Wildfire plan progressing

A Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for Warren and Forest Counties is still moving along, although somewhat slower than planned.

Dan Glotz, planning director for Warren County said, “The Wildland Fire Association has been contracted to develop the plan, as they are experts in developing these plans. We are collecting data from various fire departments to identify areas of risk, and a few have responded already. We were hoping to wrap this up by the end of summer, but its going slower than anticipated and will probably run into next year.”

He continued, “I will be sending out one more notification to the fire departments urging them to complete their data collection.”

In addition to the data collection phase, the plan will provide analysis and recommendations. The recommendations would include things private property owners can do to protect their property.

“Pockets of heavy forest that have valuable property, such as homes, camps and infrastructure like power lines; local bridges that are insufficient or are weight restricted, preventing fire equipment crossing and inventories of equipment and manpower” are examples of the information that needs to be documented, he said. Firefighters call the area where homes and development meet and intermingle with undeveloped wildland the Wildland Urban Interface, (WUI).

Glotz said, “The focus of the plan is primarily wildland fires, as well as grass fires. The idea behind it is to minimize loss of property and life in susceptible areas.” He noted that having this plan in place will open the door for federal grants for training and equipment.

“We are partnering Warren and Forest Counties and their respective planning and zoning departments with the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR), volunteer fire departments and the City of Warren’s fire department.”

He added, “Our project is kind of extraordinary. Most wildfire protection plans are on the municipal level, where ours is multi-county. The ANF is the driving force behind that.” He added, “Fires don’t stop at the county line.”

Peter To, fire management officer for the ANF said, “We got involved in this because everyone’s funding is being reduced. Completing the CWPP will help the area compete with other communities for funds for training, equipment and proscribed burns. There are a lot of players involved, with 21 fire departments in Warren County and three in Forest County. We’ve heard from half of them, but volunteers have full-time jobs and emergency calls to respond to.”

Glotz noted that the volunteer fire departments “are struggling for volunteers and having a difficult time recruiting new ones. A lot of the firefighters are getting up there in years, and there doesn’t seem to be the numbers of youth volunteers as there was 20 years ago, and the training requirements today are unbelievable.”

To said, “We are right in the middle of a critical phase, getting input from the fire departments and the data bases of the ANF and DCNR, and we are shooting for the end of the year to get a draft out.”

Cecile Stelter, district forester for the DCNR explained the differences and similarities between the states Firewise Plan and the CWPP. “The CWPP is more like a master plan, and Firewise gets more into recommendations and suggestions for a plan of action.” She said that implementation of plans would include things like community involvement and getting people to take action on the ground level, defining defensible spaces around homes and businesses, analyzing areas of higher risk and determining entry and egress for fighting fires.”

She also spoke of the difference between fires in the west, and fires east of the Mississippi, saying the western fires were on “a much larger scale, but there are more fires in the east. And a house burning down in Pennsylvania is just as bad as one in Colorado.”