Summit Park will host national fire experts as a ‘Site of Excellence’
Nestled atop Parleys Canyon, Summit Park boasts beautiful views and relative seclusion for its nearly 7,000 residents.
But it’s at particular risk of experiencing a severe wildfire, local and national fire experts warn, with topography that can act as a natural chimney, tightly packed homes and a forest that has long been neglected.
Members of the area’s homeowners association take the threat seriously, including resident leader Mike Quinones, who has worked for more than 15 years to harden the area against fire.
Since 2014, he’s registered the area in the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Program. Late last year, the area was named a Site of Excellence, one of seven nationwide to participate in a 24-month pilot program aimed at increasing resident fire safety participation.
And on Tuesday, Summit Park will host the program’s first site visit with representatives from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and partners with the state Department of Natural Resources and local fire departments.
Quinones said being a part of a national effort to understand why people fail to protect their homes — and their neighbors’ — from fire has increased participation.
“Folks are proud to be involved,” Quinones said. “It’s a grassroots, homeowner-level thing. ‘Hey, we’re going to give you some ideas to harden your home, together we can work on it as community.’”
Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan, a wildfire program coordinator with the NFPA who runs the Sites of Excellence program with her colleague Marie Snow, said the goal for the visit is to learn lessons that may be transferable to the other sites.
“We’re coming out to see what’s going on,” Fitzgerald-McGowan said. “(We want to) hear from there what are some of the positives going on in the community with the pilot program, but also what they’re struggling with. How can we help them, what are some resources they’re looking for?”
The program challenges sites to have 100 percent of homes in the pilot boundary participate in fire-mitigation efforts, and to complete identified mitigation tasks within 30 feet of every home. Those tasks come from individual assessments of each property.
Fitzgerald-McGowan admits these are lofty goals, but wrote in a blog post that “to effectively move the needle on wildfire preparedness and increase the ignition resistance of individual homes and communities, this is the type of effort that needs to occur.”
According to the Summit Park HOA, the effort featured an introduction meeting and then individual assessments from the Fire and Safety Committee. That assessment will determine goals for the work that needs to be done.
Quinones said he’s started with a goal of reaching about 10 percent, or 50 homes in the area. So far, he’s completed individual assessments for about 35 percent of those homes. In talking with Fitzgerald-McGowan, Quinones learned that’s comparable to numbers she’s seen from other sites.
The 30-foot perimeter makes up what the NFPA calls the “intermediate zone” around a structure. Creating defensible space by clearing brush and trees around a home lessens the chance a fire will jump to the structure and allows firefighters room to operate.
Quinones said he’s broken things down into manageable pieces, assigning homeowners four to five tasks per month, starting at the home and moving outward. Hopefully that will reach all the way out to the 100-foot mark at the end of the 24-month program.
He says his neighbors are buying in.
“When you go to somebody’s house and say, ‘We recommend you do this, this and this,’ they’ll say I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money. And I totally get it,” Quinones said. “But if you say I’m part of a national program trying to understand why people aren’t doing their part in protecting their home and their neighbors’ home, people respond to that.”
Quinones has re-enrolled the area in the Firewise program every year since 2014, a process that includes a lot of paperwork and commitment to doing the work and volunteering in the community for a certain number of hours, Fitzgerald-McGowan said.
He was present at a training session that kicked off the pilot program earlier this year in Texas, he said, where he learned how to collect and organize the data that he’d send back to NFPA.
The other sites in the pilot program range from Texas to Washington and Virginia to Wisconsin. Fitzgerald-McGowan explained that while every site is different, they were all chosen because they face significant threat from fire. And increasing resident participation in hardening their land against fire is a goal they all share.
She said each of the communities recognizes the stakes.
“(These are) already communities that are taking action hoping to increase the sustainability of their community and the chances of the community surviving a wildfire,” Fitzgerald-McGowan said. “They are accepting the fact that we’ve done some work and we need to do more to raise to that challenge.”
Quinones said being a part of a nationwide effort has paid dividends.
“People are loving it,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much more engagement we have because of this program.”
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