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Madison County Community Embraces Firewise USA®

First responders from Walnut, Laurel, and Marshall Volunteer Fire Departments and the North Carolina Forest Service (FS) fighting the 2021 Wildfire at French Broad Crossing in Madison Co.

Is your community ready for a wildfire?

By George Bottiger and Jay Hawthorne

The Madison County community of French Broad Crossing (FBC) originally embarked on an Emergency Preparedness program in 2020 .  A committee of four residents was established to evaluate improvements in wildfire preparedness and in medical response.


Mountain Valley’s RC&D leadership had presented information to the residents in the previous year, but the program did not get much traction.  This committee reached out again to MVRC&D and met with the organization’s leadership to review possible paths forward and resources necessary.


As plans were being formed, the spring wildfire season of 2021 began.  On Sunday, April 18, residents on a morning walk saw smoke coming up from banks of the French Broad River that runs on the west side of the development.  9-1-1 calls were placed. First responders from Walnut, Laurel, and Marshall Volunteer Fire Departments and the North Carolina Forest Service (FS) arrived.  They immediately began fighting the wildfire on several fronts with fire breaks and tactical back burns.  A FS helicopter arrived and began shuttling water from a nearby pond.   A cautionary evacuation of one section of the development was executed.   By 4:30 PM, firefighters had done their job well and residents were allowed to return to homes shortly thereafter.  Over 19 acres were burned, but no structures were damaged and no one was injured.


This event motivated the entire community and committee work was accelerated.   The national Firewise USA® program was selected as an appropriate model for planning, educating, and embracing the best prevention practices for our area.  It gave the committee a framework, ideas, examples, and it required discipline in execution.   Fundamentally, it is a structured management plan to prepare  communities for an eventuality when wildfires will happen, not if they will.


Mountain Valleys RC&D (MVRC&D) personnel were instrumental in joining every committee meeting, researching alternative options, and making definitive suggestions that were incorporated into our plans.  The Walnut Fire Department and NC Forest Service were also critical in making suggestions and supporting actions in the plan.


Key actions started with writing a Site Action Plan and getting FBC HOA Board approval.  Community guidelines were revised to comply with Firewise recommendations. Next, a community map was developed with help from Madison County Emergency Operations Center to show all roads, homesites, trails, and emergency exit routes.  It even has contour lines so firefighters could quickly plan their activities upon arrival on the scene of future fire events.


Residents of FBC remove potential wildfire fuel.

Then, mitigation actions and projects were defined with help of the supporting first responders.  Individual homesite assessments were done by MVRC&D and FS personnel.  Walnut VFD traced and drove all emergency exit routes to prove accessibility.  For common areas, defensible space recommendations were developed and executed.  Pre-emptive removal of potential wildfire fuel from higher risk areas received significant attention.  An annual educational meeting of homeowners has been held for two years and plans are in place for this practice to continue.  New information is presented, previous information is refreshed, home assessment support is provided, and an evacuation drill is completed (every two years).


French Broad Crossing was recognized by National Fire Protection Association as a Firewise USA® site within the second year of activity.  The resident committee continues to develop plans and manage actions to prepare the development with best practices and advice from FS, our first responders, and MVRCD.

Is your community ready for a wildfire?

The Firewise USA® program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters.  Wesley Sketo of the NC Forest Service is the State Liaison for this program in our area.

Contact Mountain Valleys for more information and connection to resources regarding wildfire preparedness. 828-206-6159.

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