The Shelter Ridge Homeowners Association has garnered accreditation through the National Fire Protection Association’s “Firewise Communities” Program, becoming the second local community to complete the five-step path to reducing its collective fire risk.
The 184-home Shelter Ridge HOA’s Firewise recognition comes five months after the 11-home Blithedale Highlands (Kite Hill) neighborhood association did the same. The Mill Valley Fire Department is looking to build on that momentum to get more communities on board with Firewise, helping homeowners both reduce their insurance premiums and lessen the risk of being dropped by their carriers.
The program is largely focused on reducing vegetation around both individual homes and the neighborhood as a whole, thereby creating defensible space in the event of a fire, according to MVFD Battalion Chief Scott Barnes, who oversees the City’s Vegetation Management Program, which includes defensible space.
“There’s an element of peer pressure that comes with this kind of recognition,” Barnes said, noting that there are only 87 Firewise communities in California and none in Marin outside of Mill Valley. “It lights a fire into some members of that neighborhood or association who haven’t been focused on defensible space.”
Barnes notes that his department does much of the heavy lifting to help neighborhood groups and HOAs through the Firewise process. The program asks that neighborhoods take actions such as obtaining a wildfire risk assessment from the Fire Department, creating an action plan based on that assessment, and hosting a “Firewise Day” event.
Not only does the City take on the task of applying on behalf of the neighborhood, Barnes said, but it can also assist in reducing a community’s cost of reducing fire fuels. For instance, if three or more homes in an area plan to have vegetation reduced or removed from around their homes, the City can set up a Chipper Day, so residents can give the dangerous fire fuels they’ve removed from their yards a date with the chipper machine (Click here for more info and to schedule a Chipper Day in your neighborhood).
Barnes said the residents of Blithedale Highlands went “above and beyond,” removing all fire fuels on the ground, and had been active Chipper Day participants for several years.
“With the help of the Fire Department, we are now infinitely more fire safe than we were four or five years ago,” Blithedale Highlands resident Bruce Cardinal told the City Council earlier this year.
Sashi McEntee, a member of the Shelter Ridge HOA, said an electrical fire in the townhouse community many years ago, caused the HOA to lose its insurance at the time and sparking a heightened interest in reducing fire risk among residents.
“We know that a wildfire in Mill Valley is a when, not an if,” McEntee said. “And having gone through this Firewise process, now we have a road map for the future to continue to make our community as safe as possible in the event of fire.”
Barnes said he hopes to identify more neighborhoods and homeowners associations to obtain Firewise accreditation soon.
“This is all about defensible space,” he said.
The City’s Vegetation Management Program, which had a $15,000 annual budget in 1996 and now costs the City $300,000 a year, is entirely funded by the City’s Municipal Services Tax. The $145 per parcel tax was first approved by voters in 1987 for 10 years, and was renewed in 1997 at $145 per parcel and 2006 at a maximum of $195 per parcel.
The MST generates $1.2 million in revenue annually. Along with the $300,000 budget for the Vegetation Management Program, the MST also funds $900,000 in street maintenance and road repair. The MST is up for renewal in 2016.
Click here for more info on the City’s Vegetation Management Program and for a full list of its services, and check out the video below for a better understanding of defensible space.
If you would like to learn more about how to sign up your neighborhood to participate in the Firewise program, or have any other questions or comments, please contact Battalion Chief Scott Barnes at 415-389-4130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.