Reducing Wildfire Risk
The Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and other wildfires that have devastated communities in recent years have convinced wildfire experts that Californians need to take more than one approach to coexist with fire.
To better protect new houses against wildfire, California has building codes. But according to University of California Cooperative Extension specialists Max Moritz and Van Butsic, two other factors that are crucial to limit wildfire-related losses include where residential communities are built on the landscape, and how they are designed.
“Defensible space and vegetation management are important, but in the long term, where and how we build new developments will be equally important for keeping Californians safe,” said Butsic, who studies land use.
To develop their recommendations for reducing wildfire risk for future community development, Moritz, who specializes in wildfire, and Butsic reviewed fire studies and consulted firefighters and community planners.
Their new publication, “Building to Coexist with Fire: Risk Reduction Measures for New Development,” is designed for city planners, fire districts and communities to incorporate community-scale risk reduction measures when building or rebuilding in fire-prone areas.
“There is currently little codified guidance for where and how to build our communities in California, aside from building codes for individual structures and a few requirements for road access and water supplies,” said Moritz, who is based at UC Santa Barbara.
Wildfire consultant and architect David Shew, who retired as a CAL FIRE chief after 31 years, said, “I can state without hesitation that the land use planning principles and design recommendations identified in this study are necessary steps to help increase wildfire resiliency to existing and future communities. Being a first-hand witness to the increasingly destructive nature of wildfires, I can attest to the value and necessity for these improvements to be integrated into our built environment. This should become a much-used reference for every planning and fire official who face wildfire impacts.”
To reduce fire vulnerability of communities, Moritz and coauthor Butsic, who is based at UC Berkeley, recommend including fire professionals and biological resource experts early in the community planning process. They also recommend considering the placement of communities on the landscape, such as near bodies of water and agricultural land, and how they are laid out to minimize exposure to wildfire. Key considerations include defensibility, risk of ignition and ease of evacuating residents.
To more efficiently reduce fuel in new communities, Moritz and Butsic write, “The design, maintenance and use of defensible space for fire protection is easier when neighborhoods are developed more densely and are built to stringent fire-resistant building codes.”
To read the report, click here.