Keowee Key, South Carolina
South Carolina Forestry and the Keowee Fire Department have worked together since 2005 to deliver wildland fire safety messages to residents, while helping them to increase their preparedness. Keowee Key was the second community to gain Firewise Communities/USA® recognition status in South Carolina, and since then, an additional four communities within the Keowee Fire District have received national Firewise recognition. The Keowee Lake region, on the far-western edge of the state, has a high proportion of natural land and can be relatively dry and windy, putting it at risk for bush fires.
South Carolina State Forester Mike Bozzo has been instrumental in the efforts to spread the wildland fire preparedness message in his home state. A 29-year veteran of the South Carolina Forestry Commission, he has worked tirelessly to build connections between forestry and the fire service. Most recently, this has included teaming with the Keowee Fire Department, in Salem, S.C., to incorporate the Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!) program. The International Association of Fire Chiefs introduced RSG! in 2010 as a way to engage fire departments with residents in wildfire safety activities
The Firewise program in South Carolina began in 2001 with the South Carolina Forestry Commission identifying high risk areas and providing Firewise workshops to community leaders and homeowners in those areas. “Fire departments are key contacts when assessing communities and developing Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP),” Bozzo notes. “We like to get them on board from the beginning, during the assessments.”
Seven South Carolina communities, including the five within Keowee Fire District, have created Firewise Councils/Boards, developed a CWPP and held a community Firewise event to enact fuel mitigation as laid out in the CWPP.
The North Myrtle Beach Highway 31 Fire served as a catalyst for community action. In April 2009, this fire burned more than 19,000 acres and destroyed 76 homes while damaging another 97 in and around the Barefoot Resort subdivision.
As Bozzo worked with Keowee Fire Chief Richard Caudill, the duo realized there was value to customizing the national ‘Ready, Set, Go! - Your Personal Wildland Fire Action Guide’ for the Keowee Fire District. Chief Caudill unveiled the guide during an initial presentation at Keowee Key. They created a booklet using local pictures and emergency evacuation magnets, along with bags with the RSG! logo, which were filled with Firewise, RSG! and other fire department materials.
“We’ve found the RSG! program to be good support to the Keowee Key community’s, ‘A FIREWISE® COMMUNITY: Keowee Key, South Carolina Assuring Residents are Ready and Set to Go!’ existing Firewise efforts,” says Bozzo. “While we have always addressed the evacuation issue, RSG! provides information that further supports our messaging. It also helps communities establish an emergency evacuation plan.”
There are three additional communities in Horry County, S.C. that will be applying for Firewise status within the next few months. As South Carolina continues to educate its citizens on wildfire safety, we look forward to seeing their great work continue in the rest of the state.