Understanding the process: Community Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) comes to Ocean Township, New Jersey, 2018-2019

Understanding the process: Community Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) comes to Ocean Township, New Jersey

The CPAW team in March of 2018 in Ocean Township, NJ.

The CPAW team in March of 2018 in Ocean Township, NJ.

The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program is a program run by Headwaters Economics that brings together planners, scientists, and wildfire experts to “work with local municipalities to reduce wildfire risk through improved land use planning”. CPAW came to New Jersey after Ocean Township applied to the program via their Office of Emergency Management liaison, Bill Edwards, a former chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

Professionals from Headwaters Economics, Wildfire Planning International - Molly Mowery, Wildland Professional Solutions -Kelly Johnston, and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station - Eva Karau, provided analysis and assistance to Ocean Township officials for an entire year at no cost to the township. The New Jersey State Forest Fire and Forest Services were also involved, as well as local emergency management, planning, administrative and police personnel.

The CPAW program conducted field visits Ocean Township several times throughout the year and held numerous calls with local experts to assess wildfire risk and understand local zoning and planning ordinances in relation to wildfire. Throughout the process CPAW incorporated comments from the New Jersey stakeholders to assess wildfire hazard and wildland urban interface risk. Any potential changes to the township Master Plan and Community Wildfire Protection Plan, as well as the county Hazard Mitigation Plan were vetted with local authorities and inconsistencies addressed.

The first step was to create an updated wildfire hazard map for the area. Spatial modeling of burn probability and flame length was performed by Eva Karau of the Rocky Mountain Research Station (see maps below). As part of the vetting process, stakeholders found that the fuel models in the pinelands were predominantly of the shrub fuel category. This shrub fuel model was originally assigned in the LANDFIRE fuels map to capture the rate of spread that is typical of the ecosystem. However, this resulted in absolutely no canopy fire in the initial wildfire hazard results; therefore, Eva had to adjust the shrub fuel type input parameters in order to incorporate the important aspect of canopy height. This adjustment resulted in a more accurate map of canopy fire probabilities and flame heights as well as wildfire hazard across the region.

Wildfire hazard maps created by Eva Karau for the CPAW program in Ocean Township, NJ.

Wildfire hazard maps created by Eva Karau for the CPAW program in Ocean Township, NJ.

At the end of the process, officials in Ocean Township received a detailed document that lays out a clear path on how to address zoning regulations and tie all of the planning documents together into a cohesive unit that addresses wildfire in a unified and consistent way. The basis for prioritizing the recommendations is the wildfire hazard map. State officials now have a better understanding of how all of the zoning and regulations work together between the different regulatory agencies and spatial areas as well as a great example for how to look at wildfire hazard and risk across the state.

The CPAW program is open to any local municipality (town, city or county) with planning authority and applications are held on a yearly basis.