USA — The risk of fires spreading across what’s known as the wildland-urban interface is growing each year in the United States, says a new federal report summarizing a 2012 2-day workshop examining needed areas of further research.
Within America, more than 45 million homes in 70,000 communities are at risk of fires that start within wildland but jump to houses located within or near that wildland, says the report (.pdf), published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology after it held a workshop in its Boulder, Colo., campus in August 2012.
Fires along that edge of development tend to be particularly destructive, with the report noting that in the past 100 years, 6 of the top 10 fire loss incidents occurred in the wildland-urban interface.
Workshop participants said high-priority research areas exist in the areas of:
– hardening of structures; – specifying performance standards and needs; – understanding ignition phenomena; – educating stakeholders on ignition prevention; – improving tools for post-fire evaluation; – unifying and improving effectiveness of response teams; and, enhancing fuels management.
Traditional approaches to mitigating wildland-urban interface fires is to suppress a wildland fire as quickly as possible. That approach in fact works in 97 to 99 percent of cases, the report says, but when conditions such as high winds, prolonged dry conditions and accumulated fuels exist, fires can quickly overwhelm firefighters.
“Under extreme fire conditions, the suppression approach to mitigating the impact of WUI fires is less effective than under non-extreme conditions,” the report states.
An alternative approach, of improving fire resistance or hardening structures, lacks key data, such as a better understanding of the roles of direct flame contact versus embers in propagating fire in communities and the relative efficacy of construction material treatments, the report says.