a county, subdivision or a family farm and is a situation where “the population understands the threat posed by wildfires and takes the personal actions necessary to help minimize the risk. The Fire Adapted Communities program is a grassroots approach that concentrates on plans and activities that reduce risk before a wildfire occurs and the FAC concept works by neighbors talking to neighbors to spread the word and achieve the results.
There are many opportunities for a wildfire around farms that can be seen every day, but most don’t think about what could happen with a spark during a dry summer day. They usually don’t keep the grass cut around their barns, and don’t always clear a “defensible space” adjacent to the foundations to stop a small grass fire that can quickly become a raging inferno in their hay barn with no way to put it out. Defensible space is an area (they recommend 30 feet) around a structure where combustible materials are removed so a fire has nothing to burn and will stop before igniting a structure. Most of our rural communities have volunteer fire departments where the firefighters are not on duty 24/7. When a call goes out for a barn fire or equipment shed, it will take some time for the firefighters to get to the station, get the trucks, and get to the fire. By that time, it is usually too late. Defensible space will delay a fire and give firefighters time to arrive on the scene to control the situation. It also allows the landowner to put it out before it destroys what he or she has worked a lifetime to build.
For more information on Fire Adapted Communities, Firewise, or fire on the farm, contact Frank Riley, Chestatee-Chattahoochee RC&D at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at (706) 894-1591.