MOORESBURG — A Hawkins County gated community that was previously identified as extremely vulnerable in the event of a wildfire has achieved Firewise USA site recognition from the National Fire Protection Association.
The Tennessee Division of Forestry and local officials joined the residents of Chelaque Estates Wednesday morning for a ceremony to celebrate the community’s becoming a nationally recognized Firewise USA site.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell said Chelaque is Hawkins County’s only Firewise USA site, but other communities in the county are vulnerable.
What motivated this effort?
The Gatlinburg wildfires that began in November 2016 killed 14 people, injured 175 others, destroyed more than 2,400 homes and businesses and caused more than $500 million in damage.
Following the tragedy, many communities, especially those located in heavily wooded areas with rough terrain that could be easily cut off, have worked to achieve Firewise USA status.
Murrell told the county commission’s Public Safety Committee Thursday that Chelaque Estates checks all of those boxes.
“That (a wildfire) would be a nightmare in there,” Murrell said. “You’ve got 80-something residences in there. Part of them are seasonal, part of them are full-time, but there’s one way in and one way out. If it catches on fire, it’s a tinderbox.”
Murrell added, “But they have worked a lot down there, cleaning out around their homes, making it safer. We have a meeting scheduled for the first two weeks in September with the homeowners’ association on their evacuation plans, where they’re going to evacuate the people to if they need to. They’re being very proactive. The Sevier County fire made them really step up and listen.”
Murrell said he hopes that the Chelaque Estates’ success in achieving Firewise USA status will inspire other gated communities in Hawkins County to do the same.
There’s grant money available if other communities want to follow Chelaque Estates’ example. Murrell said it’s very important to the county that they do it.
There are about 1,400 Firewise USA communities nationwide.
How do you earn Firewise USA status?
To earn Firewise USA site recognition, a community must work with its local fire department and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry to conduct wildfire hazard assessments.
State Forester David Arnold said communities must also develop and implement a Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
“The community’s commitment to complete projects specified within their Community Wildfire Protection Plan allows them to apply for grant opportunities through the Division of Forestry,” Arnold said. “This is a testament to the power of partnerships to better protect the citizens of Tennessee.”
Chelaque Estates is the sixth Tennessee community to earn the recognition in 2018. Tennessee led the nation for the number of new Firewise USA sites for the first quarter of 2018, bringing the state’s total to 24 since the program started in 2002.
“We are proud to have the Chelaque community be the first to be recognized as a Firewise USA site in Hawkins County,” said Area Forester Cody Lamb. “They put tremendous effort in achieving this status, and they are safer because of that effort.”
For more information about the Firewise USA program, contact Tennessee Firewise Coordinator Leon Konz at (865) 414-5667 or visit www.BurnSafeTN.org.