The Middle Ridge Homeowners (focused in the area of Magee Ave) were the latest neighborhood group within Mill Valley to become designated as a Firewise Community.
Resident Bob Emrich spearheaded the vegetation clearance portion of the project and worked with their Board which includes Dick Spotswood, Dave Martin and Cecily Drucker, to complete all of the criteria necessary for a designation. “It was awesome to see a neighborhood come together around a common goal such as fire safety and then take the action necessary to earn the coveted designation of Firewise Community for as many as 55 homes,” Fire Chief Tom Welch said. “They are a true model for the others within our community to follow."
Bob Emrich stated when went to enforce the vegetation management program in our neighborhood, probably half the people were in denial, i.e., “It’ll never happen here," or "I've already cleaned up my property, and I don't need to do anything else." But once people started reducing the fuel load on their properties, everyone noticed, and peer pressure started to set in. That made all the difference, because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and those that weren't onboard got the message, loud and clear. We became 90% firesafe within 90 days, and we removed close to 50 tons of flammable material, mostly acacia and bays. ANY neighborhood can become FIREWISE.
We congratulate the hard work and solid effort of the Middle Ridge Homeowners for taking the initiative to work with the Mill Valley Fire Department on this important designation. “They have improved their defensible space, reduced their risk of a wildland fire and came together as a neighborhood,” said Battalion Chief Scott Barnes. The program has a number of benefits that encourages local solutions for safety by involving homeowners in taking individual responsibility for preparing their homes from the risk of wildfire. The program provides resources to help homeowners learn how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together to take action now to prevent losses. Initiated in 2002 with 12 pilot neighborhoods, the national Firewise USA® Recognition Program has nearly 1,000 active member communities in 40 states, as well as a participation retention rate of 80 percent over the past decade. The program, aimed at homeowners, provides specific criteria for communities regarding wildfire preparedness, and based on these criteria, offers national recognition for their work.
Meeting the criteria for becoming a Firewise USA® site helps communities get organized and find direction for their wildfire safety efforts. Like the first rungs on a ladder, the criteria help get a community started toward annual, systematic action to reduce their risks from brush, grass and forest fires.
As people go through the process, they learn about wildfire risks in the community and the simple things they can do to reduce them. They connect with experts such as the Mill Valley Fire Department to learn about fire and find resources to accomplish fire-safe actions. Knowing that they are using the best information available and actually taking steps to reduce the risk of damage from fire helps people start to feel safer in their environment and in their homes. Having a plan for what to do in the event of a fire helps people become calmer and more prepared to act quickly.
Neighbors working together to help neighbors. As neighbors get together to do work, often meeting one another for the first time, they build a stronger bond with each other. Activity can help rally people to a common cause for the good of the neighborhood. This strengthening of community ties can benefit residents in many ways and is especially helpful during an emergency. While the work can be fun, it isn’t always easy. Neighbors work very hard in communities to remove brush and debris, clean up common areas, and dispose of green waste. They are rightly proud when they achieve national recognition for their efforts. Additionally, the program provides communities with metal signs, a plaque and other materials that can be presented publicly to honor their status as a Firewise USA® recognition site. Finally, the Departments of Insurance in California have approved filings by USAA to give homeowners insurance discounts to USAA members living in communities recognized by the Firewise USA® program.