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Public Lands Management Issues

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Living more safely at the wildland-urban interface (WUI) requires a basic understanding of fire behavior, preplanning, constant maintenance/vigilance, and deciding when to stay or evacuate so as not to fall victim to the predictable fire-flood cycle. Sitting and construction of neighbors' homes, their distances from adjacent structures, and the continuous maintenance of their property is also critical in creating a more fire-safe environment. This author draws upon his over forty years of professional and personal experience in behind-the-scenes fire research and investigation and pre- and post-fire inspections of thousands of structures. An overview of such research is presented along with key fire-safety principles. Twelve cases are then presented in which homes were saved in wildland fires either unattended or attended, inclusive of those in the middle of fire storms, as well as houses that were lost. Case-specific information is presented on how and why they were saved or why they burned. Preventable tragic civilian losses of life are also included in these studies. In almost all instances loss of homes and life could have been predicted, as was done informally by scientists, inclusive of this author, prior to the 1978 California fires, and therefore prevented. Continued poor landuse planning and lack of acknowledging that structural and landscape fuels are indistinguishable from native fuels to the advancing flame fronts or firebrands has now led to forced mass evacuations during fires to reduce or eliminate the loss of lives. This greatly increases the probability of home losses as limited fire-fighting personnel can rarely attend to such abandoned structures. The end result is that limited resource management funds are shifted to wildland fire fighting in an often futile attempt to protect developments at the WUI from being consumed during predictable wildland fire disasters.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2011

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