Homes on the Brink: Community Wildfire Protection Planning in the Wildland–Urban Interface

Wildfire burns on hill behind neighborhood homes

Community wildfire protection planning plays a key role in protecting the millions of homes throughout California located on land designated as Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). The U.S. Forest Service defines the WUI as places where humans and their development come into contact with (within a half mile of) wildland fuel sources. With 32% of housing in the U.S. located within the WUI, steps must be taken to fortify these communities against the inevitable threat of wildfire.

Protecting Communities with a Community Wildfire Protection Plan

For communities located within the WUI, creation of a community wildfire protection plan (CWPP) can be accomplished with grant funding and fulfills several goals, including:

  • Identifying and prioritizing wildfire hazards;
  • Incorporating public input in a collaborative process;
  • Educating the community about existing hazards and prompting homeowners and community volunteers to help reduce fuels, harden homes, and plan for emergencies; and
  • Securing additional grant funding to implement mitigation identified in the CWPP.

CWPP development includes assessing a community, modeling potential fire behavior, assessing hazards, and then prioritizing activities and projects to reduce the threat of those hazards.

To analyze fire behavior, urban foresters use fire modeling software and geographic information system (GIS) maps to graphically portray fire behavior and fire risk. The GIS maps illustrate the fire risk based on factors such as slope, aspect, vegetation type, and weather and the weighting of these factors according to their fire prone susceptibility.

In addition to identifying community-level hazard reduction projects, property owners can be informed on how they can retrofit their homes and manage vegetation such that wildfire risk is reduced and their property will be more defensible.

Evacuation Planning

Implementing plans to reduce the risk of property damage from wildfires is only the first step. In a wildfire event, proper evacuation planning is vital to mitigate loss of life. CWPPs include an evacuation component to familiarize citizens with their options during a wildfire emergency. It is also important for property owners to prepare their own readiness plan and practice it regularly.

People who are prepared to take appropriate actions, are informed and confident in their decisions, and act early during an emergency are following the “Ready, Set, Go!” evacuation model that is widely promoted by fire agencies. You can prepare your personal action plan by performing the actions in CAL FIRE’s guidelines.

For more information on community wildfire protection planning, contact Mike Huff at or 619.992.9161.

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