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Examining the existing definitions of wildland-urban interface for California

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Past studies reported a drastic growth in the wildland–urban interface (WUI), the location where man-made structures meet or overlap wildland vegetation. Fighting fire is difficult in the WUI due to the combination of wildland and structural fuels, and therefore, WUI areas are characterized by frequent damage and loss of structures from wildfires. Recent wildland fire policy has targeted fire prevention, evacuation planning, fuel treatment, and home hardening in WUI areas. Therefore, it is important to understand the occurrence of wildfire events relative to the location of the WUI. In this work, we have reported the occurrences of wildfires with respect to the WUI and quantified how much of the WUI is on complex topography in California, which intensifies fire behavior and complicates fire suppression. We have additionally analyzed the relative importance of WUI-related parameters, such as housing density, vegetation density, and distance to wildfires, as well as topographic factors, such as slope, elevation, aspect, and surface roughness, on the occurrence of large and small wildfires and the burned area of large wildfires near the WUI. We found that a very small percentage of wildfire ignition points and large wildfire-burned areas (>400 ha or 1000 acres) were located in the WUI areas. A small percentage of large wildfires were encountered in WUI (3%), and the WUI area accounted for only 4% of the area burned, which increased to 5% and 56%, respectively, outside WUI (5-km buffer from WUI). Similarly, 66% of fires ignited outside WUI, whereas only 3.6% ignited within WUI. Results from this study have implications for fuel management and infrastructure hardening, as well as for fire suppression and community response.

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