Citizens are moving farther into “natural” areas to take advantage of the privacy, natural beauty, recreational opportunities and affordable living. Developers are building neighborhoods to accommodate the influx. As a result, fire departments are fighting fires along the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), defined as areas where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire. Depending on the area of the country, fire departments might refer to wildland fires as brush fires, forest fires, rangeland fires, or something else; however, they are all part of the WUI and all pose the same threat to local assets. The increase in the WUI threat has been steep because of continued development and exposure.
The WUI is not a place, per se, but a set of conditions that can exist in nearly every community. It can be a major subdivision or it can be four homes on an open range. According to the National Fire Portection Association, conditions include (but are not limited to): the amount, type, and distribution of vegetation; the flammability of the structures (homes, businesses, outbuildings, decks, fences) in the area, and their proximity to fire-prone vegetation and to other combustible structures; weather patterns and general climate conditions; topography; hydrology; average lot size; and road construction. The WUI exists in every state in the country.
In Oklahoma, the special challenges wrought by the wildland-urban interface have recently been brought to the forefront by severe wildfires that destroyed homes and neighborhoods scattered among the cross timbers located in southwestern Oklahoma City and Midwest City. Rural homes surrounded by trees may appear to be an idyllic setting, yet the wildfire risk created by vegetation under drought conditions requires special attention to reduce your risk.
Oklahoma Forestry Services helps landowners and fire departments in defensible space planning, Firewise Community assistance and community wildfire preparedness planning. Contact your local OFS office for more information.