Researchers based in Missoula say the best way to save rural homes from wildfire may not come from helicopters and fire engines. For those homes in the buffer zone between wilderness and urban spaces, land owners will have to be proactive on protecting their property. So says the research paper co-written by U.S. Forest Service fire scientists based in Missoula at the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Missoula Fire Lab.
The study takes a different approach, using concepts from the insurance industry to see what contributes the most to losing homes in wildfires. There are far more homes in the danger zone than there used to be. Between 1990 and 2008, 10 million new homes were built in rural, forested locations on the edge of the wild.
In a big fire, limited resources may often not arrive. Homes must survive on their own. Flammable items such as dense undergrowth, tall grass, and overhanging limbs within 100 feet of a home largely determine if a home burns or not. Removing these items creates a buffer zone around a structure, isolating it from heat and flame.
Forester Dave Calkin, one of the minds behind the research, says that these beautiful, rural environments being homesteaded in the mountain west have fire as a natural, healthy part of the environment. Without small fires, bigger, more destructive fires occur.
Prescribed burning is commonplace on public lands, but the idea doesn't sound as appealing when the burning is taking place next door.
Calkin says that he hopes the research will change perceptions about fire, and ultimately save homes from burning.