We would like to believe the Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, wildland fire that started on May 2, 2016, was a unique, catastrophic event. Approximately 2,400 houses and buildings were destroyed when fire crossed containment boundaries. However, fire science experts believe wildland urban interface (WUI) property owners in both Canada and the United States will face similar occurrences more regularly in the future.
“An urgency for communities and homeowners to get involved,” is how Lori Daniels, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, describes the importance of residents in WUI areas to educate themselves in Fire Safe programs and take active steps to protect their property. Daniels has suggested that what is devastating news today will be considered normal in 20 or 30 years.
Approximately 60 percent of newly constructed homes since 1990 in the US are located in or adjacent to the WUI. The western U.S. will continue to experience increasing frequency of large wildfires and longer wildfire durations which are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt. Fire models project more wildfires and increased risk to communities across extensive areas in the future. 1 In fact, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) pronounced the 2015 wildfire’s season a record breaker. For one week that summer, over $2 billion was spent fighting fires, and firefighting cost estimates reached approximately $1.6 million per hour.
During the same time as the Fort McMurray Fire raged, Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, spoke with federal family firefighting agencies concerning the rising threat to communities in wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas. Because fire seasons are becoming hotter, drier and longer, the need for community resilience against these risks and the strengthening of federal firefighter safety and preparedness is imperative.
The US National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise and FireSmart Canada community programs encourage homeowners to take individual responsibility for their property’s safety by taking preparations for decreasing the risk of wildfires. Both organizations teach people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses.
In an ideal world, homeowners would create a defensible space built with fire resistant materials and a sprinkler system installed. Due to the historical success of suppression agencies, a lot of people don’t necessarily see the need to prepare themselves for a wildfire event. However, due to the past success of suppression agencies, many people don’t necessarily see the need to prepare themselves for a wildfire event.3
Firewise explains, “Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that firefighters will be able to protect your home during a wildfire. It’s your responsibility to prepare your home and private property before a fire threatens your area. Taking action now means your home or community has a better chance of reducing the damage from wildfire without additional protection.” 4
The use of Structure Protection Units (SPU) is an essential addition to Firewise and FireSmart measures. There is a clear lack of understanding and an information gap when it comes to SPU use. In the context of property owners’ preparedness in creating a defensible space around homes and private property, equipment is rarely considered. The use of SPUs by homeowners to protect their property and assist fire suppression in the USA and Canada have become increasingly recognized as a key component in the wildfire suppression tool kit. FireSmart Canada has even identified the absence of this relevant information regarding SPU and will most likely include a chapter on this topic in revisions of the FireSmart Manual. SPU equipment and packages are available on the market combine existing wildland fire suppression equipment such as a high-pressure fire pump with irrigation type technology.
A home fire pump such as the WATERAX VERSAX® Fire Pump Cart System is classified as an SPU and offers a simple set-up, operation, easy maneuverability and superior performance. The fully equipped, professional grade equipment includes a HOTLINE® forestry hose, a suction hose, a Scotty pistol grip nozzle, a cam lock fitting, a foot valve & strainer and a universal hose wrench, with a powerful self-priming 2-Stage engine. The VERSAX® is a versatile, rugged, and economical twin impeller self-priming pump powered by a Honda engine for superior water transfer performance as well as the ability to combat fire from a greater distance and at an elevation. Looking after defensible space gives property owners a fighting chance against an approaching wildfire. WUI residents can utilize a fire pump to protect defensible space and reduce the likelihood of a fire spreading to neighboring homes or the surrounding forest.
In the years to come, there is an expected growth of the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), the geographic location where the forest meets the community, due to the increase in residential homes and businesses in that area. By 2040, a doubling of intense fire events is forecasted, coupled with climate change predictions. It is not advisable to protect property during a raging wildfire on your own. However, a property can be protected by following Firesmart and Firewise safety plan guidelines and by using the appropriate equipment for the suppression and protection of property and buildings.
Expansion of the WUI can mostly be attributed to the corresponding development into more remote wildland areas for home construction, to exploit natural resources and offer backcountry recreation opportunities. The rapid progression is causing fire suppression agencies to grow rapidly and continues to stretch their capacity even further. Private land owners and companies will be required to take on more direct responsibilities to protect their assets. With SPU equipment, like the WATERAX VERSAX® Fire Pump Cart System, WUI residents can improve preparedness, increase risk management and enjoy the beauty of the wildlife urban interface.
1 Secretary Jewell Leads Federal Family Discussion on… (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.doi.gove/pressreleases/secretary-jewell-leads-federal-family-discussi
2 Sierra County Fire Sae and Watershed Council. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sierracountyfiresafe.org/index.html
3 Sierra county Fire Safe and Watershed Council. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sierracountyfiresafe.org/index.html
4 FAQs – Firewise. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness/be=firewise/home-and-landscape/faq
Picture by Stuart Palley Loas Angeles Photographer