Community picnics like this one in Lake Tahoe help build relationships between neighbors and with emergency service organizations. Photo Credit: Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team.

Topic: Collaboration Planning Type: Essay

Homeowner Initiative Builds Community Partnerships

Author: Forest Schafer, Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team

The 18 member organizations of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team recently collaborated with the public to develop an updated Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for the Lake Tahoe Basin. The plan is tiered to the Cohesive Strategy, and its primary goal is to create fire adapted communities where agencies, organizations, groups and individuals join together to prepare for wildfire.

CWPPs should engage diverse audiences, including planners, implementers, civic and community leaders and the general public. Sprinkled throughout the Tahoe CWPP are articles from authors of diverse backgrounds to provide a broader context and more diverse perspectives. The first contributed article in the plan was authored by Ann Grant, a Tahoe resident and community “spark plug.” Ann was a recipient of the Community Wildfire Preparedness Pioneer award at the 2015 IAFC Wildland-Urban Interface Conference. Her article details her experience recognizing her community’s risk, and how she was able to work in partnership with fire agencies and her neighbors to take action.

Building Partnerships and Reducing Risk – A Community Leader’s Perspective
By Ann Grant, Skyland Fire Adapted Community
Reprinted with permission

“The Skyland Community is a neighborhood of about 250 homes in Zephyr Cove, Nevada, along the east shore of Lake Tahoe. The Gondola Fire in 2002 burned hundreds of acres and threatened hundreds of homes just a few miles away. Afterward, I learned about what other nearby communities were doing to prepare for wildfire, and I realized that my neighborhood, too, could be threatened by a fire. I was unfamiliar with defensible space, wildland firefighting, and forestry principles, but I knew that our community needed to take charge of our wildfire danger and take action to reduce our risk.

In 2005, we joined the Nevada Fire Safe Council and received a small grant of $200. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to mail educational material to all of our homeowners, and to organize a community meeting at Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. Our Fire District and Fire Safe Council representatives were always available for guidance and education, and were able to provide more help as our community became more involved.

As time went on, I was able to build close relationships with our Fire District, with organizations that provide grant funds, and with the agencies that manage land around our neighborhood. I worked with the Fire District to encourage our homeowners to create defensible space. I participated in defensible space evaluations, got to know my neighbors, and helped reach out to non-resident homeowners. It was a great learning experience.

We’ve received several grants to complete fuel reduction projects within our neighborhood, and we’ve partnered with the US Forest Service to join our work on private property with nearby projects on government land. Today, over 90% of our properties have defensible space, and extensive fuel reduction work has been completed within and surrounding our community. We are now a member of the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities, and we’re making sure to maintain the work we’ve done, and doing more where we can. We recently held an evacuation drill to make sure our neighborhood is ready to evacuate quickly and safely. We’ve taken responsibility for our risk, and are prepared for the next wildfire.”