The recent dry spell was an uncomfortable reminder of the 2016 droughts, which led to severe wildfires across much of the Appalachian region, including Georgia. These wildfires negatively impacted Georgia communities and natural landscapes through fire damage and smoke.
During and after the fires, natural resource professionals recognized a need for homeowners (and communities) to better prepare for wildfires. This is especially salient since firefighters cannot protect all homes during a wildfire and increasing numbers of Georgia residents are moving to areas at risk to wildfire, known as the wildland-urban interface. Moreover, every year, thousands of wildfires occur across Georgia. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over 5,000 wildfires burned approximately 52,000 acres in 2016 and over 2,500 wildfires burned approximately 14,000 acres in 2018. Though the number of fires and acres burned fluctuates year to year, wildfires are a regular occurrence across the state.
Fortunately, there are outstanding resources available to assist homeowners in better wildfire preparation, including Firewise USA®, Living with Fire, and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. Georgia residents, however, may be largely unaware of the availability of these resources or that they are even at risk to wildfire.
In 2017, the office of the Southern Regional Extension Forester, UGA Cooperative Extension and UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources received a USDA NIFA Smith-Lever grant to develop a wildfire-preparedness training for southeastern U.S. Master Gardeners. As a highly successful volunteer education program in all 13 southeastern states, Master Gardeners are a valuable conduit of garden-related education and outreach to the public and, thus, a great way to reach homeowners. The project, Preparing for Wildfires with Firescaping, was designed to train Master Gardeners about fire-resistant landscaping so they can share this information with their communities. As part of the program design, the project conducted a spatial analysis using federal, state and local wildfire and other data to identify southeastern state counties most at-risk and areas where the training may have the greatest impact.
Though designed for Master Gardeners, Preparing for Wildfires with Firescaping, may also be useful to Master Naturalists and other community groups interested in helping lower their wildfire risk. To learn more about the training, visit http://firescapingtraining.com and/or email Holly Campbell.
Holly Campbell is a community forestry and wildland fire educator