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Boreal Community Media

COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Cook County Firewise Neighborhood Ambassador Program

Jul 10, 2020 01:13PM ● By Editor

By Todd Armbruster, Cook County Firewise Coordinator from Cook County MN - July 10, 2020

Do you have an interest in reducing wildfire risk, encouraging healthy forests, and talking with your neighbors? Cook County Firewise offers several programs designed to help raise awareness and reduce wildfire risk to life and property throughout our county. We are looking for Neighborhood Ambassadors willing to help us increase participation among neighbors for wildfire preparedness. Some examples include teaching neighbors about defensible space around their home, organizing a roadside brushing, or helping create a neighborhood evacuation plan. 

One of the most popular programs Cook County Firewise offers are seven free brush disposal sites where property owners can dispose of brush and small trees from cleaning up vegetation on their properties. These sites are maintained through a partnership with the United States Forest Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources using grant funding. Need help locating the nearest site? Visit for a map of the sites. You will also find a list of contractors on our website who can help you clean up vegetation and reduce your wildfire risk. 

Another program intended to help property owners understand the wildfire risks on their property, and what they can do to protect structures from wildfires, are Firewise evaluations. These are conducted approximately every five years and are also particularly important in helping identify adequate access for emergency vehicles. A trained evaluator will visit your property to evaluate vulnerable features of the house or cabin itself such as decks, gutters, and open foundations; the amount of vegetation around the structure; and access to the property to determine which factors are a risk on your property. They will provide an evaluation with suggested actions to help reduce wildfire risk.  

Other grant funded programs include community brush pick-up days, chipper rentals, cost share projects for elderly or disabled residents. These programs use different strategies to encourage residents to reduce wildfire risk on their properties. 

Hazardous fuels reduction projects are another program Cook County Firewise organizes in the highest risk areas of the county. These projects occur on private lands adjacent to the Superior National Forest and involve removing the most flammable vegetation, typically small balsam fir trees, to reduce fire intensity in the event of a wildfire. 

Wildfire sprinkler systems have been funded through FEMA grants obtained by the County in the past and provide great secondary protection in the event of a wildfire. These systems wet the structure and surrounding vegetation when a wildfire is nearby but don’t take the place of implementing Firewise principles around your property. 

All of these efforts discussed above are more effective at reducing wildfire risk when a group of neighbors participate together in a collective area. Neighborhood Ambassadors are needed to motivate neighbors and coordinate mitigation projects with help using Cook County Firewise grants.  We are looking for people who would be willing to work with us to increase the participation of their neighbors in wildfire preparedness actions. Some examples include improving defensible space around homes, roadside brushing, and creating a neighborhood evacuation plan. Once a neighborhood has taken steps to collectively reduce wildfire risk, they might consider applying for recognition as a Firewise USA site. This national program helps bring awareness to wildfire risk and motivates people to annually take wildfire mitigation steps as a community. 

For more information on Firewise in Cook County, visit or contact Todd Armbruster at [email protected] or 218-235-0899.

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service