Firewise: The Value of Voluntary Action and Standard Approaches to Reducing Wildfire Risk

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Faith Berry, Lucian Deaton & Michele Steinberg

Regionally, nationally and globally, threats to life, property and resources from wildfire are growing. Changing climate conditions, growth of vulnerable communities into high-hazard areas, and limited governmental and financial resources available to cope with this threat all mean that wildfire losses are expected to continue and expand. It is not possible to find a single and simple solution to all of the problems that the scenario of larger, damaging wildfire presents. However, when focusing on how to prevent wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire disasters—the destruction of dozens or hundreds of structures during significant wildfire events—researchers and safety advocates have discovered solutions in the form of voluntary community action to reduce wildfire risks around homes and neighborhoods, and in sound design and construction standards that can be adopted and applied by state and local governments.

National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise program provides a sustainable solution to the growing trend of home losses during wildland fires. The Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program provides the process for WUI residents and a model for behavior change that effectively reduces the risk of home—and thus community—ignitions. The program has been growing steadily since its inception fifteen years ago. In this paper, we will examine the development of Firewise communities and how they have expanded nationally and in the state of Arizona. We will also examine Arizona-based success stories resulting from the embrace of Firewise principles at the community level.

To understand how to prevent WUI disasters, one must understand how homes ignite and burn during a wildfire. This paper will cover the most current research and evidence on this topic, and the surprisingly simple techniques that can be used by property owners to prevent home ignitions.

Finally, we will examine why regulation and zoning ordinances are also an important component in the equation to find a solution to this growing wildfire “menace.” A helpful study produced by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, Community Wildfire Safety through Regulation, will be explored. We will introduce information on NFPA design and construction standards that can be adopted in whole or in part by communities as components of local building and fire codes. We will conclude by demonstrating how planning and zoning tools have great potential to be effective in risk reduction in the event of a wildfire.

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