Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Location Determines If Your Home Will Burn In a Wildfire

Earlier this year, a research team focusing on wildland urban fires that have taken place in Southern California since 2001, came to a conclusion that runs counter to conventional wisdom. Instead of finding that the proximity of combustible materials to a building was the key factor in determing if a building burns during a wildland urban fire event, they found that the raw location of the building itself was the primary factor. For more on this story, click the appropriate link below:

Comment:  I know there are folks in the Firewise Program who will be crying bull feathers about this finding, so I'm going to keep things simple by offering just two thoughts.  First, Southern California does not have the same wildland urban fire setting that is found in the vast majority of the country, so I think it fair to say these findings are probably appropriate for that environment, but won't have as strong a correlation for the rest of the nation. Second, although the authors used the length of road leading to a structure to factor in if accessibility to firefighters played a role in the response sent to a location, what appears missing from their calculations is the perceived sense of danger. By that I mean, it may be perceived it is far safer to deploy a crew down a long road to a home from which there are multiple escape routes, then it is sending a response crew to a home with a short driveway that sits on a peninsula cliff with one way in and out.

However, despite Southern California being a significantly different urban setting than most of the nation, and a review of the available data 
potentially could have been more thorough, the reality remains the geospatial information technology approach used by this study offers a new way of thinking about wildland urban fires.  It's not just the micro setting, it's also the macro setting that suggests likely outcome.        

Lead graphic: Alexandra D. Syphard, et. al.

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