What it means to be a FireWise Community

The fire consumed over 1,000 structures.

by Jill Sarick Santos

This December marks five years since the Thomas Fire stormed through Ventura County at record speed and, at the time, resulted in record devastation. The fire consumed over 1,000 structures and burned nearly 300,000 acres. While our community has worked hard these last five years to be better prepared, there still is much more work to do. Fire Safe Councils (FSCs) are grassroots, community-led organizations that mobilize residents to protect their homes, communities, and environments from catastrophic wildfire. In Ventura County, there are several established and some emerging FSCs, all with a common goal: to help ensure our communities are fire safe.

The Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council (VRFSC) was established by concerned property and business owners in 2009, incorporating as a 501c3 in 2010. The Council remained relatively small until 2020 when they received funding from California Fire Safe Council and CalFire. Since then, the VRFSC has grown to a staff of eight who report to nine board of directors. The mission of the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council is to reduce the threat of wildfire to our community, through action, education and collaboration. We achieve this through our three main programs which include, home hardening, coordinating Community Wildfire Protection Planning (CWPP) efforts, and organizing fuel reduction and mitigation activities.

Our Home Hardening Program offers free home hardening assessments that guide homeowners in a range of actions they can take to mitigate their risk. These actions range from zero to low cost with minimal effort, all the way to more expensive and elaborate retrofits. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), home hardening actions can reduce a property’s risk for ignition by almost 90%1. The assessments are currently being studied by the insurance industry in hopes that actions taken could translate into more equitable homeowner insurance premium affordability.

Building upon the education and awareness that the Home Hardening program inspires, the Council also coordinates fuels mitigation work, including curbside chipper events for residents. Additionally, the Council is actively identifying strategies that would offer incentives to a homeowner when retrofitting their property to “harden it” from wildfire.

Finally, FSCs work collaboratively across a variety of stakeholder and decision-making forums to update and/or create Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP), which help identify risks and priority mitigation projects.

Once the evacuation orders are issued, it is the goal of the VRFSC that we’ve done our due diligence to ensure that residents are confidently prepared to leave their homes calmly and trust that their structure will survive. This will free up emergency response personnel to focus on their critical work of saving lives and infrastructure. Together, we all can learn to adapt to and live as a FireWise Community.

To learn more, visit the Ventura County Fire Department’s Ready-Set-Go page. Homeowners located in the cities of Ventura, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark and Oxnard/Port Hueneme can register online for a free home hardening assessment.

Jill Sarick Santos has led community-based environmental outreach efforts for nearly 30 years and is the Executive Director of the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council.


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