Last week I had the privilege of participating in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire research needs workshop led by WUI Fire Group program manager, Nelson Byner. Thirty one subject matter experts from all across the United States and from diverse fields, including fire service, research, advocacy, forestry, policy, planning and building, assembled at the NIST research laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.
Given the gravity of this growing WUI fire problem there is a particular necessity to identify and understand the measurement needs for the implementation of technical solutions for fire resistant wildland-urban interface communities. It was to this end that this facilitated meeting took place; with the primary purpose of identifying research needs and establishing research priorities to improve the fire resistance of communities to WUI fires.
The meeting was initiated by presentations from several participants that provided context to the facilitated brainstorming and critical analysis that followed. One of the more interesting presentations was made by Brett Lacey, the Colorado Springs Fire Department Fire Marshal. Brett described the events that took place during the Waldo Canyon Fire conflagration that the city of Colorado Springs experienced recently, where 345 structures were destroyed and a further 47 structures were damaged.
It was very gratifying to learn that the community of Cedar Heights a nationally recognized Firewise Communities/USA® site was completely saved due to extensive mechanical fuel (vegetation) reduction efforts on land that surrounded the community. Based on the initial post fire damage assessment of the area that was legitimately threatened, 82% of the residences/structures were saved. This interesting side of this tragic story is a testament to the hard work of the Colorado Springs Fire Department and community members with their ongoing commitment to wildfire mitigation. According to Brett Lacey one of the more significant observations was the negative impact that cedar fencing played in fueling the fire through spotting caused by firebrands from this material. Another observation was the prevalence of structure failure due to combustible roofing material. The good news is the city of Colorado Springs has a regulatory ordinance in place that requires Class A roofing material be used for any future roof replacement home projects. According to Christina Randall, Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation Section Manager in the coming months FEMA will be publishing a detailed economic report on this fire.
For more information on Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation program please check out this map. This interactive resource is a wonderful planning, communication and motivation tool that helps the community identify where future fire risk mitigation work is required and what has been accomplished.
Upon completion of the presentations the group was broken up in to three smaller groups where facilitated discussions on specific areas related to the WUI fire problem were discussed and critically analyzed. The net outcome was an identification and prioritization of research needs; the proceedings of which will be made available early September this year.