Identifying Building Exposure Risk in Wildfires

Source: EMR-ISAC

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) jointly published a study based on the 2007 Witch Fire in California, which destroyed over 1,600 structures, burned 200,000 acres, and cost nearly $2 billion in property damage. The study looks at the effectiveness of defensive actions taken by homeowners and first responders based on the WUI Hazard Scale.

They found that within the housing development studied:

  • The majority of defensive strategies were effective;
  • The effectiveness correlated to the fire and ember exposure;
  • Damage to structures with high WUI Hazard Scale risk was more prevalent;
  • Ultimately, defensive measures were more than twice as effective in saving low-exposure areas as opposed to high-risk areas.

The lead author states, "data show that it's probably best to fight fires in low-exposure areas because there's a greater chance that they can be suppressed and with less danger to the crews… it may be better to sacrifice structures in high-exposure areas than risk the loss of firefighter lives in unwinnable situations."

The study also discusses how building practices and building codes and standards can be improved through use of the WUI Hazard Scale.

Please note, the NVFC recently released new resources for the Wildland Fire Assessment Program to help volunteer departments in the wildland-urban interface conduct home evaluations and provide residents with recommendations to protect their property in the event of a wildfire and become a more fire-adapted community. Access these resources here.