Firewise COWmunity

July 14, 2010

There is a national Firewise Communities program designed to encourage towns like ours to make a real effort to involve homeowners in protecting against the risk of wildland fires before a fire starts. We were interested to see that the Town included funds for a “Firesafe and Firewise Program” in its 2010-2011 budget. The proposal is to award grants of up to $1,000 from the Town Public Safety Department budget pay private homeowners to take measures to reduce their fire risk and consequently make the Town safer. The recently-imposed 7A fire regulations have mandates that can cost property owners thousands of dollars. It may make sense to provide the “carrot” to go with the “stick” even though the amount of money involved ain’t hay.

While a budgeted amount of up to $50,000 were discussed, ultimately the COWncil budgeted $25,000 as seed money. The COWncil recognized that the program might prove very popular (free money usually is!) and that it wasn’t a good idea to get the program up and running just for it to run out of money and frustrate late applicants.

While the money has been budgeted for the Town giveaway, the details of the program “will be fine-tuned later.” A phrase like that always makes us worry! The success of a grant program depends on careful definition of projects which are eligible for the grants, what the application process is, and the basis on which grants are awarded. Will financial need be a factor? Suggested projects were fuel mitigation (such as reducing brush and dead vegetation) and subsidizing the costs of fire-resistant roofs. You can find some examples of what communities, counties and states have done under their Firewise Programs in the National Database of State and Local Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Programs here. We eagerly await more details of Woodside’s program.

We applaud the fact that the Town has been focusing attention on the risk of catastrophic wildfire lately. We have been following their efforts closely. See our stories here, here and here. Recently Town COWncil members have joined with Portola Valley officials as well as Woodside Fire Protection District staff to form an Ad Hoc Firewise Advisory Committee, whose role is to promote “public education, fuel mitigation, and the implementation of fire wise building codes.”

We do have some reservations as to whether a grant program is the wisest way to encourage fire safety in out Town. Perhaps, this will indeed prove to be a great way to encourage smart fire practices in our Town or it could just be a costly boondoggle, giving away public funds for things that homeowners should and would do anyway.

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