San Juan Island has best participation in Firewise program in the nation

From left, Rex Stickle, Brent Johnson, Jon Zerby and Ron Garner attended the national Firewise Conference in Tampa, Fla. - Contributed photo
From left, Rex Stickle, Brent Johnson, Jon Zerby and Ron Garner attended the national Firewise Conference in Tampa, Fla.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Four San Juan Island Firewise residents recently attended the biennial Firewise Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Attending the conference: Brent Johnson, North Forty; Jon Zerby, Hillview Terrace III; Rex Stickle, Westside Story; and Ron Garner, Alaska Place.

The conference, called “Backyards and Beyond,” provided the group with an opportunity to learn from those who work and live in the wildland/urban interface. They were able to network with like-minded professionals from communities all over the United States as well as those from the United Kingdom, Canada and South Africa for the purpose of sharing ideas and best practices used in the wildland/urban interface.

A panel discussion entitled “Reframing Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Disasters: A New Approach,” was one of the highlights of the conference. The panel discussed the historic and social aspects of how decades of fire exclusion in the wildland/urban interface has increased the probability and risk of wildfire threat, as well as the impact of climate change on wildfires.

Presenter Jack Cohen, a 40-year veteran researcher of wildfires and the developer of the 30-foot zone concept, visited San Juan Island in 2003 to help start Firewise programs on this island. The issue is reconciling our desire to live in a rural setting (wildland) with defensive measures we can take to protect our lives and property from ever more prevalent wildland fires.

“Fighting large forest fires that end up destroying hundreds of homes and taking lives isn’t the answer,” said Garner, San Juan Island Firewise coordinator.

“Homeowners’ taking the initiative to protect themselves is a much better solution. Joining a Firewise Community is a good start.”

The San Juan team attended many beneficial educational sessions and gained a great deal of information concerning the promotion and expansion of our local Firewise program, Garner said.

“The Firewise team even had the honor of presenting a session to conference attendees using our successes on San Juan Island as the basis for the presentation.

“Learning what other Firewise communities are doing as well as meeting the national team and other experts in the field provided an excellent forum for better understanding the program and discovering practices that could be implemented to improve our local program here on San Juan Island.

“Better yet was learning that San Juan County leads the nation in the number of Firewise communities relative to population and has set the standard for recruiting new neighborhoods to the program.”

Throughout the United States, there are 406 Firewise communities; 29 are in Washington state. Of these, 18 have a Friday Harbor address.

One more San Juan Island community has submitted its application for approval while four more will be submitting their applications this month. San Juan Island has more Firewise communities per square mile or per capita than anywhere in the United States.

“This is something we are very proud of and hope that many more areas will consider joining this program to help protect themselves as well as their property from a wildfire,” Garner said,

Any residents with questions and/or an interest in their neighborhood becoming a Firewise Community should call Garner at 378-7722.

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