A Western Washington University student, Jacob Tully, spent thousands of hours figuring out how many people in the lower 48 states live in areas where houses could be destroyed by wildfire. He discovered that in 2010 fully half of Washington State residents lived in these areas, also known as the wildland-urban interface where homes are built close to grasses, trees and other potential fuels for wild fires.
A serious challenge in Washington State is that more people are moving closer to (and into) the forests and other rural areas. Many of us want to live in a calm, serene place away from the hustle and bustle of city life. And what’s more attractive than the privacy, natural beauty, recreational opportunities and affordable living found in our state’s many beautiful rural areas. As developers build new neighborhoods in response to the demand for more housing in the countryside, rural fire departments find themselves fighting more fires in this transition zone between urban and rural.
Entire neighborhoods in these transition zones can be at wildfire risk. Most structures that are lost to fire in the wildland-urban interface are destroyed as a result of embers that ignite fuels near the structure, not the burning front of the wildfire.
In this YouTube video of the Yosemite Fire, you can see how intense the flames get as they climb up the tree’s crown.
As seen on NBC’s Today Show, a research center tested what fire damage would occur under the influence of winds.
What can you do?
Wildfires have become more intense and frequent. As the health of some of our forests declines, wildfires have the potential to become catastrophic. People living in the path of these wildfires need to take responsibility for saving their own homes. How can communities in our growing wildland-urban interface prepare for this growing threat?
You can clear out woody material and limbs along your access road to create a firebreak and take similar steps to protect your home. Lop off those pesky low-lying limbs on trees, and remove flammable materials away from your house. If you’re remodeling or building a new home, consider a metal roof and other fire-resistant materials where possible.
Resources to help you defend your home