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May 1, 2009
By Jim Sloan
Ed Smith and Sonya Sistare of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s “Living with Fire” program were honored today (Friday, May 1) with a Bronze Smokey Bear Award.
The award was presented at the Nevada Division of Forestry building in Washoe Valley during the opening ceremonies of Nevada Wildfire Awareness Week, an event organized by Smith and Sistare each year to spotlight the dangers homeowners face from wildland blazes.
The Bronze Smokey Bear is given to organizations or individuals who have a “significant impact” on wildland fire prevention within a particular state.
“Ed and Sonya have done more to help homeowners survive wildfires than anyone else in Nevada,” State Forester Pete Anderson said in surprising Sistare and Smith with the prestigious award.
Winners of Smokey Bear awards are chosen by the National Association of State Foresters, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and The Advertising Council. A maximum of 10 of the bronze awards are handed out annually across the country.
Smith, a Natural Resource Specialist with Cooperative Extension, and Sistare, the coordinator for the “Living With Fire” program, were recognized in part for their campaign “Wildfire – It Only Takes A Spark,” a multi-year effort to reduce wildfires caused by equipment, said USFS Fire Prevention Program Manager Helene Cleveland.
This year, the Living With Fire program is asking homeowners to “Be Ember Aware” and to clean up areas of their homes where windborne embers from advancing wildfires can alight and then ignite. These places include wood shake roofs and clumps of woody debris such as pine needles that can settle on roofs, gutters and porches. Embers, floating as far as a mile ahead of an advancing wildfire, are the most common reason homes are lost in wildfires, Smith said.
There are more than 250 communities in Nevada at risk from wildfires and 68 are at extreme or high risk.
Smith has been involved in wildfire issues for more than 20 years, and was instrumental in creating the Nevada Fire Safe Council to help make homes, neighborhoods and communities fire safe. From 120 concerned citizens attending the first meeting in 1999, the council has grown to include citizen volunteers across Nevada, as well as all the federal agencies in Nevada, Nevada Division of Forestry, Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators, the Nevada Commission on Economic Development and State Farm Insurance Company. The Nevada Fire Safe Council now has more than 6,000 individual members, 102 local fire safe chapters and additional corporate sponsors.
Smith has also produced teaching materials used around the world to teach homeowners how to take steps to protect their homes from wildfire. More than 2 million copies of his “ Living With Fire” homeowners’ guide have been printed, and the publication is used in 14 states and Canada. Living With Fire products are the most widely used wildfire threat-reduction materials in Nevada.
“Ed is a recognized leader in developing defensible space educational material,” said Ruta Glinski, the Fire Mitigation and Education Specialist with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. “The ‘Living With Fire’ program explains defensible space in simple terms and is in a format which can be used by teachers, fire department personnel, homeowners and fire educators to promote the concepts of defensible space.”
Sistare, who joined the program in 2004, coordinates all Living With Fire activities, fields all questions regarding the program, responds to requests for information, markets the program, oversees the Living With Fire website, procures funding, coordinates with partners and forges new partnerships.
“Sonya has developed a reputation for reliability, quality, and enthusiasm,” Glinski said. “She possesses both an outstanding work ethic and organizational skills. Sonya has been instrumental in many Nevada Fire Safe Council partner activities, as well as the Nevada Wildland Urban Interface Summit, Wildfire Awareness Week and support of the Nevada fire safe council chapters and members.”
The Living With Fire program users receive a customizable CD containing a template for the “Living With Fire - A Guide for the Homeowner” publication, which they tailor for their area by inserting photos of typical housing developments and local fuel types. Four versions of the template are currently available – Great Basin, Eastern Sierra Front, Lake Tahoe Basin and Mount Charleston – but versions of the Living With Fire publications have been adapted by many states, Canadian provinces, and portions of Australia.
Smith and Sistare have recently implemented a strategic wildfire threat reduction education program targeting Nevada’s extreme and high risk communities. They take data from the Nevada Community Wildfire Risk/Hazard Assessment Project completed in August 2005, along with survey data from telephone interviews and census data, and design educational programs tailored to each target community.