Writer: D'Lyn Ford
ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service has received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to teach homeowners about fire safety in communities threatened by forest fires.
The one-year program, which began Oct. 1, is a direct response to the fires that ravaged Los Alamos and other communities around the state this year. The damage raised public awareness about the potential dangers for communities built near forests with high fire risks, creating a need for more public education about how to be prepared and how to protect property.
"There's been a huge influx of people building homes in wooded areas where fire dangers are high, and that's put people and their homes at very great risk," said Bob Cain, Extension forest health specialist and coordinator of the program. "We've got a real problem with this wildland-urban interface that much of the public has been ignoring, despite counseling by state and federal agencies to adopt fire safety precautions. We want to take advantage of the heightened public awareness to help some of the most at-risk communities be better prepared in the future."
The program will offer educational materials and on-site workshops for homeowners and civic groups in 10 targeted communities chosen by the State Forestry Division. The workshops will cover such themes as forest thinning, how to select trees to be cut and removed, how to create fire defensible space around homes, appropriate building materials, fire resistant landscaping and vegetation, and how to provide access to property for firefighters.
"These will be hands-on workshops where we will demonstrate techniques and safety measures directly on local properties," Cain said.
Although the program will target the most at-risk communities, workshops will also be held, if requested, in any town in the state potentially threatened by fires, Cain said.
The program will provide curriculum and training to Extension agents and interested school teachers to allow them to conduct local workshops. PowerPoint presentations, archived on computer disks, will be distributed to all county Extension offices, and all the educational literature used in the program will be made available to the general public upon request.
Extension will use the Internet and multimedia resources to disseminate information. An interactive web site will be established to allow the public to ask questions and receive answers online. In addition, Extension will act as an information clearinghouse to give the public access to educational materials produced by other state and federal agencies.
"We expect to reach a lot of people through this program, not just in the targeted communities, but throughout the entire state," Cain said.
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