Assessing Exposure Risk – Lessons Learned from California Wildfires

More than one-quarter of the country’s states* are susceptible to wildfires, especially western and southwestern states. If yours is one of them, read on!

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) released a study that verifies the importance of determining exposure risks and developing plans to minimize fire damage.

In looking at the wildland-urban interface (the “WUI,” defined as an area where human development meets undeveloped wildland) and the particular risks faced by some properties, NIST and USFS developed a WUI Hazard Scale to assess exposure risk. After reviewing data from the destructive 2007 California “Witch Fire,” NIST and USFS confirmed that assessments aligned with the damage incurred. Defensive actions taken pre-event yielded better results in those areas with low-exposure risks.

In addition to previous studies on the event, (which confirmed the success of defensive actions taken) this latest report has potential to inform future policy. By using the WUI Hazard Scale, there is the possibility for updating building codes and creating new firefighting policies that focus on low-exposure areas.

*Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida

Source: Natural Disasters by Patrick L. Abbott, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

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