(Laramie, Wyo.) — Building houses far apart and in locales beyond town — the wildland-urban interface — increases firefighting costs in the Rocky Mountain West, according to a new report from the Open Spaces Initiative at the University of Wyoming. Thus, strategic land-use planning can reduce wildfire suppression costs by increasing firefighting efficiency. "Residential Development Effects on Firefighting Costs in the Wildland-Urban Interface”
lead author Anna Scofield spent 10 years as a wildland firefighter before
taking up the research at UW.
According to the report, the dramatic rise in firefighting costs over the
last decade is due, in part, to the growth of residential development in
the wildland-urban interface.
“Protecting homes from fire is dangerous and expensive. Solutions to rising
costs must address that reality,” Scofield says.
Costs are higher in the wildland-urban interface because firefighters shift
from simple fire containment to structure protection, she says, adding that
the cost of full suppression is significantly higher.
Widely dispersed developments and isolated homes also require more
resources to protect than homes clustered in one area. Scofield says
land-use decisions at the town and county levels have major consequences
for federal wildland fire management.
“Our research offers local governments a middle ground between legislation
that ignores the increased suppression costs of development in the
wildland-urban interface and policies that exclude that development
altogether,” she says.
Using data from 291 wildfires in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming from
2002-2011, researchers found a single isolated home can add $225,000 to
overall firefighting costs, while a home within a dense cluster can
contribute as little as $100.
*Feature photo: Wildland fire h/t Robert Jones, Bureau of Indian Affairs,
Wind River / PItchengine Communities*