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Smoke over a house

WHAT IS FIREWISE USA®.  Firewise USA® Communities raise awareness, organize at the community level, coordinate work parties, and take action to create fire-adapted communities through the implementation of defensible space standards.   

Why become a Firewise USA® Community?  Scientific research has proven that when adequately prepared, a house has a better chance to withstand a wildfire without the intervention of fire suppression services.  And when firefighters do make a stand to save a home, Firewise USA® Communities provide a safer working environment to help make a nearly impossible job possible. 

The goal is to encourage and acknowledge action that can minimize home loss to wildfire.  It teaches you to prepare for a fire before it occurs.  The program adapts well to small communities, developments, and residential associations of all types, but can work for any neighborhood where motivated homeowners come together to create a safer environment.   

The Ventura County Fire Department along with CAL FIRE and local Ventura County Fire Safe Councils can help you with understanding Firewise USA® and how to become a Firewise community.  We are available to present to the community in person information about the Firewise program and the benefits of joining the program and can assist with providing free defensible space evaluations.  

The Firewise USA® recognition program is administered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and is intended to serve as a resource for city, county, state, federal agencies, tribes, organizations, fire departments and communities that work toward a common goal to reduce loss of life, property, and resources to wildland fire. 

The Firewise USA® program emphasizes community/neighborhood responsibility in planning the design of a safe community, as well as an effective emergency response and individual responsibility for safer home construction and design, landscaping, and maintenance. 

Communities that are concerned enough about wildfire can work together to protect their community by becoming a Firewise USA® Community.   

The Ventura County Fire Department is solely responsible for the development and content of these materials.  For more information about Firewise USA® Communities or to request assistance creating a Firewise USA® Community, please contact the Ventura County Fire Department’s FHRP Unit at 805-389-9759 or FHRP@ventura.org  

wildfire smoke filled sky

The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise USA® program teaches communities how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action to prevent property losses.

There are several benefits for communities and individual homeowners who decide to put in the work and time to become a Firewise USA® Community:

Learn about Wildfire: When people are more aware of their risk and better understand their risk, they tend to be more proactive in reducing their risk. Ventura County has a fire history that has shown residents live in and around an environment with frequent wildland fires.

Insurance Discounts: Recent evidence suggests that residents of Firewise USA® Communities are less likely to receive letters of “non-renewal”.  The California Department of Insurance (CDI) has issued rules that require insurers to offer discounts to property owners who have reduced their wildfire risk.  Residents who live in a wildland urban interface areas and are members of a Firewise USA® Community may be eligible for a discount through your insurance company. 

 Community Organization: The Firewise USA® program provides your neighbors with the framework for reducing the risk of wildfire for the community.  The criteria to get a community started toward annual and systematic action to reduce their risks from wildfires is to select residents who will act as the point of contact for the community which is helpful for organizations like a Fire Safe Council and the Fire Department to disseminate and gather needed information.  This is important in emergency situations and for pre-emergency planning.

Build Community Connectedness:  Rallying the community for a common cause to prepare the community for wildfire is a great way to strengthen community connections.  As neighbors work together through the Firewise USA® process, they learn about local wildfire risks in the community and simple steps to take to reduce them.  They can connect with local Fire Department experts and state forestry professionals to learn about fire and find resources to accomplish fire-safe actions.

Access to Funding and Assistance: Grant applications can be very competitive as there are more grant requests than there are available funds.  Granting agencies want to support entire communities rather than helping individual homeowners and are more willing to help communities that have demonstrated that they are committed to reducing their wildfire risk.  Firewise USA® communities can work with your local Fire Safe Council on obtaining grant funds for project work identified in the 3-year action plan developed by the specific Firewise USA® community.

Publicity: 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® recognized site.

The Firewise USA® recognition program is administered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and s intended to serve as a resource for city, county, state, federal agencies, tribes, organizations, fire departments and communities that work toward a common goal to reduce loss of life, property, and resources to wildland fire.

The Firewise USA® program emphasizes community/neighborhood responsibility in planning the design of a safe community, as well as an effective emergency response and individual responsibility for safer home construction and design, landscaping, and maintenance.

Communities that are concerned enough about wildfire can work together to protect their community by becoming a Firewise USA® Community.


The benefit of Firewise USA® is that many communities already meet the requirements and don’t even know it.  The Firewise program has a couple minimum requirements which provide a structural framework for communities to get organized.  How communities meet those requirements is entirely up to them.  Every community is different so communities should undertake the Firewise USA® process in a way that fits and works best for their community.  The Ventura County Fire Department and local Fire Safe Councils can help you and your community prepare the application.

ELIGIBILITY:  There is one minimum requirement to go forward with the Firewise USA® process that almost every community meets.  The Firewise USA® Community needs to be made up of a minimum of 8 dwelling units (e.g., residential homes, apartment units) and no more than 2500 dwelling units.

The Ventura County Fire Department can help with providing information to help communities with the Firewise USA® process, and/or conduct a free defensible space evaluation.  The Fire Department can also present to the community in person information about the Firewise USA® process and the benefits of joining the program.


Step 1 Organize - IconSTEP 1 – ORGANIZE:  Form a committee of residents and wildfire stakeholders.  This group will collaborate on developing the community’s risk reduction priorities, develop a multi-year action plan based on risk assessment, and oversee the completion of the annual renewal requirements.  This is the first step of the process as residents included on the committee will be key coordinators for accomplishing the rest of the application process.

Residents on the committee can include those in on an HOA board or involved in the local neighborhood association, if applicable, along with interested residents.  Consider inviting representatives from the local Fire Department, Fire Safe Councils, and property management to participate.  Fire Department staff and Fire Safe Council members can assist with the application process, organize community members, if needed, and provide connections to relevant personnel.  For communities with an HOA board, it is highly recommended that the Architecture Chair is included on the Firewise committee so that any action items under their purview can be coordinated.

A minimum of 1 committee member from the community needs to be identified and listed on the Firewise application as the point of contact for the community.  At least 2 people should be included in the application, but not more than 5 people is recommended.  This person(s) will be the contact person for Firewise and simply get the e-mail reminders to submit the annual renewal documents.

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Step 2 Plan - IconSTEP 2 – PLAN:  Draw a site boundary outlining the homes and current or proposed vegetation management zones in your community draw a site boundary indicating the homes and current or proposed vegetation management zones within your community.  This can be done in Google Maps, Google Earth Pro, or the Ventura County Fire Safe Council can create a map for the community.

There can only be a single contiguous site boundary, meaning if there is a large gap between the homes the community wants to include in their boundary, that area must be included in the boundary or two separate Firewise communities must be made.  Community common areas should be included in the boundary, along with adjacent open spaces that will not or cannot be managed by the community but impacts a community’s fire risk.

To determine which homes should be included in your site boundary depends on the structure of the community.  This is easier for smaller communities who live on a single road, are in small HOA’s, or are geographically isolated from other neighborhoods.

For meandering neighborhoods or large HOA’s (400+ homes), it is a little harder to set boundaries.  In this case, it is recommended to break up large groupings of homes into smaller groups of homes as this will increase participation.

Community boundaries can be changed over time to include or exclude other homes.

Step 3 Conduct a risk assessment - IconSTEP 3 – CONDUCT A RISK ASSESSMENT:  Conduct a Risk Assessment to examine defensible space, ember resistant features of the home, and general community wildfire risks.  The assessment is an important part of the Firewise application process that helps identify and guide your priorities and activities.  The risk assessment will be the committee’s primary tool in determining the risk reduction priorities within the community boundaries.

Communities should reach out to the local Fire Safe Council to evaluate their community for wildfire hazards and professional advice of how to mitigate those hazards.  See the NFPA Firewise USA® Community Wildfire Risk Assessment form.

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The Fire Safe Council’s encourage communities and households to sign up to receive a free home evaluation so each homeowner in informed on what features of their home increase their risk to wildfire.  The homeowner is under no obligation to complete any of the recommendations and there is no regulatory enforcement associated with the evaluation.  Additionally, the home evaluation will provide the necessary information to complete the risk assessment.  https://venturafiresafe.org/

Step 4 Develop 3yrs plan - IconSTEP 4 – DEVELOP A 3-YEAR PLAN:  Develop a 3-year plan outlining actions the community will take or would like to take to reduce community wildfire risk, in addition to recommendations for homeowners and suggested education activities that participants will strive to complete annually or over the period of multiple years.

           Create a Firewise 3yr Plan Button                         Time Expense Investment Example Button                     Taking Action Project Ideas button                                             

Step 5 Wildfire Reduction efforts IconSTEP 5 – DO WILDFIRE REDUCTION EFFORTS:  Host at least one community education activity per year.  This can include discussing wildfire preparedness at community annual meetings, conducting a practice evacuation, or handing out a wildfire informational packet to community members.

Volunteer Hours.  Every household must complete a minimum of 1 volunteer hour or spend $28 on an activity that reduces wildfire risk in your community or on your property.  This can include yard work such as raking leaves, paying a landscaper, assisting on the Firewise USA® application, or attending a presentation from the Fire Department.  While there is a minimum volunteer hour requirement, it is recommended to report as many hours as possible.  These numbers can help your community with future grant applications.

Document community activities, hours spent, and costs incurred.  This will be required prior to submitting the application to Firewise USA®.

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Step 6 Submit to VCFD Icon STEP 6 – SUBMIT TO VENTURA FIRE DEPARTMENT FOR REVIEW:  Submit your documents and plans for review prior to applying and creating an account with Firewise USA®.

The Firewise USA® application process can be completed once you have established the community organization and the selection of a board or committee to oversee the program and maintain the Firewise USA® Community Recognition. Once all criteria have been met in “Setting up the Firewise USA® Community”, submit the information collected and documents created to the Ventura County Fire Department for review and acceptance prior to completing the online Firewise USA® application process. 

Click Here for information on how to “Create an Account” and set up the “Firewise USA® Login”.

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To begin your application to become a recognized Firewise USA® Community, please log in at portal.firewise.org/user/login

Being part of a recognized Firewise USA® community is reporting the ongoing work residents complete each year to reduce their wildfire risks, while addressing the areas identified in the community wildfire risk assessment.  Every year, the community must submit an annual renewal to maintain their “Firewise USA® Status”.

Every Year:
Host an Event:  Host an outreach event and work with neighbors on addressing items in the action plan.

Estimate Time and Vegetation Removal:  Keep records of your community efforts to reduce wildfire risks.  You can include any time invested and expenses the community may have to reduce the fire risk.  Estimate the amount of vegetation removal from the community in common areas and resident homes.  Communities can use a simple diagram to help provide a rough estimate.

Every 3 Years
Action Plan:  Review and update your action plan. 

Every 5 years
Community Risk Assessment:  Review and update your community risk assessment. 

Optional Updates:
Overview:  Community changes in boundaries or size.  Update number of dwelling units and current mailing address.

Committee/Board:  Add and change the Board members as needed.

Vegetation Removal:  Events such as community vegetation removal or chipping days. 

Additional information regarding community wildfire preparedness is available on the VCFD FHRP webpage. 

Firewise® is a registered trademark of the National Fire Protection Association, Inc. (NFPA).  More information from NFPA is available at https://www.nfpa.org/firewise  http://www.firewise.org/usaURL 

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