Two-thirds of Maine’s population or about 780,000 residents live in the “wildland-urban interface.” In these areas structures intermingle with natural vegetation, and wildfire threatens lives, homes, and property.
The Maine Forest Service’s Division of Forest Protection established a Wildland-Urban Interface Committee in 2004 to facilitate completion of Community Wildfire Protections Plans in these areas. More than 4,500 homes were assessed to determine their risk factors. Of the homes surveyed, 88 percent were at “extreme” or “high” risk of ignition in a wildfire because of fuels buildup.
The solution to these potential incidents was to create defensible space around homes by removing fuels and clearing vegetation. Through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program of the Forest Service’s Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry program, the Maine Forest Service used National Fire Plan Funds to acquire a wood chipper in 2008 and a truck in 2009 for the Defensible Space Chipping Program.
To participate in this statewide program, communities must complete a Community Wildfire Protections Plan to identify and prioritize hazardous areas. As part of those plans, Maine forest rangers educate homeowners about ways to reduce the chance of structure fires. Residents who improve their defensible space may leave the brush they remove at the roadside where state forest rangers, local fire department personnel, and community volunteers collect the brush and turn it into chips, which are used for community projects or converted to wood pellet fuel.
Several communities have also used the Forest Protection Division’s brush cutters, which are carried on the chipper truck, to clear vegetation around dry hydrants and along rights-of-way.
In thirty months more than 300 homeowners have increased their defensible space, 944 acres have been treated, and 368 tons of hazardous fuels have been removed.
The chipping program has increased homeowner and community awareness, which resulted in Lake Arrowhead and Indian Point receiving recognition as Firewise Communities USA. Participating homeowners now understand Firewise terms and share their knowledge with neighbors.
The Maine Forest Service continues to build partnerships with local fire departments, community groups, and the media, to promote awareness of the need for homeowners to maintain adequate defensible space and efficiently dispose of hazardous fuels.
For additional information about the program go to the Maine Forest Service Web page.