2 2020
Lowland heath in flower, wtih fire approaching. Photo: Andy Elliott.

UK Firewise recognized for building a sustainable and empowered community

by Lucian Deaton

The well-earned recognition for the local accomplishments of Firewise communities knows no borders. This rang true once again as the Beacon Road Firewise community in Dorset, United Kingdom recently received the Neighborhood Watch Group of the Year Award from the Dorset Police Service. 

I caught up with Lin Kettley, manager of the Firewise UK effort in Dorset, who shared her praise for the community. Lin said, “I am so pleased that the Beacon Road Firewise community has been recognized for all their hard work. From being evacuated following a large fire back in 2011, to being approached by us to become our first Firewise community and gaining this award, they have worked together tirelessly to make their homes, gardens and surrounding areas safer from the threat of wildfires.” Lin went on to say that, “They are a fantastic example of what community spirit looks like and I know that they will continue to thrive and are very keen to encourage other communities to join them.”

Community leader, Susan Jefferies, shared with me that, “The group was established formally 18 months ago, assisted by the [Dorset] Urban Heaths Partnership, to draw the community together to protect ourselves, our homes and the heathland from heathfire. We live on the edge of a large well-established area of heathland where traditionally, regular and dangerous large fires have occurred every ten years or so when the gorse gets overgrown and dries out.”

 Historic wildfires can be a strong community motivator. Susan explained that “The sparks for this group were laid 8 years previously, directly after an extensive fire when neighbors got together and realized that better planning was needed to ensure everyone knew about heathfires and how to act sensibly and safely.”

UK Firewise launch
The Firewise Launch image was he The launch of Firewise UK and the Beacon Road Firewise Community was celebrated by (left to right): Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Ben Ansell; Susan Jefferies and Duncan Sowry-House from Beacon Road Firewise Community; and Dorset Council Chief Executive Matt Prosser. Photo: Paul Atwell.

Now, brought together by Firewise, the community hosts seasonal work parties to clear ditches, undergrowth, and their own properties. Susan noted that, “This way we all get together, help those less able to clear their gardens and keep the neighborhood safer.” 

Firebreak, Upton Heath, Dorset, UK
A cleared firebreak on Upton Heath, Dorset, with Duncan Sowry-House from Beacon Road Firewise Community (right) and Dorset firefighter and fire expert, Andy Elliott, @WildfireTacAd (left). Photo: Ron Steffens.

Beacon Road also hosted its first Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in May, 2019. In an innovative approach, they partnered with the UK’s Exeter University to measure risks and flammability of their yard debris to influence future landscaping.  

This focus on community-led action was highlighted by the award event’s program that stated, “The whole community is involved and the creation of the group and the excellent work of its members has brought forth a stronger, sustainable, and empowered community that cares for each other.” 

Susan echoed this connection, sharing that, “We all know each other and are aware who might need assistance if they needed to evacuate in the case of a large fire causing a lot of smoke.”

NFPA applauds their well-deserved recognition as a great example of neighbors working together to reduce their wildfire risk. We hope others will follow their lead in the UK and everywhere else. 

This article appeared originally on NFPA’s FireBreak blog at https://community.nfpa.org/community/fire-break/blog/2020/03/13/firewise-group-recognized-for-being-a-stronger-sustainable-and-empowered-community. Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and on Twitter for more international wildfire and policy related topics.

Upton Heath, Dorset, UK
The Upton Heath, East Dorset, United Kingdom in late November, 2019. This is an area where a major heath fire burned in 2011 threatening homes and prompting the local Firewise response. Photo: Ron Steffens.