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Wildland Urban Interface
A Look at Issues and Resolutions

A Call to Action for our communities and leaders

Wildfires today are more frequent, intense, larger and harder to contain.

They impact communities nationwide and year-round, creating conditions that place millions of Americans at risk.

Each year, wildfires in the United States cause economic losses totaling between
$63 to $ BILLION.

As our nation continues to grow and develop in the wildland urban interface (WUI), our communities are faced with increased wildfire threats associated with:

  • Increased populations.
  • Reduced land management practices.
  • Dangerous increase of fuel buildup.
  • Climate change.
image of wui landscape image of forest management image of worker removing brush image of notice to conserve water during drought

The WUI is an area where human development meets or intermingles with undeveloped wildland and vegetative fuels that are both fire-dependent and fire-prone.

It is the line, area or zone where structures and other human development transition or intermingle with undeveloped wildlands or vegetative fuels.
When wildfire enters the WUI, the effects on communities can be catastrophic. These include the tragic loss of life, overwhelmed response capabilities, and environmental and socioeconomic devastation.

Without significant collaborative efforts to facilitate change, our nation will continue to suffer catastrophic wildfire losses in the WUI.

Wildland Urban Interface (WUI): A Look at Issues and Resolutions was created to impart a sense of urgency and motivation to respond to our nation's WUI problem.

It documents opportunities for organizations and partners at every level to work with each other and resolve the challenges identified in the WUI.

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This report identifies 33 challenges within 13 key WUI issues and provides 112 recommendations that are equitable and scalable at a national, regional or local level.

The recommendations will guide all levels of leadership, including Congress, to address the threat of wildfire in the WUI and help residents learn and adapt to living safely within these regions.

The following 13 key WUI issues, along with challenges and recommendations for each, are presented in the report.

Issue 1

Firefighter Health and Safety

Firefighters responding to WUI fires face increasing physical and mental health risks due to both short- and long-term smoke and toxic exposures associated with the burning of vegetation and manufactured products. There is also substantial traumatic event exposure from the overwhelming size of the events and the immeasurable catastrophic losses they endure while protecting their neighborhoods, friends and families.

Issue 2

Public Health and Safety

Recent wildfire events show the ever-increasing danger that wildfire inflicts in the WUI. In addition, short- and long-term smoke impacts on civilian populations need to be considered. Preplanning helps reduce the negative impact of wildfire smoke.

Issue 3

Evacuations

There is a need for first responders to engage residents in pre-evacuation planning and coordination. A whole of community approach that involves everyone, including underserved populations and residents with disabilities, must be incorporated in this process.

Issue 4

Forest and Rangeland Health and Resiliency

To reduce the number and intensity of wildfires impacting communities, resilient forests and rangelands are needed to ensure that wildfires do not spread into the WUI.

Issue 5

Climate Change

Throughout much of the United States and worldwide, wildfires are growing in intensity, size and destructiveness. Climate scientists are beginning to correlate the increasing destructive nature of wildfires with warming global temperatures.

Issue 6

Community Planning and Resiliency

More than 46 million residences in 70,000 communities in the United States are at risk for wildfire because of the increase in suburban development in the WUI. Preparedness efforts and risk reduction are shared responsibilities; they call for the involvement of everyone, not just the government. Joining forces will help reduce the impact of wildfires on our nation.

Issue 7

Infrastructure and Utilities

Wildfires impact multiple sectors of our nation's economy, including the infrastructure and utility sectors. Infrastructure and utilities can include human elements of the environment such as communication towers, power grids, water utilities, transportation corridors and community watersheds.

Issue 8

Communications Strategy and Engagement Operations

Expertise within all communications mediums and specialties as well as wildland fire knowledge is critical for communication professionals responsible for reaching, educating and engaging various audiences, especially residents living in WUI communities.

Issue 9

Socioeconomic Impact

When wildfire enters the WUI, communities are impacted in many ways, such as municipal watershed loss, transportation and utility disruption, business and job loss, loss of community tax base, and the hidden costs of health-related issues from wildfire smoke, and the psychological stress associated with these very traumatic events.

Issue 10

Recovery

Minimizing displacement and expediting rebuilding is critical to reducing the social and economic impacts of wildfire on communities. Recovery plans and procedures for these potential impacts should be developed and community staff trained well in advance of the actual event. Rebuilding with fire-resilient structures is critical to long-term resilience.

Issue 11

Emerging Technology

State, local, tribal and territorial entities need wildfire technology that provides real-time, accurate information, which is critical to increasing civilian and firefighter safety and interoperability between first responders.

Issue 12

Data Use and Modeling

Data collection, analysis, management and use has become overwhelming for local communities and government agencies. To capture, manage and use the volume of new data available, agencies must develop interoperability practices that require compatibility for data exchange to allow all agencies access and equitable use. Current systems are not frequent or accurate enough to relay real-time fire perimeters. In most cases, current wildfire models fail to adequately predict fire behavior under extreme conditions and within the built environment of the WUI.

Issue 13

Risk Management in Wildland Fire

Risk management in wildland fire is a continuous process that provides a systematic method for identifying and managing the risks associated with wildland fire operations. It entails adopting and applying best practices, many of which have evolved out of real wildland fire issues for which documented justifications are necessary.

The threat of catastrophic wildfire in America's WUI demands national attention and a unified, multifaceted approach to prevention, mitigation, response, recovery, and overall community risk reduction.

Wildland Urban Interface (WUI): A Look at Issues and Resolutions assists in heightening attention on the WUI wildfire threat and provides recommendations for a unified approach to decision-making regarding the future direction to address the WUI wildfire problem.

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With a clear and common vision across all levels of leadership, these recommendations and related actions will be a catalyst to reducing the threat of devastating wildfire in the WUI while improving public health and safety and decreasing socioeconomic and environmental impacts.