Hollister Ranch residents celebrate being a Firewise community. | Credit: Courtesy

Fire season is fast approaching and with the verdant undergrowth from the winter’s heavy rains starting to fade, many of us are dreading the hot, dry months ahead. I have been evacuated from my home twice and now, each time the afternoon winds kick up, I’m reminded of frantically trying to round up my animals and other treasures, as the flames crested the hilltop and furiously bore down on my neighborhood.

My anxiety could sap some of the joy of living in this magnificent place, but I try instead to channel it into wise preparation. I am creating wide swaths of defensible space, limbing up my trees, and figuring how to limit ways embers could enter my home, starting with the simplest and cheapest such as cleaning the gutters and closing gaps where wind-blown sparks could lodge.

My good neighbor is starting to organize us into a Firewise community, and that bit of camaraderie and peer pressure inspires me to act on my good intentions. In my neighborhood, a few of us participated in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training then started organizing the rest of the neighborhood around those principles. And now we are working toward Firewise recognition. These efforts have brought us together as neighbors looking out for each other in ways we had not done previously.

The Fire Safe Council’s Anne-Marie Parkinson speaks to a community member about Firewise communities at the Wildland Residents Association’s annual meeting. | Courtesy

Anne-Marie Parkinson, our County’s Fire Safe Council executive director, is available to help communities through the process mapped out by the National Fire Protection Association. Ten communities in our county have already achieved Firewise readiness. A press conference celebrating our 10th Firewise community will take place on June 9, at 9 a.m. at the Rancho Embarcadero Community Center at 224 Vereda Leyenda in western Goleta. I am hoping my community will be next because the organizing leads to so many benefits.

The San Marcos Trout Club, the first Firewise community in our county, is a finalist for a CalFire Wildfire Prevention Grant to buy a new chipper. The Painted Cave Firewise community is working with the Regional Wildfire Mitigation Program to create a shaded oak fuel buffer at the top edge of their neighborhood. They received startup funding in exchange for agreeing to maintain the area after planting. The Rancho Santa Rita Estates-Cebada Owners Fire Association, just outside Lompoc, is promoting home hardening and explaining the process for getting a burn permit. Santa Barbara Highlands had the highest attendance ever at its annual meeting to discuss Firewise and emergency preparedness.

In addition to grant eligibility and educational opportunities, Firewise communities are prioritized for participation in free chipping and grazing programs overseen by the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council. And the lead organizers are invited to attend the biannual Firewise Leadership Meeting where different communities can discuss the shared challenges and potential for broad community engagement and organization.

After starting to organize for our collective safety, my neighborhood became a more congenial and welcoming place for all of us. In the summer we have a barbecue and periodic after-work get-togethers. In the event of an emergency, we have now identified which neighbors need extra help evacuating, where the generator is stored to run the water pumps if the electricity goes out, and one neighbor has generously created an emergency evacuation route over their land. Participating in Firewise communities will help ensure that this institutional knowledge is passed down to new community members for decades to come.

We are simply a friendlier and more resilient neighborhood knowing that we can rely on each other if disaster threatens. That feeling goes a long way toward assuaging some of my fears about fire. As Dale Carnegie noted, “Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” And don’t hesitate to reach out to Anne-Marie Parkinson to get started. She is eager to help you and your neighborhood realize the benefits of being a Firewise community.

Visit Firewise.org or sbfiresafecouncil.org to learn more!

Joan Hartmann is county supervisor for the 3rd District; Anne-Marie Parkinson, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council, contributed to the piece


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