Wildfire Defensible Space

Communities need to better protect themselves and their firefighters

“Houses will grow back,” Paul told the crowd.

He went on to explain that the lives of firefighters trying to defend a house cannot grow back so easily.

Paul Chamberlin, a smoke jumper for 25 years with about 450 jumps, was speaking with four others for an I am Interchange event in Bozeman.

“He truly is an icon,” Jan Stoddard, from the Department of Commerce, confirmed about Paul.

Everyone had differing opinions on how, or whether, fires should be managed. But, everyone on stage could agree that when firefighters were sent on a fire they needed a barrier of safety.

Wildfire Defensible Space

The panel at I Am Interchange’s event

Jan, whose focus is on tourism and business development, explained that communities and homeowners who were near forests needed to provide a ‘defensible space’ for firefighters. Defensible space is a landscaped area designed to reduce the threat of approaching fire. It’s not only important for the common sense of keeping your neighborhood or home better protected from forest fires but also to protect the firefighters who will go in to fight for your house.

Paul, now a fire safety specialist, noted that he does feel for those who have lost houses. However, houses and structures can’t be his top priority.

“I’m working for the parents, the children, the wives of these firefighters,” Paul explained.

Luckily, there are programs in Montana that can help communities create the space that firefighters need to better defend people’s homes.

Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International created Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) in 2015, to help communities actively mitigate their wildfire risk.

To learn more about CPAW, and what your community can do better to protect itself and its firefighters read our article from this past January here.

Andie Creel

Feature Photo by August L. Schield

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