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Union Pass is Firewise for 10 years

Jun 17, 2012 - Staff

The county program is recognizing the efforts that include fire prevention measures taken by the Dubois-area community a decade ago.

Union Pass in the Dubois area is celebrating its tenth year of participation in the National Fire Protection Association's Firewise Communities/USA Recognition program.

The program is a voluntary initiative to protect residents, their property and natural resources from wildfires. Since Union Pass earned the distinction as an official Firewise community, local leaders, emergency responders and individual homeowners have come together to make significant advances in making the community safer from wildfire.

Union Pass was nationally recognized in 2003, and was one of the earliest adopters of the Firewise Communities/USA process. Since then, the community created and executed a variety of activities to help create the best wildfire prevention plan for the community.

The Union Pass anniversary is marked by an award presentation and recognition at the annual Firewise Day on July 7. It is one of three communities in Wyoming earning the recognition, with the other two being Homestead Park in Lander and Story.

"Because large, damaging wildfires are more common than ever before, it's more important than ever to take safety steps now," said Ron Wempen, Fremont County Firewise coordinator.

"Wildfires will happen, and we want to be as ready as possible to prevent damage to our community's buildings, resources and of course, to protect our residents. The Purdy wildfire in August 2006 was a significant threat to the community, and created an even higher level of concern among residents who were already working hard to mitigate risks in the area," Wempen said.

There have been many Firewise activities undertaken by the community over the years.

From the start, local firefighters visited area homes to help conduct home assessments and educate residents as to what they can do to avoid their home becoming fuel for a fire.

Participants formed the Union Pass Emergency Preparedness Council to organize area residents, coordinate and monitor mitigation efforts.

Community volunteers cleared 248 acres of trees and vegetation around homes and neighborhood structures, creating 54 defensible spaces on 58 different properties.

The council collaborated with local and federal agencies to help secure additional federal stimulus money for a landscape scale project in the subdivision which cleared/treated 180 acres of land on 49 properties in 2010.

The group created an evacuation plan for the subdivision, and held training exercises. It also helped the local fire department and Firewise to install two 12,000-gallon water storage tanks for fire suppression efforts on Union Pass.

"We are indebted to these early adopters, including Union Pass, for taking the lead in wildfire safety, and for persevering in Firewise activities for the past decade," said Michele Steinberg, manager of the NFPA Firewise Communities program.

"Your dedicated fire and safety professionals and motivated residents have truly helped minimize wildfire risk factors, and their hard work surely has paid off," Steinberg said.

As conservation stewards of the subdivision lands, the residents have created a more fire-resilient landscape. By definition, resilient is the ability of the ecosystem to return to its balanced state after a disturbance.

The disturbance on Union Pass has not been fire but pine beetles, and the area work has given the subdivision a head start on recovery from that epidemic as well, according to the Firewise program.

There have not been any major fires in the community to date, and even the minor fires, which have occurred, were able to be suppressed easily because of the planning and hard work completed by property owners.

In order to become part of NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA Recognition program, the community engaged in the numerous activities.

It enlisted a wildland/urban interface specialist to complete a community assessment and create a plan that identifies agreed-upon achievable solutions to be implemented by the community.

It sponsored a local Firewise Task Force Committee, Commission or Department which maintains the Firewise Communities/USA program and tracks its progress.

It observed a Firewise Communities/USA Day each year that is dedicated to a local Firewise project.

It invested a minimum of $2 per capita annually in local Firewise projects.

The program submitted an annual report to Firewise Communities/USA that documents continuing compliance with the program.

Visit the Firewise website at www.firewise.org to find out more about how a community can begin the assessment process.

The Firewise Communities Programencourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters and others in creating fire-adapted communities -- places where people and property are safer from the risk of brush, grass and forest fires.

Firewise is a program of the National Fire Protection Association and co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Association of State Foresters.

The National Fire Protection Association is a worldwide leader in fire, electrical, building and life safety. The mission of the international nonprofit organization founded in 1896 is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.

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