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Boreal Community Media

Cook County Connections: What is Firewise?

Aug 18, 2023 09:35AM ● By Content Editor
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From Cook County, Minnesota - August 18, 2023

By: Aaron Mollin-Kling, Cook County Firewise Coordinator


Firewise is an educational program that provides a set of tools to help property owners prepare for wildfires to reduce the chances of future damage or destruction to their property. The program has goals to educate people on the role of wildfire and its importance as well as promote resilient healthy forests. For thousands of years in the Great Lakes Region, Native Americans used fire as a tool to manage the ecosystems and forests they live in. The complete suppression of wildfires over the last 100 years has led to an extreme build-up and overstocking of volatile fuels in our forests. Firewise aims to help property owners create healthy forest conditions and replicate conditions more typical of the natural landscape when fires were managed across the land by Native Americans. There is a short film that can be found on the Firewise website, Oshkigin: Spirit of Fire, that highlights the deep, reciprocal relationship with the land and the role fire plays in that relationship told by Ojibwe Wildland firefighters, Fond du Lac elder Vern Northrup and Damon Panek. View the video:

The Firewise program has many parts including fuel reduction, public outreach, Firewise Communities, Firewise Ambassadors, chipper days/brush pick-ups, brush sites, and evaluations.    

Fuel reduction is focused on thinning out balsam fir and other ladder fuels in the ever-growing urban-wildland interface to improve forest health and reduce wildfire intensity as well as promoting diversity among species in our forest. Ladder fuels are volatile vegetation that can bring fire from the forest floor up into the canopy. Some examples of ladder fuel are tall grasses that reach the branches of conifers or conifers with branches that are in close proximity to or touching the forest floor. Commonly these are the balsam fire and spruce on our landscape. To reduce ladder fuels, balsam fir should be completely removed within 30 feet of all structures and road access. This will help protect our structures and evacuation routes. Small-diameter fir trees should be prioritized as well as any dead-standing conifer. Larger diameter conifers should be limbed so that branches are at least six feet off the ground from the lowest hanging point. Firewise has grant funding for fuel reduction treatments on private land in the Mid-Trail area of the Gunflint Trail; reach out to the Firewise Coordinator (contact information below) if your property is in the area and you are interested in being evaluated for assistance.

Public outreach is focused on educating property owners on how to improve the health of their forest along with how to prepare their property for the next wildfire. Outreach involves communications such as this one along with attending community events. Cook County Firewise also has a website,, to provide property owners with resources.

Firewise Communities are those that have taken appropriate measures to become more resistant to wildfire structural damage. In addition, communities that have earned the special distinction of being recognized under the Firewise USA™ Program have systematically implemented a Firewise mitigation plan in their neighborhood. Program criteria and additional information can be found on the National Fire Protection Association website, or you can contact the Cook County Firewise Coordinator (contact information below).

Firewise Ambassadors help mobilize their community to engage in wildfire safety and wildfire preparedness activities. Ambassadors serve as neighborhood points of contact for the Cook County Firewise Coordinator. This means talking to neighbors and community members about Firewise and handing out educational materials. Ambassadors do not need to be an expert in wildfires, they just need to be passionate about motivating their community members to keep forest health and wildfire safety in people's minds.

Chipper days and brush pick-up days occur every year in communities across the county. These events occur when a community comes together to hire a contractor to either chip vegetation for making their property Firewise, rent a chipper themselves, or pile vegetation at the end of their driveway and hire a contractor to collect the piles. Firewise reimburses communities for chipper days and brush pick-ups to a certain amount. Firewise Communities and Ambassadors are highly preferred for these funds so if your community is interested in one of these events, they should reach out to enroll in the Firewise Community or Firewise Ambassador programs.

Firewise has seven community brush disposal sites located throughout Cook County that accept brush and vegetation from property owners. These sites are strategically located to give all county citizens the ability to reduce wildfire risk. There is no charge for disposing of vegetation and the sites are open all summer and fall. To keep the brush sites open and maintained, it is important that no trash, treated lumber, or stumps are disposed of. To find the closest site to you view the interactive map on the Cook County Firewise website,

Free Firewise evaluations are conducted every year by request or within the fire district of focus for that year. The intent of these evaluations is to help property owners understand the wildfire risks on their property and to understand what can be done to protect structures from wildfires in the future. Evaluations are also particularly important in helping provide adequate access for emergency vehicles. Having an evaluation completed does not obligate the property owner to change anything on your property and does not affect insurance rates or taxes.

What can you do to your property now?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, most homes that burn during a wildfire are ignited by embers landing on the roof, in gutters, on or under decks, porches, open foundations, or in attic vents or other openings in the home. Homeowners should routinely clean out gutters, rake under open decks/foundations, enclose decks/foundations and vents with metal screening (1/8 inch and less), and weed whip dry grass and shrubbery around their home to reduce ember ignition. Firewood should never be stored next to homes or cabins in wildfire season. Consider moving firewood storage 30 feet from structures if possible. Nothing flammable should be stored under open foundation structures.

In your defensible space, the first 30 feet around your home, there are many things you can do to Firewise your property. Some of these things are mowing your grass regularly, thinning your conifers with a focus on balsam, removing ladder fuels, and moving any firewood storage, fire rings, or brush piles in the defensible space. Consider replacing outdated roofs with new shingles or metal.  Maintain properly graded driveways and roads, clear a 14x14 foot corridor on driveways for emergency vehicles to safely enter your property as well as provide a proper area for vehicles to turn around. Consider removing vegetation around your foundation and replacing it with gravel or other non-flammable alternatives.

For more information about Firewise or more ways to Firewise your property please view the Firewise website or contact the Firewise Coordinator with the information below.


Cook County Firewise Coordinator

Aaron Mollin-Kling

[email protected]



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