Carolina Trace now certified 'Firewise'
Thanks to the efforts of some homeowners and emergency services personnel, Sanford's Carolina Trace neighborhood is now safer from forest fires.
In a study conducted last year, the large, gated community off of N.C. Highway 87 in southern Lee County was ranked just below "high risk" of forest fires due to its large number of structures located near wooded areas, plus copious amounts of dry grass and pine straw and other considerations, said Bill Henning, chairman of the Carolina Trace Firewise Task Force.
Carolina Trace is one of only 21 communities in the entire state to be certified a Firewise Community for 2013, and the only other local development recognized is Harnett County's Carolina Lakes, Lee County Forest Ranger Sam Buchanan said.
"They're trying to minimize the risk, so if (a forest fire) occurs, it's not catastrophic," he said.
North Carolina has more land than any other state in the country that qualifies as Wildland/Urban Interface, which is a type of land likely to experience heavy loss of property, or even life, in a forest fire. The state also has the fifth-most number of houses located in such locations, which are defined as "the area where homes and communities meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation."
Henning and a handful of others from the community got together with the Carolina Trace Volunteer Fire Department and Buchanan's office in order to survey the community and get all 18 property owners' associations involved and brought up to speed — a task several of them said was nearly as daunting as doing the actual fire-proofing work.
In order to achieve a one-year Firewise Community/USA Certification from the National Firewise Communities Program, a community must:
* Enlist a Wildland/Urban Interface specialist to assess the community and help create solutions the community can follow.
* Sponsor a local Firewise Task Force.
* Observe a Firewise Communities/USA Day.
* Invest a minimum of $2 per capita in local projects to reduce the risk of fires.
* Submit an annual compliance report.
In addition to those requirements, task force members said they worked hard to inform individuals of the risks and how to take simple yet effective steps, like clearing pine straw off of roofs or cutting back trees near a house. They also convinced one property owners' association to allow brick homes, whereas in the past it required that every home be made of wood.
He said the inspiration for getting the certification actually came from his daughter, a U.S. Forest Ranger in Oregon.
"Every time she came in here to visit, she'd chew me out and tell me this whole place was going to catch on fire," Henning said. "So she told me about Firewise, and I thought it sounded great."
Many Trace residents will remember when the clubhouse burned down several years ago, but Henning said that's actually a separate issue because it was an interior blaze and not one that started from a wildfire. But even if there hasn't been a wildfire in the decade he's lived in the community, Henning said, it's better to be safe than sorry — especially when N.C. Firewise warns: "It is not a matter of if a wildfire will occur, but when it will happen."
A more complete safety guide can be found online at www.ces.ncsu.edu/forestry/pdf/ag/firewise_landscaping.pdf