Structured Triage During Wildland/Urban Interface/Intermix Fires

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By A. Keith Brown

This research project analyzed the factors that influence the survivability of structures located in wildland/urban interface and intermix zones. The purpose of the project was to produce a short, simple checklist fire officers can use to do structure triage during a wildland conflagration.

This research employed both historical and action research (a) to identify attributes of land and buildings that compromise firefighter safety during structure-protection operations, (b) to identify those physical features of a structure and its environs that serve as reliable predictors of structure survivability during wildfire, to assess which survivability predictors are of practical value in performing structure triage, and (d) to develop guidelines that help direct the actions of firefighters undertaking structure protection in scarce-resource situations occasioned by uncontrollable wildland fires.

The principal procedure employed was review of instructional materials and wildfire case studies focusing on structure protection in wildland/urban interface/intermix areas. Data were compiled in table form to facilitate comparison of survivability factors discussed in the literature.

The major finding of this research was that a small number of factors can be utilized to accurately predict structure survivability during wildland fires. Principal among those factors were accessibility, roof construction, defensible space, and slope of adjoining terrain. The research findings were incorporated into a checklist appropriate for field use during structure/ wildland fires.

The recommendations resulting from this research included (a) incorporating use of the checklist into operational procedures, (b) training fire officers in the use and limitations of the checklist, (c) providing periodic updates to the checklist, and (d) utilizing the checklist in preincident planning to better inform the fire department and property owners of risks associated with building in or near wildlands.