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Scientific and social challenges for the management of fire-prone wildland-urban interfaces


At their worst, fires at the rural–urban or wildland–urban interface cause tragic loss of human lives and homes, but mitigating these fire effects through management elicits many social and scientific challenges. This paper addresses four interconnected management challenges posed by socially disastrous landscape fires. The issues concern various assets (particularly houses, human life and biodiversity), fuel treatments, and fire and human behaviours. The topics considered are: 'asset protection zones'; 'defensible space' and urban fire spread in relation to house ignition and loss; 'stay-or-go' policy and the prediction of time available for safe egress and the possible conflict between the creation of defensible space and wildland management objectives. The first scientific challenge is to model the effective width of an asset protection zone of an urban area. The second is to consider the effect of vegetation around a house, potentially defensible space, on fire arrival at the structure. The third scientific challenge is to present stakeholders with accurate information on rates of spread, and where the fire front is located, so as to allow them to plan safe egress or preparation time in their particular circumstances. The fourth scientific challenge is to be able to predict the effects of fires on wildland species composition. Associated with each scientific challenge is a social challenge: for the first two scientific challenges the social challenge is to co-ordinate fuel management within and between the urban and rural or wildland sides of the interface. For the third scientific challenge, the social challenge is to be aware of, and appropriately use, fire danger information so that the potential for safe egress from a home can be estimated most accurately. Finally, the fourth social challenge is to for local residents of wildland–urban interfaces with an interest in biodiversity conservation to understand the effects of fire regimes on biodiversity, thereby assisting hard-pressed wildland managers to make informed choices.

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