What Is the Wildland Urban Interface?
If you love nature and sought out your house because of its location – abutting up to acres of wildlife and forests – then you might be living in a wildland-urban interface. These locations occur all over the United States, and while they’re appealing for many reasons, it’s also important to understand the wildfire risks that are inherent with these settings.
What Is the Wildland Urban Interface?
The wildland-urban interface, or WUI, is comprised of home communities in the United States built in areas that the US Forest Service considers high risk for wildfire. The US Federal Register defines the WUI based on vegetation density. Houses in the WUI are located close to wildland vegetation that can fuel fires, increasing the risk to these homes when wildfires occur.
According to PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academic Academy of Sciences), “the WUI in the United States grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010 in terms of both number of new houses (from 30.8 to 43.4 million; 41% growth) and land area (from 581,000 to 770,000 km2; 33% growth), making it the fastest-growing land use type in the conterminous United States.”
WUI areas tend to have heavy vegetation, but they don’t always have the infrastructure to fight the rapid fire spread that can result. These areas are naturally appealing, thanks to their solitude and the intimate connection to wildlife ecosystems that they offer, and that’s leading to the construction of more housing units and residences. But moving into the WUI comes with increased fire risks.
The Risks of Living in the WUI
The issue with homes built in the WUI is that when there is no clear border between homes and wildlands, wildfires cannot be left to naturally burn because there is no defensible space. Plus, when there are more humans living in forests, high-density vegetation, and undeveloped wildlands, there will be more accidental wildfire ignition.
Because of the risk involved with homes built in the WUI, both for human life and property loss, there are now stringent requirements for new construction in these areas in order to attempt mitigation efforts. For example, Ch7, a building code in California requires homes in the WUI to be built using fire-safe materials, including vents that close in the face of intense heat from wildfire.
The Community Role in Fighting Wildfires
Planning plays a key role in wildfire management and prevention, allowing communities to quickly mobilize in the event that a fire does occur. PNAS recommends that communities in the WUI work together to train fire departments and firefighters, create fire management and evacuation plans, and implement other mitigation efforts to help reduce losses that do occur during wildfires.
How to Reduce Wildfire Risk When You Live in the Wildland Urban Interface
While communities can work together to address wildfire risks, homeowners also need to take an active role in protecting their properties and minimizing their own potential contributions to fire risks.
Homeowners living in the WUI can take a proactive approach in preparing for and preventing wildland fires:
- Avoid using flammable landscaping materials, like bark and wood chips, near homes and structures
- Keep tall grass in the home safety zone mowed to two inches and remove fallen trees from beneath trees and bushes in the yard
- Move firewood at least 15 feet away from the home
- Follow all local burn ordinances and practice proper burning techniques
- Maintain grills and use them carefully and properly
- Eliminate fire hazards like combustible materials
The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise home preparation fact sheet offers additional property and home management tips.
Enhancing Your Home to Defend it From Wildfires
The following home modifications can also help to protect your house from wildfires:
- Vulcan Vents
Even if a wildfire is miles away, embers can still make their way into your home through your attic and crawlspace vents, starting a fire. While traditional vents are vulnerable to the threat of embers, Vulcan Vents are designed to block embers, flames, and heat, protecting your house.
- Fire Suppression Systems
Investing in fire suppression systems like wildfire sprinkler systems can help to protect your home against wildfires. Ember Wildfire Defense Solutions offers three sprinkler systems, including permanent and portable options, sprinklers that hook right up to your garden hose, and systems designed to protect your large property.
- Gutter Guards
Most gutters can harbor debris, catching leaves, needles, and other combustible materials. Placing Valor Gutter Guards over your existing gutters can help to prevent debris buildup, assisting with fire prevention while also making your roof eaves cleaner and more attractive.
Fire Defense in the WUI
If you live in the WUI, then it’s essential to not only take steps to reduce the risk of accidentally starting a fire, but to also protect your home in the event of a wildfire. The more proactive you can be, the better the chance you’ll have of keeping your house safe. Even if you have to evacuate, knowing that you’ve taken extra steps to protect your house will give you peace of mind.
Ember Defense can help you to identify modifications and products that are right for your home, and that will assist you in protecting it against fires.