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Mill Valley Fire Department has partnered with a third homeowners\' association to help reduce the threat of wildfire through "Firewise Community" recognition. The Scott Highlands neighborhood received confirmation of their application for Firewise Community status April 15, after a lengthy community preparedness campaign and application process.
Previously, the Shelter Ridge Homeowners Association and the Blithedale Highlands Neighborhood were certified as Firewise Communities after completing a five-step program and other requirements. Battalion Chief Scott Barnes hopes other Mill Valley neighborhoods will do the same.
"We live in a forest — a wildland-urban interface," Barnes said. "We saw what happened in Weed. We want to have a fighting chance when a fire does start."
As part of the certification process, the fire department assesses each house in the candidate neighborhood and makes recommendations on how to make the homes safer. Shelter Ridge, with 184 homes, and Blithedale Highlands (Kite Hill), with 11 homes, went through the same process.
Based on the assessment, each neighborhood or community creates an action plan to bring their homes into compliance with wildfire, vegetation, and building construction requirements.
Under state law, there must be 100 feet of "Defensible Space" between a residence and any cobustible vegetation, and ensuring that there is defensible space is part of this program.
One of the most important parts of the program is educating residents about what Barnes calls "housekeeping."
"Pine needles and leaves on the roof. Firewood stacked under the deck. Combustible material such as newspapers and patio chair cushions on the deck," are all a danger, Barnes said. A spark could fly up from a car fire or residence fire in the vicinity and be carried on the wind to an adjoining house, and with such tinder piled up, the house could catch fire, the battalion chief said.
"We're in an extreme drought and fuel moistures are even lower than usual," Barnes noted.
Each candidate neighborhood must also hold a community event highlihting wildfire safety and providing instruction to homeowners on preparedness. Once the requirements were completed, an application is submitted to the National Fire Protection Association FIREWISE program to be certified.
"First the local Firewise organization vetted the application, then Cal Fire, and then we sent it on to the national Firewise Communities Program," Barnes said. The process can take several months for approval.
Once approved, residents can see reductions in their insurance rates, as well as a more aesthetically beautiful and much safer community.