DEVELOPING YOUR COMMUNITY WILDFIRE PROTECTION PLAN
The 2010 — 2011 Texas wildfire season was a monumental one. Very few areas across the state were unaffected, and to that end, many communities have developed an increased awareness for the unbiased nature of catastrophic wildfires. Now is the time to channel this awareness toward prevention and preparation. With the drought conditions continuing and exacerbating the threat of wildfires, each community should assess its risks and create its Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
The CWPP is a concept that was officially defined in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003. It is a mitigation tool for communities to use in light of the ever expanding Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). As communities grow and expand into once rural areas, the risk of wildfires and associated damage increases.
All of us have the potential to start fires and a Community Wildfire Protection Plan provides the groundwork for what to do to prepare and react to this possibility. As the name would imply, a CWPP is a plan created by a community or county to reduce the risks of wildfire. It needs to be a collaborative effort supported by local, state and federal authorities. At a minimum, a CWPP should establish and prioritize areas of fuel reduction and make recommendations to decrease the potential for infrastructure to ignite. The HFRA requires consensus of these measures by the local government, a local fire authority and a Texas Forest Service (TFS) representative. If federal lands are involved, a federal land manager must also be included in the process and the agreement. The TFS provides a guide to assist communities in building their CWPP while keeping it HFRA compliant. It is the Guidance Document for Developing Community Wildfire Protection Plans. This guide supplies the basic necessities for creating a CWPP, including templates, checklists, examples and helpful contacts.
But how do you know if your county or community needs a CWPP? If your area is near wildland fuels, is considered at-risk for wildfires, encompasses or neighbors any federal lands, then you need a CWPP. Even if your region doesn’t fall into these categories, having a CWPP is more than a plan in the face of wildfires; it’s another way for your community to be prepared for all hazards. According to Justice Jones, WUI and Prevention Program Coordinator for the Texas Forest Service, a completed CWPP can be used as a “portable mitigation template.” Communities have found the information and resources they have gathered for their CWPP invaluable in the face of other emergencies, like flooding or hurricanes. The TFS is working to expand its online tools for CWPP development, including a Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. Jones says the portal will help streamline the fire planning process.
Communities interested in implementing a CWPP already have an example to draw from. Harris County implemented its own Community Wildfire Protection Plan in December of 2011, making it the largest area in Texas to have one. For such a highly populated area that spans both metropolitan and rural lands to create a CWPP is proof that any region in Texas can successfully undertake the process. The four major goals of Harris County’s CWPP focus on increasing public awareness, personal accountability, community resilience and county resources.
Creating a CWPP is not an isolated process. The Texas Forest Service provides excellent resources and assistance. They have experts available to aid in wildfire mitigation planning. The Ready, Set, Go! Program, Firewise Communities and Texas Emerging Communities also provide additional preparedness, wildfire assessment and training information.
Don’t wait for a catastrophic wildfire to assess your region’s safety, capabilities and emergency plans. Use the resources mentioned here to develop a strategy and educate your constituency. By doing so, you will join the other counties and communities in Texas who have a Community Wildfire Protection Plan in place.
Nicole Murray, TDEM Public Information Office