Fire Control and Safety in the WUI

The mixture of wild, urban, agricultural, public and private land prevents the choice of either urban or wildland fire suppression strategies. Ethical instincts and legal structures impose the preferential protection of houses and their residents, even if this allows the overall fire to propagate freely (Pyne et al. 1996). Compared to wildland fires, in WUI fuel loads are heavier, fuel moisture lower, residence time longer, and fire buildup more rapid (Cohen and Butler 1996). Although advances in fire fighting technology and management have resulted in very effective capabilities, WUI-fires damage most structures when they are not separated from the surrounding flammable vegetation, when built in steep slopes (over 50%), when fire-fighting forces have poor access and arrive late, and when water supply is limited. Fires at the WUI can simultaneously expose numerous structures to flames and to numerous firebrands and burning embers that fall on houses and adjacent vegetation over a wide area. No clearly agreed fire control strategy exists: perimeter control is problematic, counter firing almost impossible and prescription control unthinkable. Fire fighting resources, especially engines, are massed and dispatched to protect structures. It is likely that fire management will focus on just such issues in the upcoming decade (Miller and Wade 2003).

A combination of legislation, land-use planning, landscape design, and structural design is necessary to alleviate the fire safety problem at the WUI: Land-use plans should create zones of fire hazard severity. Legislative regulations should provide for maximum housing density per unit of wildland area, for adequate road network density for easy accessibility of all structures, for evacuation routes and sites in case of emergency and for restricted zones where construction is prohibited due to high fire risk. This includes strict regulations for waste disposal sites, open mines, amusement parks, picnic areas, nature trails, etc. Fire Safety regulations for houses, like clearing of vegetation, extra sources of water, appropriate building material etc., have to be applied at the residents own expenses, and penalized for violators. Jurisdiction by legislature should be granted to the fire-fighting forces regarding the selection of the appropriate fire strategy, e.g. choice of fire protection priorities, forced evacuation of people from residences, destruction of fences and gardens, use of private water sources, curfew of vehicle circulation.

Some general rules can be proposed to protect residences from wildfires:

■ avoid structural ignition from direct exposure to flames and radiated heat

■ avoid ignition by firebrands carried by winds or convection columns by appropriate roofing materials (fire retardants) and cleanliness, design and maintenance of windows, doors or vents to prevent the entrance of firebrands

■ minimize the opportunity for interior ignition from external sources, and avoid large windows and sliding glass doors

■ install electric power circuits underground in wildland areas

■ make extra sources of water (e.g. swimming pools) available to the fire suppression forces

■ avoid creating obstacles, e.g. fences, dead-end roads, to the movement of the fire suppression forces

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Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

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