NFPA Journal - May/June 2013 - (Page 48)
News from NfPA’s wildlANd fire oPerAtioNs divisioN
Not Where, But How
t’s common in the wildfire safety
profession to hear people say,
“It’s not if a wildfire will enter a
community, but when.” I’d like to propose another truism for fire-prone
areas: “It’s not where development
occurs, but how.”
The questions of where and how
are central to our consideration of
community development, future
risk, and the changing dynamics of
the wildland/urban interface (WUI).
Creative planning solutions need
to focus not just on where future
The WUI Is noT a fixed place
until we actually develop it.
The right tools can help us
think strategically about how
we do it.
development occurs, but on how it
accounts for wildfire risk as it is built
For starters, consider the impact
of a changing climate. Earlier this
year, the National Climatic Data
Center reported that 2012 was the
warmest year on record, since 1895,
in the contiguous United States.
Key findings from a Climate Central
report last year reveal how these
temperature changes affect wildfire
activity. The report found that, since
1970, the biggest wildfire years were
typically those with above-average
spring and summer temperatures.
Rising temperatures mean that the
burn season is two and a half months
longer than it was 40 years ago.
These changes bring more uncertainty for wildfire-prone areas. They
mean that tree species and other vegetation will change, longer periods of
NFPA JOURNAL MAY/JUNE 2013
drought will emerge,
and suppression budgets will soar if we
don’t find better solutions to address this
issue. The National
reports that for
every degree Celsius
(1.8oF) of temperature
increase, the size of
the area burned in the Wildfire threatens a community in Southern California.
western U.S. could
best practices to address wildfire
More acres burned annually also
risk at different scales—commumeans that more communities will
be threatened by wildfire activity.
individual property, and structure.
Communities with a WUI—an area
Appropriate to each scale is a set
where vegetation and developof WUI tools ranging from comment mix together, typically on the
munity overlay hazard zoning to
urban fringe—will have to consider
approaches that address building
with even more foresight the type
and roofing materials, fences, decks,
of development they are willing to
and other structural attachments.
allow. Even so, it’s unlikely that comA number of codes are at the
munities can steer all development
user’s disposal for implementing
away from high-risk wildfire areas.
such WUI tools and include a jurisThe scale and scope of these areas
diction’s building, fire, land use,
across the country is extensive and
and subdivision codes. The WUI is
will only increase as temperatures
not a fixed place until we develop
continue to rise.
it, and tools such as these can help
But there are ways to address the
us think strategically about how we
uncertainty through better land use
planning and regulation. To accomThese and other NFPA resources,
plish that, NFPA has been working on
including the Safer from the Start
resources to equip land-use planners
DVD and pamphlet, provide
and other professionals engaged in
needed guidance on how to address
different forms of development with
development in a way that better
the right information. Last year, we
prepares us for climate change and
released a study that assessed how
wildfire risk. For more information,
a dozen communities in the United
visit firewise.org and click on the
States were approaching the imple“designers/developers” box.
mentation of wildfire regulations
(see nfpa.org/regulatorytools). A
Molly Mowery is program manfollow-up report provides planning
ager for fire Adapted Communities
and international outreach.
professionals and regulators with
New tools to help ensure development in fire-prone areas is done right
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - May/June 2013
NFPA Journal - May/June 2013
In a Flash
Work in Progress
Amping It Up
Code Process 2.0
Here, There, Everywhere
Expo Preview: Exhibitors' Showcase
NFPA Journal - May/June 2013