Firewise USA Recognition Process

Lake County Fire Safe Council will help your neighborhood navigate the process and complete these steps!  Using the process below, communities develop an action plan that steers their residential risk reduction activities, while engaging and encouraging their neighbors to become active participants in building a safer place to live. Neighborhoods throughout the United States are embracing the benefits of becoming a recognized Firewise USA community.



Form a board/committee that’s comprised of residents and other applicable wildfire stakeholders. Consider inviting the local fire department, elected officials, emergency managers, and if applicable, the HOA, Neighborhood Association, or property management company to participate. This group will collaborate on developing the site’s risk reduction priorities, develop a multi-year action plan based on the risk assessment and oversee the completion of the annual renewal requirements needed to retain an “in good standing” status.


Your Firewise committee will work together to write a wildfire risk assessment as the first step in becoming a nationally recognized Firewise USA™ site.  Your local fire department and Lake County Fire Safe Council will help, but it’s important that the community take ownership and learn the concepts required to identify and reduce wildfire risks and hazards.  By following our template below, completing the assessment is a relatively easy process and will help your committee better understand the fire problem in your community. Lake County Fire Safe Council and your local fire department will help you complete any sections of the assessment where your committee needs assistance. The assessment is an important piece of the Firewise USA application process that will help identify and guide your priorities and activities. The risk assessment will be the board/committee’s primary tool in determining the risk reduction priorities within your site’s boundaries. Assessments need to be updated every five years.

The Firewise USA program is voluntary.  Everyone within the site’s boundary will benefit, whether they actively participate or not.  While a community risk assessment is part of the requirement for a Firewise USA application, individual home assessments by the firewise committee are not mandatory.  The community risk assessment is intended to document overall, global/neighborhood conditions visible from common areas, but the Firewise USA committee won’t be looking over fences or into backyards (unless the property owner extends an invitation!).  When visible from common areas, the assessment may look at roofing types, general building construction and condition, and general vegetation conditions to help come up with strategies to reduce neighborhood risk.

The assessment is usually conducted by the neighborhood Firewise USA committee with help from Lake County Fire Safe Council and the local fire department – while there are defensible space and vegetation management requirements in the fire code, this assessment is not about code enforcement and the assessment itself does not carry any penalties.  It will be used only to help inform future risk reduction strategies.

Want to learn more about the risk assessment process?  Take the online Firewise Risk Assessment Training.


Action plans are a prioritized list of risk reduction projects/investments for the participating site, along with suggested homeowner actions and education activities that participants will strive to complete annually, or over a period of multiple years. Action plans are developed by the board/committee and need updating at least every three years.

This should be a prioritized list of risk reduction projects/investments for the participating site, along with suggested homeowner actions and education activities that participants will strive to complete annually, or over a period of multiple years.  The submitted action plan should be broken down by year and reflect those goals.  As of 2018, the cycle for this is three years as it should be a living document that residents are checking off as they go.  As circumstances change (e.g., completing activities, experiencing a fire or a natural disaster, new construction in community, etc.), the action plan may need to be updated more frequently.


Each participating site is required to have a minimum of one wildfire risk reduction educational outreach event, or related activity annually.  Examples of educational outreach from the Firewise USA application and renewal form include:

  • Completed a national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project
  • Coordinated a community-wide awareness/educational activity that increases wildfire risk reduction actions and overall preparedness
  • Delivered via door-to-door, information on the community’s wildfire danger
  • Distributed “Welcome packets” with wildfire literature to all new residents
  • Evacuation drill in collaboration with a law enforcement agency, fire department or local emergency manager
  • Held a fire-resistant plant species workshop for residents in collaboration w/the local cooperative extension office
  • HOA meeting or community-wide presentation that detailed the need and importance for individual wildfire preparedness
  • Hosted a Firewise Virtual Workshop Viewing Party
  • Local emergency manager provided a presentation on building an emergency preparedness kit
  • Mentored adjacent communities on how to become a Firewise site
  • Provided an insurance policy clinic for residents to ensure policies are up-to-date with local building codes and costs, and inventories of personal belongings
  • Residents participated in a volunteer mitigation activity for a senior or disabled neighbor
  • Wildfire related article(s) placed in the community newsletter
  • Wildfire workshop for residents with speakers/demonstrations from a forestry agency, fire department, or emergency management office

Visit the program’s portal for additional ideas and suggestions for planning a successful educational outreach activity for your residents.


At a minimum, each site is required to invest the equivalent of $25.43 per residential dwelling unit* in wildfire risk reduction actions annually (the rate is based on the 2020 annual National Hourly Volunteer Rate; which is updated every year in April when the new amount is published). Find a wide range of qualifying expenditures (contractor costs, rental equipment), volunteer activities, grants, etc., that can be used in meeting the investment in the portal’s Risk Reduction Investment section. Residents completing select home modifications, along with any qualifying work performed at their home and in the adjacent home ignition zones can contribute related hours and/or costs towards meeting the sites collective investment amount.

Examples of investments tracked by money spent:

  • Chipper Costs: (Purchase/Rental, Fuel & Oil, Disposal Fees, etc.)
  • Other Equipment Costs: (Chain Saw purchase/rental, Power Equip. purchase/rental, Hand Tools, Protective Equipment, etc.)
  • Contractor Costs*: (Arborists, Landscapers, Professional Forestry Services, Debris Removal, etc.)
  • Home Improvement Costs*: (Roofs, Decks, Windows, Vent Screening, Retrofits, etc.)
  • Grants: (Grant awards not accounted for in the costs previously recorded)
  • Vehicle Mileage: (Slash Drop-off, Rental Equipment pickup, Meetings, etc.)

*Expenses must be related to improving wildfire resistance – for example, replacing or upgrading a deck with fire-resistant materials, or landscaping with the intent of improving defensible space.

NOTE – Firewise USA Sites are NOT required to invest or pay any cash to meet the risk reduction investment obligation.  Your volunteer time, and the time spent by homeowners clearing their property, counts toward the investment.  Look at it this way: each homeowner must invest and document ONE HOUR of work towards reducing wildfire risk. That’s it!

*Calculating the number of dwelling units for use with the risk reduction investment formula: There must be a minimum of 8 individual single family dwelling units within the site’s identified boundary. The number of dwelling units within the site applying for recognition must be included in the application. For definition purposes, a dwelling unit is a household/residence built for occupancy by one person, a family, or roommates, including mobile homes and cabins; and for multi-family residential occupancies (i.e. duplexes, and other types of attached housing). An apartment building with 10 units would be considered ten dwelling units. Each individual participating site is limited to less than 2,500 individual dwelling units within their identified boundary. Multiple sites can be located within a single large master-planned community/HOA. The Firewise USA™ program is designed for residential occupancies where residents actively participate in reducing the wildfire risk where they live; it is not a program for every occupancy type, or an entire town, city or county. Contact NFPA if you have questions about your area’s eligibility.


Lake County Fire Safe Council will help you prepare your application, and can manage the application and renewal process for you.  You may start an application at any point in the overall process by creating a site profile in the Firewise USA™ portal. Once all the criteria has been completed, the electronic application can be submitted. State liaisons will approve applications, with final processing completed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).


Resource credit: FIRESafe MARIN



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