A formidable Fire Council is to be envied in any Homeowners Association (HOA) or residential community. After 20 years of hard work, the Hi Lo Fire Council (HLFC) has not only achieved that status, but they have earned the prestigious Firewise Community award. Through education initiatives and boots-on-the-ground grunt work, HLFC has mastered the art of home protection to a point that they are now a council that is highlighted as a program to be praised and used as a model for those just beginning their journey.
The homes in the HLFC territory are arrayed within the Beaver Ranger District inside the Fishlake National Forest. They are surrounded by tall mountains, lush vegetation, and large Ponderosa Pine trees along with a mixture of thick undergrowth. Unfortunately, this natural beauty can sometimes also be a potential risk area for wildfires. The locals here understand this and have an intense love for “their mountain” and the preservation of its natural resources. As such, this hamlet took it upon themselves to form their own Fire Council in the fall of 2002.
In the beginning years, the HLFC launched fundamental education efforts. These awareness “baby steps” started with knocking on their neighbor’s doors, handing out brochures and talking to residents about what homeowners could do with their properties to help reduce the potential fire fuels around their houses. “It was a lot of hard work starting out,” said one council member. “But with neighbors helping neighbors, and the fuel hand crews (paid for by grants from their matching funds) the community keeps the momentum going strong.”
Around that same time, they also inaugurated a work weekend event known affectionately as Chipfest. Every year in late September, the locals dedicate a whole weekend to cleaning out all their lawn debris to keep their homes safe. They trim trees, cut tall grasses, prune overgrown bushes and rake up any forest items that could be a prime fire hazard. Then they cut and organize all the dead waste products into piles and place them in front of their houses ready for pick up. A local fuels crew travels around from home to home with a woodchipper machine and truck to process or “chip” the dead fuel materials into small bits and hauls it away for free. This cleaning-out operation creates a much-needed defensible space against wildfire.
The second day of the festival is reserved for a large BBQ dinner. Local legislators, fire officials and community stakeholders join the residents for a time of education and socializing. The event has been so successful other neighboring subdivisions have asked to join the HLFC. They have now grown to include Ho Lo Estates, Whispering Pines, Canyon Breeze, Hi Lo Heights, Mountain Glade, Arrowhead, and Eagle Point subdivisions, as well as several independent homeowners on private lands. Locals will tell you they eagerly await the homegrown community protection event and plan their outdoor grooming around it.
Another successful feather in their cap is the creation of a Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan. They did this by receiving and implementing expert advice from numerous counties, state, and national entities. This fluid working document has helped guide their steps and their cooperation initiatives with the local Beaver County Fire Warden, the US Forest Service (USFS), the State of Utah’s Department of Natural Resources and the State of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. And it has become the basis on which they apply for and receive grant monies and shared stewardship partnerships. They recommend anyone who is initiating a Fire Council in their area to create such a document early on in their formation.
Most recently, HLFC is being held up as an example of what Fire Councils should be. In 2015, with the help of partners Wende Wilding (USFS), George Humphreys (Beaver County Fire Warden), and John Schmidt (Utah DNR), the HLFC received the coveted national designation of being a Firewise Community. This nationwide program recognizes localities for taking action to protect people and properties from the risk of fire in the wildland/urban interface. Applying Firewise Community techniques to landscapes can slow a fire, and even turn it away from a home resulting in saving lives, property and making firefighters jobs safer. Each year to qualify and keep the Firewise Community designation, a Fire Council must meet a set of voluntary criteria on an annual basis to retain their “In Good Standing” status.
The prestigious Firewise Community rating is coveted as it helps keep homeowner’s insurance prices low and opens doors to new grants the residents can apply for as a community. So far, they have been able to capitalize on the prominence to widen driveways and roads, add address signs, increase the number of nearby fire hydrants, as well as appropriate and use fire mitigation materials in constructing their homes and cabins.
After 20 years, this beautiful mountain council continues to be active, strong, and successful in addressing their risks and identifying potential fire conditions that exist where they live. Please help us congratulate HLFC for their outstanding work and hold them up as a great example to other residential areas throughout the forested lands.