Photo Credit: Photo from Steve Marfongella’s presentation at a meeting in CO in June.
Baker County, Florida, one of the FAC Network’s pilot communities, recently hosted a Fire Adapted Communities Seminar and Luncheon at the agricultural extension office in Macclenny, Florida. Baker County has undertaken significant efforts to identify and reduce wildfire risk though out the county, and this seminar was an opportunity to engage community members in the work. In total, 46 community and forestry representatives attended the three-hour event.
Baker County Fire Chief Steve Marfongella opened the presentations by welcoming attendees and introducing the speakers, Florida State Forester Jim Karels and National Forests in Florida Forest Supervisor, Julian Affuso. They explained how the Florida Forest Service became a FAC Network hub organization one of only 17 in the nation, and how they selected Baker County as a pilot community to demonstrate fire adapted community strategies. Nancy Oliver, Taylor Firewise Co-Chair explained, “Baker County has invested in the Firewise Communities program and made significant impacts on rural areas at high-risk for wildfire, such as the community of Taylor.” Additionally, Oliver said, “Baker County has emphasized coordination with partners, the planning of risk reduction activities, and outreach to community residents. All of which made the county an ideal pilot location in the Southeast.”
Florida Forest Service Suwannee Forestry Center Manager Sam LeNeave and Osceola National Forest Fire Management Officer Pete Myers presented a computer graphic simulation of a lightning-caused wildfire started in the Osceola National Forest and burning into the community of Sanderson. In this example, multiple homes were threatened and evacuations were required. The presenters explained that under windy and dry conditions, this scenario could happen anywhere in Baker County.
Florida Forest Service Chief of Forest Protection John Fish explained a fire adapted community is a human community consisting of informed and prepared citizens collaboratively planning and taking action to safely co-exist with wildland fire. The key points of this premise are:
- Because fire risk is shared by all stakeholders, a fire adapted community strategy stresses that all stakeholders share responsibility for mitigating fire risk;
- Stakeholders in a fire adapted community include residents, businesses, policy makers, land managers, responders as well as local, state, tribal and federal government;
- Cohesion among the various players is key to success;
- Every community is unique and therefore, inputs needed to become fire adapted vary from community to community;
- The more actions a community takes, the more fire adapted it becomes; and
- Becoming a fire adapted community is a continuous process that requires maintenance and adaptation to ensure actions are effective.
The next two speakers, Steve Marfongella and retired Fire Chief Richard Dolan, detailed the long history of wildfire in Baker County, highlighting the 2007 Bugaboo Fire that consumed more than 120,000 acres and caused the evacuation of the community of Taylor. Not one home was lost and no injuries resulted from a potentially devastating fire because of the planning and implementation of wildfire mitigation activities that had already taken place.
Doc Bloodworth, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist with Florida Forest Service, elaborated on what we have accomplished so far and where we need to go from here. Based upon the wildland fire mitigation strategies of the 2012 Baker County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, outreach activities for the future include the seminar, hazardous fuels reduction demonstrations using mechanical treatments and prescribed fire, and the formation of Fire Prevention Teams to engage residents. The goal is to expand the Taylor Firewise Community model of wildfire hazard mitigation into other areas of the county considered highest priority for mitigation activities.
Taylor Firewise Co-Chair, Nancy Oliver, wrapped up the seminar by explaining the roles of key community stakeholders, and why they are critical to the Baker County fire adapted community process. Essential to this process are local planners, county and city officials, business leaders, along with homeowners, and volunteer groups such as the Garden Club and Master Gardeners. The future of Baker County’s fire adapted community should involve the creation of a “Fire Adapted Coalition” to identify wildfire risks in the county and to develop and implement projects and programs that will protect the citizens. Local residents interested in being a part of Baker County’s Fire Adapted Coalition are asked to contact Nancy Oliver at double00 (at) nefcom.net or Doc Bloodworth at doc.bloodworth (at) freshfromflorida.com.
The seminar was made possible through a partnership with the Florida Forest Service, USDA Forest Service and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The FAC Learning Network provided financial support for the event.
It is hoped that other areas of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia will soon follow Baker County’s leadership in fire adapted communities implementation.
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