Clemson Extension Forestry and Wildlife

Firewise Community Program Heats Up in South Carolina

Fires have been a historical feature of the landscape in South Carolina. Our state averages 3,000 wildfires a year. Although news headlines tend to focus on wildfires threatening homes in the western US, the wildland-urban interface, or the area where homes and wildland meet, is not just a western issue.

In 2009, South Carolina lost 76 homes with 97 others damaged in one major wildfire covering over 19,000 acres. New residents moving into the area were unaware of the historically recurring wildfire history. Often, individual homes that are lost are located in the wildland-urban interface. Wildfires in these developed areas are hard to control due to lack of access and other issues. This issue continues to increase as development increases. Now lives and property are threatened as never before.

Being firewise can help save your property. Georgia Forestry Commission , Georgia Forestry Commission,
Being Firewise can help save your property. Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Forestry Commission,

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Firewise Communities program was developed to combat this issue. The Firewise program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters. The Firewise Program provides homeowners and communities with simple and easy steps to help reduce a home’s vulnerability by preparing ahead of a wildfire. These steps are rooted in principles based on solid fire science research into how homes ignite. The program is promoted by the SC Forestry Commission and Clemson Extension. Here are a few basic, simple steps to help protect your home:
• Make sure leaves and other debris are cleared from gutters, eaves, porches, and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home. Leaf blowers can save you hours of time and labor!
• Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
• Remove flammable materials (firewood stacks, propane tanks, dry vegetation) within 30 feet of your home or other structures. Don’t let it touch your house, deck, or porch if it can catch fire.
• Prune any overhanging tree limbs or limbs touching your home’s roof, deck, porches, driveway, or outbuildings.
• Inspect the chimney and install a spark-arresting mesh screen if needed. Ensure all vegetation is at least 10 feet from your chimney or stovepipe.
• Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
• Create a separation between trees, shrubs, and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.
• Use metal wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch to cover exterior attic vents and prevent sparks from entering the home.
• Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screen with metal mesh to prevent embers from entering.
• Even though you don’t want to keep a garden hose attached to a spigot during the winter, make sure to keep it accessible if needed.

There is one last thing to be mindful of after taking these steps to reduce the chance of home ignition from direct flame, firebrand showers, and radiant heat. Always safely dispose of fireplace ashes.
To date, approximately 32 neighborhoods have become Firewise Communities in South Carolina, and several more are in the process. Each community addresses its specific wildfire safety needs with the Firewise Communities/USA process. They work with partners including Clemson Extension, the SC Forestry Commission, and local fire departments to organize, plan, and conduct activities each year to make a difference in their wildfire safety. Grants may be offered to reimburse communities for their wildfire preparedness efforts.

Forest fires don’t have to be disasters. The Firewise Communities Program encourages homeowners to be responsible for preparing their homes from the risk of wildfire. Will you…your home be ready? Be Firewise!



Carolyn Dawson, Cooperative Extension, Forestry and Wildlife Agent

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. 

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