East Texas students helping elderly better prepare homes for wildfires

ETOILE, Texas– A group of students from this tiny East Texas town are leading the charge to help their community better prepare for wildfires.

Etoile School in Nacogdoches County is the first school in the country to help its community receive Firewise Communities, USA certification. Firewise is a national program that helps communities identify and mitigate wildfire risks.

On Saturday, March 7, 2009, the school will hold a workday to help elderly community members eliminate potential fuel hazards — such as grass and limbs that generally burn in a wildfire — around their homes.

The Firewise program stresses the use of deliberate landscaping and creation of a defensible space around your home. Following those principles, the students will be raking leaves and moving woodpiles and other combustibles away from homes and structures.

Texas Forest Service (TFS) is bringing employees from Nacogdoches to help with chainsaws and other manpower needs.

The workday begins at 8:30 a.m. and lasts until mid-afternoon.

Etoile Firewise Chairwoman Gabrielle Newman, an 8-grader, said she is enthusiastic about the school’s Firewise project. For earning the national recognition, Etoile School has been awarded a plaque, framed print, Firewise signs and a coffee table book.

“When we are done we plan to make Etoile a safer community,” Gabrielle said. “As I graduate this year, I hope to take this program with me to Woden High School.”

The Etoile School Firewise Board is made up of five students in the sixth through eighth grades. Board members are Shelby Abel, Chase Webb, Mackenzie Corbett, Madelyn Lowery and Gabrielle Newman. Project advisors are Etoile School teachers Alicia Eberlan and Linda Tootle and Etoile School Superintendent Andy Trekell. Etoile Volunteer Fire Chief Andy Sanders is the community liaison.

Anyone interested in participating on Saturday should meet at the Etoile School. Come armed with your own rakes and gloves.

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