Firewise Community concepts aim to build resilience against destructive unwanted wildfires, with a focus on preventing damage to people’s homes, livelihoods and the landscape surrounding them. This includes community capacity building that teaches not only risk assessment and how to reduce risk, but also to understand the environmental drivers that put them at risk.

Many landscapes are both fire-prone and fire-adapted. They need periodic fire to regenerate, to maintain biodiversity and for optimal land use practice.

Fire is only one environmental driver in a natural system. If ignored, it can cause devastation, but if used wisely, fire can aid in creating a balanced ecosystem that is safe and provides well for the people that live close to the land.

Community members and local stakeholders work together to assess risk, collectively plan to reduce the community’s risk to an acceptable level, and to protect itself against the loss of life and property.

Train–the–trainer methodologies provide for local people to train others in their community.

Participants are trained in pro-active community-based fire management with an emphasis on prevention. They learn how to protect their assets by creating defensible structures and spaces, while assessing the land around them and putting in place plans to manage fire fuels, including making use of the beneficial effects of fire to improve and maintain natural assets such as grazing.

Firewise concepts engender cooperation and co-contribution, directly and indirectly, from the wider community.

WHERE WE WORK

We have an international scope and sometimes LANDWORKS™ intervene simply because we see the need is great.

One of the key lessons that we have learned is that simply training community members is not enough. To embed active participation, especially in challenging socio–economic situations, facilitation and handholding is critical. Conflicting needs and expectations are common. Ideally, we prefer to scope the project area before introducing ourselves and the Firewise concepts, and to listen and take note of community needs, gradually leading the community towards solutions that are acceptable to all.

In Africa, Firewise Communities capacity building training, project development and implementation has taken place across South Africa, in Tanzania and Lesotho. The concepts are widely applicable across most of fire-adapted southern Africa. Funding, not a lack of requests, holds back the application of landscape-wide projects where poor people and subsistence farmers depend upon the landscape for survival.

In 2016, a LANDWORKS™ team, prompted by the potential disaster that it could envisage, undertook the scoping and planned the framework under which a Firewise Communities Programme could take place in Chile. The programme was rolled out in 2017.

The region is subject to a summer fire season and has a climate prone to periodic drought. While many lessons learned in South Africa by LANDWORKS™ are transferable to the Chilean situation, the socio-economic dynamics are very different. The concepts are, however, globally relevant and very few adaptations have been necessary to apply Firewise in South America.

Ten Chilean Firewise Communities completed their first year of proactive planning and activities in 2017, with positive feedback about how Firewise is helping their villages to reduce their risk in heavily forested as well as agricultural fire-prone landscapes.

LANDWORKS™ has established a non-profit LANDWORKS Foundation towards the end of 2017 in Chile to expand this footprint and bring additional stakeholders and funders on board.

HISTORY

The Firewise Programme in South Africa began in 2004 following discussions with NFPA and the US Forest Service, who designed the original Firewise Community USA Programme following devastating fires in 1985.

The term WUI, or wildland-urban interface, was coined and described as “not being a geographical location but a set of conditions affecting communities.”

Since 2004, LANDWORKS™ has tested, adapted and developed the original concepts so that they can apply beyond what was originally envisaged in an urban context, while maintaining a close relationship of sharing and co-development with the NFPA Firewise Community USA programme.  Under a Memorandum of Understanding between NFPA and LANDWORKS™, we ensure that “Firewise” has a defined meaning and application in whatever country we work. We take the custodianship seriously.

LANDWORKS™ has developed three different models, all with the basic Firewise tenants at their heart, but adapted to suit the community, socio economic and landscape variables. These vary from a basic voluntary community project to a scalable, modular, government funded Community Works platform, offering part-time employment in rural areas where paid work is scarce and poverty is dire.

FIREWISE COMMUNITY BASICS

Firewise Community Works model

Firewise Community Works is an application of Firewise concepts that can be used in any country that has a need to create work and income opportunities within marginalised communities. When work and money is a scarce commodity, voluntary programmes are hard to sustain. People are forced to think about making ends meet and their daily needs, rather than thinking of tomorrow.

We are exceptionally proud of the Firewise Community Works Programme that we run in South Africa with the support of the South African National Department of Environmental Affairs. It is replicable and scalable, and works at landscape scale in rural areas.

LANDWORKS™ strongly encourages entrepreneurship and the development of Small, Medium and Micro-sized enterprises.

Firewise Community Works taps into government driven public works programmes or similar funding schemes and melds Firewise objectives with stipend-based part time employment. The result is that risk reduction and mitigation work activities become part of a planned benefit scheme that can target specific population sectors or high unemployment regions. Employment criteria, if dictated by the scheme, can be worked into the recruitment plan. Progress can be measured and clear outcomes defined as there is a dedicated workforce applied to the tasks.

In terms of reducing the cost of disasters, prevention is powerful and underrated. Funds applied to risk reduction and resilience are generally well behind the cost of response and recovery. This requires a mindset change; Firewise Community Works is a route to bring both ends together.

Land management interventions for stipend-funded programmes include: invasive alien plant control; rehabilitation of degraded land; manual fuel reduction; and assistance with prescribed burning, firebreak preparation to improve livelihood security and protect assets (including environmental assets such as grazing lands), and community-based fire prevention, awareness, and education.

Funding goes towards: stipends; the initial workshops; the Firewise Communities SA Train-the-Trainer course for twenty-five people per community; the Veld and Fire Risk Assessment; the committee selection; drawing up the Fire Management Plans; and the Firewise Open Day.

Human well-being is improved as communities develop a ‘can do’ attitude, become better organised and thus more resilient to climate shocks. They become better equipped to address challenges posed by land degradation, with increased self-esteem and dignity.

Overall eligibility for community grants and other resources improve as the collective community shows its commitment and ability to organise and invest in its own safety.