Foresters and firefighters promote Firewise program

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - It's a problem that threatens thousands of South Mississippi homes each year. Wildfires can't always be prevented, but there are some things home owners can do to minimize the risk. That was the subject of a community conference in Biloxi on Tuesday.

Hundreds of South Mississippi neighborhoods border the woods.  Firefighters call that boundary the Wildland-Urban Interface.  As it increases, so does the risk of wildfire.

"The crown jewel of Firewise, so to speak, is a community that's designated a Firewise Community," said Leslie Blackwell with the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

The conference is promoting ways to reduce the risk of wildfires.

"A wildfire doesn't care. It's going to go where the fuel is. If you're ready on the front end, you won't have quite as much problem, quite as much real estate damage on the back end," said Blackwell.

Foresters encourage reducing that fuel by keeping dead trees and brush cleared. Home owners can also landscape with plants that are less flammable.

Some fire prevention concerns can be addressed when planning a new neighborhood.

"You can say, 'Well look, you've got wood lines here and we need to clear this much property to the back of the home. Or we need to have this wide of streets, this big a turnaround at the end of the cul de sac so our fire truck can turn around,'" said Biloxi fireman Ronnie Herrin.

"This is the main highway," said Laurie Pierpont, as she pointed to a map of her community.

She is mayor of the first Mississippi community to be Firewise certified. Her town of Snow Lake Shores abuts Holly Springs National Forest in the extreme northern part of the state.

Roadsides that were once overgrown are kept clear of any brush that could fuel a fire.

"And in ditch lines we burn the excess needles or the leaves, so that is not a future problem with our brush," Mayor Pierpont said.

Foresters and firefighters say much of the Firewise program is common sense, but can safeguard communities from devastating wildfire.

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