In late 2006, the Mississippi Forestry Commission and The Nature Conservancy commissioned the preparation of wildfire protection plans for a fifteen-county south Mississippi region. The plan is an effort to address changes to the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) brought about by Hurricane Katrina as well as increased development in many parts of the region in recent years. While some downed timber was salvaged, an increased risk of future wildfire remains a threat because of residual debris.
The Wildland-Urban Interface, where structures and other developments merge with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels, can create one of the most dangerous and complex situations for firefighters. The WUI zone can pose a significant risk to communities in the event of a large-scale wildfire. In a proactive effort to address these increased risks and others, Harrison County has agreed to create a County Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). A CWPP can reduce the potential for loss in the event of a wildfire by identifying priorities for the protection of life, property and critical infrastructure within the WUI.
In March 2007, SMPDD officials began gathering geographical data, historical fire information, etc. Planners then met with the local fire marshal to review the information and obtain input on the strengths and weaknesses of the county fire departments and their ability to fight wildfires. Later a Steering Committee was formed through cooperation of local, state and federal agencies, and other interested parties. The Steering Committee included representatives from the Harrison County Fire Service, the Mississippi Forestry Commission, The Nature Conservancy and Volunteer Fire Departments.
Over the next several months the Steering Committee, with the opportunity for public input, produced a County Wildfire Protection Plan. The plan includes several components: Geographic Information System produced maps, a County Risk Assessment, a Mitigation Projects List, Structure Ignitability Recommendations, and an Action Plan and Assessment Strategy. It is the intent of the Steering Committee that this plan will be utilized to guide development and educate landowners, as well as to address and then treat at-risk wildfire areas within the county.
These plans were developed with an effort toward consistency with the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.