Nearly 45 million homes currently exist in our nation’s wildland-urban interface (WUI). With more people moving to areas of wildfire risk every year, it’s critical that residents take action to help protect their homes and communities from wildfire. The challenge faced in many communities is that residents may not fully understand the risks or actions they can take to reduce them. Many people may believe that firefighters will be able to protect their homes and rescue them from wildfires, not understanding that residents have an important role to play in their own safety.
So, what can you do as a resident in the WUI?
The first step is to make sure you understand the concept of the “home ignition zone” and how it impacts your home. Years of scientific research show that removing fuel sources from the area immediately around the home reduces the risk of home ignition from embers or radiant heat. The basic idea of the Home Ignition Zone is that the construction and composition of a home and its surrounding vegetation have the biggest influence on whether a home will ignite from a wildfire. The first 0 to 5 feet around a structure, known as the “Immediate Zone,” is critical. Work there to reduce the risk may be no more complicated than seasonal yard and debris cleaning.
Firewise USA® has online resources that can help you build your knowledge in 4 easy steps:
First, visit the program’s Home Ignition Zone resource page. There, you can read more about the risks to homes by wildfire embers and actions you can take in the “Immediate”, “Intermediate”, and “Extended” zones from your home to reduce those risks.
Second, view the 30-min, “Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes”, online training video. This engaging video will help you understand the basics of how wildfires progress, ignite homes, and the actions that can be implemented to make homes safer.
Third, read the various Wildfire Research Fact Sheets, created by NFPA and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. These will take your strong knowledge of the home ignition zone and apply it to risk areas around your house, like vents & under-eave construction, roofing materials, skylights, siding, decks, and fencing.
Fourth, put this knowledge into action by viewing the 30-min, “Community Wildfire Risk Assessment”, online interactive tutorial. You will learn how to evaluate your community’s strengths and vulnerabilities to wildfire and define action plans that you and your neighbors can accomplish.
Next, build on these steps by learning about your local fire history and the situational awareness of wildfire threats.Your local fire department and state forestry agency will have many resources to help develop this knowledge.
Now, talk with your neighbors.
All of this knowledge can’t stay in a vacuum.Residents must work together, sharing knowledge and even volunteering to help others, because wildfire is a common risk to an entire community. Federal campaigns like the “Fire Adapted Communities” Network foster communication among all stakeholders in a community. National programs like Firewise USA® give residents a common purpose in a neighborhood and a path forward.
What can local government and agencies do to support the building of public knowledge?
All levels of government can help create a more informed public that is ready to take steps needed for a future with more wildfire activity. Through initiatives like educating residents on ignition-resistant home improvements and property mitigation; to supporting the development of a trusted workforce homeowners can look to for mitigation guidance and labor; to funding social science research to better understand human behavior in the context of disasters; and ensuring people know what actions to take when there is a wildfire, including evacuation; these will not only save lives and property but also reduce the burden on first responders.
Fire safety educators should keep in mind that people might be new to the entire concept. In some cases, people move to new areas because of employment, life changes, or retirement. In other cases, the very landscape around them evolves, due to development, regional drought, and invasive vegetation. Whatever the case may be, the public must understand the risks around them and importantly, feel empowered that they can indeed make a difference.
There is also the challenge of reaching all of those at risk to wildfire. These include the elderly, disabled, and economically disadvantaged groups who are more likely to be in areas of higher wildfire risk and who often face tragic results from wildfire events. Additionally, there are folks at risk, maybe even your own neighbors, who may not have the means or ability to do risk reduction steps around their home.Local governments and agencies must ensure that their outreach recognizes and meets the needs of all their residents.
Learn more from the resource links above and bring your knowledge to the solution for wildfire loss.