FireWise USA: What to Know from Oregon’s Leading FireWise Community

FireWise USA

In a region that has experienced its fair share of wildfires, the truth has set in rather clearly:

Fire knows no property lines. 

In becoming more aware of this reality, we are witnessing a rise in adequate resource accumulation alongside communities coming together. One of these resources that is especially focused on the individual action as it can then lead into the neighborhood collaboration? FireWise USA.

Disasters have brought people together. FireWise USA believes a community made aware and educated on what to do, when, where, and with whom, makes the success of their fire safety intentions more attainable. This organization has presented a program that invites community to come in before the incident, acting in ways to prevent the incident altogether.

What is FireWise USA?

To explain it direct and clear, the Ashland FireWise page states,

FireWise USA® is a national recognition program through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that emphasizes homeowner responsibility and community participation in wildfire home safety. It encourages local solutions for reducing wildfire risk by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters, and others in the effort to protect people and property from the risk of wildfire.”

This is achieved by actively educating all who are included in the mission of FireWise to live with wildfire in mind- becoming highly aware of our interactions with it, and the adaptations that with help secure your home in the process. This also encourages neighborhoods to strengthen as neighbors are invited to work together. Its through their program development, accessible information, and collaborative resources that they are clear in the need to take action now. 

With community and the interconnected efforts of those passionate about preventative and assistant measure as an integral part of attaining the desired level of awareness, FireWise recognizes communities with their own standard-meeting status.

What is a FireWise USA status?

To enter the recognition realm from FireWise as a leading community that acts as a pillar and example for other communities to find their local guiding light from, the communities must fulfill specific guidelines presented from FireWise USA.

These include:

  • Complete a community assessment and create an action plan that identifies agreed-upon achievable solutions to be implemented by the community. This can be done by the City’s Fire Adapted Communities Coordinator.
  • – Sponsor a local Firewise Task Force Committee which maintains the Firewise USA® program and tracks its progress.
  • – Observe a Firewise Clean Up Day each year that is dedicated to a local project.
  • – Invest a minimum of $25.43 per dwelling unit annually in local Firewise projects
  • – Submit an annual online report that documents continuing compliance with the program

There are 35 of these communities that have recognized, not only the importance of the intentional concept of developing community programs with these resources in use, but also have pursued the power of putting these into action.

Of the 35 recognized communities, Ashland stands as the leading FireWise community in the state of Oregon, starting in 2011 and expanding the efforts from there. Within this focus, the City of Ashland township website created a portal to obtain and pursue locally applicable information facilitated by FireWise USA.

Resources Available to Ashland (and Oregon!) Residents

The database of resources facilitated is extensive but approachable. There is everything from FireWise plant lists to construction guidelines, from yard debris disposal information and events to a general library of fact sheets and studies. With so much pertinent information to get lost in, we wanted to share some highlights that range from the basics through to the fascinating!

Preparing Your Home Starts with Zoning Awareness

All the spaces around your home connect and create levels of needed attendance known as home ignition zones.

What’s within 5ft of your home? 30ft? 100 to 200ft?

These distances make up the Immediate, Intermediate, and Extended Zones surrounding your home that come with information and guidance on what should be in the zone- or out of the zone. Following these guidelines emphasize fire safety and preparedness, expressing homeowner’s awareness of the potential that lies beyond their front door. 

The Immediate Zone includes the home itself. 

How clean is your roof and gutters? Whats under your deck or porch? What is your fence made of? Would it bring fire in a direct line to your house?

The Intermediate Zone looks at the space around your home, guiding you to create a “fuel-free space”.

What is fuel? Downed tree material, dead vegetation, dried leaves, pine needles or anything that makes this space feel more like a tinder box. 

What kind of hardscaping (stone, gravel, etc) do you have around your home? How close are the trees and their canopies? What landscaping do you have that includes what are considered “fire safe” plants?

The Extended Zone reaches much further from the home itself, but still is a space to be aware of. 

How dry is this area and the vegetation contained within it? Are there interlocking canopies? Have you removed layered vegetation that creates fire ladders?

FireWise Plants Exist! Here’s What is Suggested for Southern Oregon:

The list is divided along the lines of FireWise plants and flammable plants. Those listed under FireWise plants can be planted within 5ft of the home as they are high in moisture content, are low growing  deciduous or broadleaf evergreen. Flammable plants can still be planted but must be done beyond the 30ft range to the nearest building.

FireWise Plants include:

  • – Rhododendron 
  • – Portugese Laurel 
  • – Holly 
  • – Oak 
  • – Maple 
  • – Elderberry 
  • – Fruit trees
  • – Azalea 

Flammable Plants include:

  • – Cedar
  • – Cypress
  • – Juniper
  • – Himalayan blackberry 
  • – Rosemary
  • – Oregon grape 
  • – Pampas grass

**List created in collaboration with Ashland Fire & Rescue, the Wildfire Safety Commission, Ashland’s Water Conservation Agent and Ashland’s Bee City USA

FireWise Tips

On top of the specific information that can be dug deeply into, filled with even specifically featured contractors and nurseries that hold the same priorities, there is a quick reference tips sheet.

Some of the tips that stood out to us?

  • – Clear the view of your house number so it can be easily seen from the street.
  • – Circle the 1st Saturday in May on your calendar as the target date to be Firewise around your home.
  • – Relocate woodpiles at least 30 feet from structures.
  • – Clear away flammable vegetation within 10 feet of woodpiles.
  • – Talk to your neighbors and create a larger defensible space together.

Additional Action Items

With so much information, you might be thinking, what else can I be doing? Ashland has lots of programs that are not only available here, but are replicated out in other FireWise communities across the country.

These include:

  • – Grants made available to homeowners to achieve the FireWise goals set in motion
  • – Home Ignition Zone Risk Assessments
  • – Events, like the Green-Debris Clean Up Day
  • – Becoming SmokeWise
  • – Familiarizing yourself with locally supporting agents
  • – Sign up for Nixle Community Alerts to be kept up to date with what is happening now that needs to be acted on promptly


Another good step in the right direction of preparedness is talking with your local insurance agent here at Ashland Insurance


Russ Schweikert