AUSTIN, Texas — The 2011 wildfires that raged through scores of Texas counties, coupled with the ongoing drought, underscore a painful truth: Now, more than ever, is the time to educate Texans and build firewise communities, say officials with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
More than 80 percent of wildfires in Texas now strike within two miles of suburban communities. What’s more, the desire to live closer to nature has driven many Texans out of major cities and into the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about the WUI:
What is the Wildland Urban Interface?
The Wildland Urban Interface is any area where homes or other structures meet and mix with undeveloped, natural landscapes like grasslands, greenbelts, forests or other wooded areas.
How do I know if I live in the Wildland Urban Interface?
If you live near wildlands, then you live in the Wildland Urban Interface. A “wildland” does not only refer to large forests and grasslands, but any wild expanse of explosively flammable plants, shrubs or trees.
Why are these areas at high risk for wildfires?
Wildfire risk in the WUI is largely due to two factors: proximity to potentially hazardous wildland vegetation and housing density.
In the WUI, combustible homes meet combustible vegetation. Wildland vegetation acts as fuel for wildfires. Once a fire spreads close enough to residential developments, hundreds of ignitable homes exposed to the flames and burning embers fuel the fire even further.
What is considered “wildland vegetation?”
Wildland vegetation includes land cover classified as forests (coniferous, deciduous and mixed), native grasslands, shrubs, wetlands and transitional lands. Land cover that is intensively human-dominated, including urban grasslands (i.e. golf courses), orchards, arable lands and pastures are excluded.
What can I do to protect my home and my family from future fires?
Emergency preparedness and mitigation are the best practices you can adopt to protect your family and your home from potentially devastating wildfires. Both renters and homeowners are encouraged to keep an emergency supply kit handy, create a family communications plan with pre-arranged contact information and practice the evacuation routes from your neighborhood.
It is also a good idea to review your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy so you know what coverage you have in the event of a wildfire.
Homeowners in the Wildland Urban Interface are encouraged to take a proactive approach to wildfire prevention by using building techniques and fire-resistant materials that can help reduce the risk of damages from future disastrous wildfires.
What should I consider when building or rebuilding in the Wildland Urban Interface?
Homeowners face many choices, and opportunities, when working to mitigate against wildfire damage. If you are rebuilding or planning to build a new home, this is an ideal time for you to take fire-resistant measures that could minimize damage if a wildfire strikes. Here are some key tips for building or rebuilding stronger, safer and smarter homes.
Use fire-resistant roofing material, such as ceramic or slate tile, instead of asphalt shingles or wood shakes.Protect the home’s eaves with stucco or plaster to prevent flying embers from starting a fire.
Ensure that exterior wall coverings are fire-resistant and not susceptible to melting. Concrete, fiber-cement panels or siding, stucco, masonry and metal are some recommended materials.Use metal mesh screens to keep fast-flying embers out of vents and chimneys.Dual or triple-g...