Growing risk of wildfire triggers new wildland-urban interface guide

Growing risk of wildfire triggers new wildland-urban interface guide

05 October 2016

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USA —   The largest fire anywhere on U.S. Forest Service land this year is still burning in the Boise National Forest but, as Idaho staggers out of another smoky-choked summer, forest managers and communities are already planning for next season.

As it reads in the opening statement of Planning for Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface: A Resource Guide for Idaho Communities, “The price of wildfire in Idaho has never been higher.”

The rising costs of yearly burns in the backcountry have been a concern for the better part of a decade—particularly as it relates to areas where homes and businesses lay adjacent to wilderness. The trend toward bigger and more expensive fires prompted the Idaho Department of Lands, Boise State University and the University of Idaho to draft the wildland-urban interface guide—a three-year collaboration that was unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 5.

Among the findings:

Protecting just one house in the WUI can add up to $225,000 to the cost of fighting a fire.
Better communication is needed among city and fire officials and city planning departments, outlining fire prevention tactics and schematics for routine fire planning and enforcement.
The majority of Idahoans polled would support increasing restriction for building in the WUI.

“This is a complicated issue, but a lot of the techniques are already there to address it. We just need a way to think about it and to make sure we’re continually addressing it,” said Stephen Miller, a lead researcher and professor at the U of I College of Law. “As more people move here, these risks that maybe didn’t matter so much a generation ago are now really important.”

The preliminary guide was slated to be released at a Wednesday evening event at the Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center in Boise.

 “Wildfire is everyone’s responsibility in the state of Idaho. There’s not one person that won’t be impacted by wildfire in the state—whether it’s evacuations, a fire burning in and around the community, the loss of homes or the impact of smoke,” said Tyre Holfeltz who oversaw the project for the Idaho Department of Lands. “Everyone gets impacted, so we all have a role in planning for wildfire.”

Meanwhile, the Boise National Forest has released its first assessment of the Pioneer Wildfire, which has ravaged more than 188,000 acres and is 71 percent contained. In a review of 60,000 acres burned in the south-central area of the Pioneer Wildfire, engineers, botanists, geologists and silviculturists (forestry specialists) have identified a number of priority treatments—including immediate repair to roads and trails to preempt runoff and erosion after the fire, and reduction of post-fire effects to water quality and bull trout, which is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The assessment has triggered the U.S. Forest Service to give the Boise National Forest Service office authorization to immediately implement emergency stabilization actions within critical areas of the Pioneer fire.

The safety of visitors and our employees is a priority and putting emergency stabilization projects in place is the first step in addressing this risk,” said Cecilia Seesholtz, Boise National Forest supervisor.

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