Firewise® Community Requirements
Published:May 2, 2023
Edited:November 8, 2023
Discover the requirements to become a Firewise® community such as conducting risk assessments, creating fire-resistant landscaping, and implementing an evacuation plan.
As wildfire danger grows across the United States, protecting your home and property from fire damage is a priority. Entire neighborhoods can work together to engage in fire risk reduction activities and plan wildfire evacuation strategies. Learn about a program that offers a starting blueprint to engage your community in wildfire risk mitigation strategies and become Firewise®.
What is Firewise® USA?
Firewise USA® is a national program that provides communities and neighborhoods with a collaborative framework to mitigate wildfire risk. The Firewise® framework helps to bring communities of homeowners together to create and implement local plans to protect their homes against the risk of wildfire. Firewise USA® started in 2002 with 12 pilot neighborhoods and now has nearly 1,000 member communities in 40 states.1
What are the Requirements to Become a Firewise® Community?
The Firewise® program has a set of specific criteria that communities can follow to protect their homes from wildfire damage. The community must meet these voluntary criteria, plus any additional state-required criteria, on an annual basis to be recognized by the Firewise® USA program. The main requirements for the program are:
Create a volunteer board/committee to represent the community. Include residents and local partners (e.g., the fire department, local forestry agencies) and identify a community member to be the Resident Leader and point of contact for the program. Connect with your Firewise USA® State Liaison.
The board/committee defines the boundaries of the site and determines the number of single-family homes. The Firewise® program can be implemented in communities with a minimum of 8 houses and a maximum of 2,500. There can be multiple Firewise® sites in a city, town, community, or HOA.
The board/committee will conduct a community wildfire risk assessment, with guidance from a local wildfire expert, every five years. They then create a three-year action plan to identify and prioritize ways of reducing ignition risks to homes, from community-level actions and education activities to suggestions for homeowner improvements. The action plan may change as the community completes activities, as new homes are constructed, or when a fire or other natural disaster occurs.
Every year, community members complete wildfire risk mitigation education and actions identified in the plan. These go towards the site’s annual reporting efforts. The Firewise® program requires that a site invests a minimum of one volunteer hour (or the monetary equivalent) per dwelling unit in wildfire risk reduction actions each year.
After the above criteria are met, the Resident Leader applies for recognition through the Firewise® Portal. This person describes the site’s education and mitigation work. Sites renew their status by reporting their activity each year.
Firewise® Frequently Asked Questions
- Why do people live in areas where wildfires threaten their homes?
People usually move to areas where they have opportunities to live their dream life. Some want the beauty and privacy of living in nature or want a rugged outdoor lifestyle. Many states that have booming job markets and appealing natural areas to explore also have rising fire risks—California, Texas, and Arizona, all states with rising natural disaster risks, have some of the largest or growing populations in the U.S.2 The real estate market has seen a growing wildland-urban interface (WUI) as more homes are built near wild areas at high risk of fire.3 People migrating from urban settings may not understand the local fire risk.
- I do not live in the woods, so is my home really in danger?
With dry, hot, windy conditions and an ignition source like a spark from a vehicle or a dropped cigarette, your home could be the path of a fire very quickly. Nearly 90% of all wildfires throughout the United States are started by humans.4 Wildfires are also caused by lightning striking dry vegetation.5 A national property risk model from First Street Foundation shows that 50% of individual properties in the 48 conterminous states face some degree of wildfire risk.6 This percentage will continue to grow as wildfire risk grows throughout the U.S.
- What makes a community “Firewise?”
Communities that work to take appropriate wildfire resilience-building measures to reduce the risk of structural damage from fire are ‘Firewise.’ These strategies include landscaping with fire-resistant plants, using fireproof building materials, and building out ignition zones around your home. The Firewise USA® Program recognizes communities that have organized and implemented Firewise® risk mitigation structures in their neighborhood.
- What are the most important steps to protect my home?
During a wildfire event, homes can be ignited by embers landing on the roof or gutters, getting in vents or other openings in the home, or landing on flammable objects or decks in the yard. You can take steps to harden your home against wildfire.
Flames can also reach the house when plants or trees are close to the building. Working to establish an ignition zone around your house will help protect it. The Firewise® program has resources and action steps you can use around your home.
- Can I be Firewise and keep my trees?
There are many ways to help your home resist embers or firebrands carried by trees. Some steps are pruning overhanging branches, limbing trees so they have 6’-10’ of clearance from the ground, and ensuring plenty of space between trees and shrubs.7 Healthy, well-watered and maintained trees and plants on your property do not necessarily pose a risk of spreading wildfire. Consulting an arborist or other tree expert on landscaping strategies may offer more ways to keep trees as part of your landscaping.
- How do I engage and encourage my neighbors to join Firewise® with me?
Using Firewise® principles will reduce the likelihood of property damage and loss, but properties within 100 feet of your house can contribute to your property’s wildfire risk if they are not Firewise®. To get your neighbors involved, try the following:
- Check the Firewise® website for tips on starting a Firewise USA™ site.
- Call your local fire department or state forestry office and ask a fire expert to attend a neighborhood meeting and share Firewise® principles.
- Reach out to your state’s Firewise® liaison for guidance.
- Can I get an insurance discount by using Firewise® strategies on my home?
Home improvement efforts are not usually reflected in discounts to insurance policy premiums. Most insurance providers look at other factors, including community fire protection resources (e.g., fire hydrants) and state wildfire risk. Each insurance company has its own underwriting practices and risk tolerances that must apply uniformly across a state.8 The United States Automobile Association (USAA), does offer insurance discounts in 10 states to members of the U.S. military who have homes in Firewise® communities.
During a renewal period, an insurance company can reassess if it will cover a home in an area with high wildfire risk.8 If insurance companies incur large losses from wildfire, they may not renew policies or may stop offering home insurance in areas they consider high-risk. Check with your insurer annually to make sure that you know what your policy covers.
- My neighborhood is Firewise®, is that enough?
Becoming a Firewise USA® site is a great step to improve the chances of your home and neighborhood surviving a wildfire. However, there is an extended community around you that needs protection from fire as well. Residents must look at everything as a possible risk, including businesses, infrastructure, and nearby natural areas. Fire Adapted Communities, an initiative coordinated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and USDA Forest Service, addresses this broader community approach.
- Current Firewise USA® Sites
- Apply to become a Firewise USA® Community
- Community Wildfire Risk Assessment Tutorial
- Research Fact Sheet Series
- Firewise USA® success stories
- National Fire Protection Agency, “Firewise USA®.” Accessed April 17, 2023.
- United States Census Bureau, “Fastest-Growing Cities Are Still in the West and South.” Accessed April 19, 2023.
- USDA Forest Service, “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis.” Accessed April 4, 2023.
- Congressional Research Service, “Wildfire Statistics.” Accessed February 15, 2023.
- National Park Service, “Wildfire Causes and Evaluations.” Accessed January 9, 2023.
- First Street Foundation, “Highlights From ‘Fueling the Flames’.” Accessed April 19, 2023.
- National Fire Protection Agency, “Preparing homes for wildfire.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
- KOIN, “Insurance companies are dropping home coverage in Oregon due to wildfire risk.” Accessed April 19, 2023.