Wildland Urban Interface

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Linking heterogeneity at the WUI to wildfire dynamics

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The complex interactions between atmospheric and fire-induced winds are a persistent obstacle to accurately predicting wildfire front behavior. There are a multitude of wildfire spread models, with one primary distinction being the level of fire-atmosphere coupling in each. Coupling of fire-induced winds and ambient winds in numerical models is carried out through linking the heat and mass fluxes from the wildfire with the surface energy fluxes in the atmospheric model. The challenge in this coupling is increased with the introduction of heterogenous surface conditions, e.g., terrain, canopies, buildings. To better understand the dynamic coupling of fire-induced winds and atmospheric winds at microscales, the fast-response wildfire model QES-Fire was used to study the effects of fire-induced winds near structures, and the relative importance of the momentum deficits caused by canopies and structures on fire-induced winds.

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Wildland-urban fire disasters aren’t actually a wildfire problem

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Consider several of the most devastating fire disasters of the last century. In August 2023, the wildfire-initiated urban conflagration of Lahaina, Hawaii, damaged or destroyed more than 2,200 structures and killed 98 people. In December 2021, the Marshall Fire sparked conflagrations in Superior and Louisville, Colorado, destroying 1,084 structures and killing two. In September 2020, the Almeda Drive Fire in the communities of Talent and Phoenix, Oregon, destroyed 2,600 homes and killed three. In November 2018, the Camp Fire initiated ignitions in Paradise, California, destroyed 18,804 buildings, and killed 85. In November 2016, fires spread through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, destroying 2,460 structures and killing 14. These fire disasters burned in vastly different environments. But all had human causes (power lines contributed to at least three), were near communities, occurred during extreme wind events, then inflicted their damage as urban conflagrations. Almost all destruction occurred within the first 12 hours after ignition. These fires immediately overwhelmed wildland and structural firefighting efforts, which were largely ineffective during the initial and extreme phase of the fire. Further, all these fires occurred since 2016. It’s clear that structures and whole communities were vulnerable to ignition and burning—irrespective of what initiated the fires.

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Understanding the WUI (1990-2020)

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The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is the area where structures and other human development intermingle with wildland vegetation or where housing is in the vicinity of large areas of wildland vegetation. This StoryMap provides data on two trends from 1990 to 2020: the expansion of WUI area and the growth in housing in WUI areas.

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Why do houses burn in wildfires and what can we do about it?

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Recent destructive wildfires in northern California provide an opportunity to investigate how different factors influence home survival. We conducted an analysis of the 2018 Camp Fire, obtaining measurements from a randomly selected subset of homes in Paradise, to determine if nearby burning structures and/or nearby vegetation contributed to home survival, and whether new building codes in place since 2008 helped. The findings, corroborated by photographs taken of damaged but not destroyed homes, point to changes that could substantially improve outcomes.

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Fire Adapted Communities Pathways Tool: Facilitating social learning and a science of practice

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The pathways tool provides a series of empirically informed processes, choices, and engagement tactics designed to foster shared agreement about the best practices for wildfire adaptation across site-specific local conditions. We outline how the tool can advance adaptation processes for a variety of users, including (1) a community oriented planning process that will help reinforce or catalyze collective action about fire management, (2) a systematic approach for monitoring differential progress toward development of fire-adapted communities, and (3) a potential feedback mechanism that informs programmatic foci or allocation of future resources across potential actions designed for diverse social conditions.

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Understanding the Wildland-Urban Interface (1990-2020)- A story map

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The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is the area where structures and other human development intermingle with wildland vegetation or where housing is in the vicinity of large areas of wildland vegetation. This story map provides data on two trends from 1990 to 2020: the expansion of WUI area and the growth in housing in WUI areas.

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The value of rapid parcel-level wildfire risk assessments

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Many tools that identify wildfire risks and hazards across the landscape assume that all houses and properties within a community have the same level of risk. However, there are often substantial differences across properties, such as building materials and distance to overgrown vegetation. Tools that don’t account for parcel-level risk cannot provide the details necessary for informing action on private property, such as maintaining defensible space, posting a visible address sign, or hardening a structure.

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Model predicts which buildings will survive fire

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Colorado State University engineers have developed a model that can predict how wildfire will impact a community, down to which buildings will burn. They say predicting damage to the built environment is essential to developing fire mitigation strategies and steps for recovery.

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California Wildfire Conference

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Coastal Quest, in partnership with Ventura County Wildfire Collaborative, is proud to present the first California Wildfire Conference. This three-day exchange will bring together a diverse community of wildfire practitioners to focus on understanding, preventing, and recovering from wildfires. The conference will be held from October 24-26, 2023, in Ventura County at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

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Community Wildfire Mitigation Best Practices: A Virtual Class

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The Community Wildfire Mitigation Best Practices training is designed to increase the skills of the professional mitigation practitioner and individuals who run mitigation programs. Participation in the 9-week virtual course is not guaranteed as we endeavor to provide training to individuals who lead or have responsibility for community wildfire mitigation programs. Acceptance is on a per person basis and is not transferable to another person. If there are multiple people from an organization signing up please ensure they sign up individually.

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