For every one WUI acre burned we are exposing 10 structures. For every five WUI acres burned in our urban area, we are destroying one structure. So reported Josh Portie, a first responder and wildfire division public educator in the Austin, Texas Fire Department in his Thursday afternoon session at Backyards & Beyond conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Portie talked extensively about the current wildfire landscape in his home state and how and what his department is teaching firefighters and the public about the importance of focusing on the home ignition zone (HIZ) to reduce ignitability of structures during the fire.
Portie pointed to the Bastrop Complex Fire, the most catastrophic fire in the state's history, the Pinnacle Fire and Steiner Ranch Fire and others for being a huge catalyst for the department to increase its efforts to provide more education to homeowners about their role in reducing risk. At the same time, research from organizations such as IBHS also help inform them with the latest fire science and data so firefighters can more effectively fight the fire.
A few of the key points Portie says his team share with homeowners and firefighters to improve response and structure saves are:
* Embers are the main culprit for losing structures in WUI fires. Large flames are not often the reason why homes burn.
* Defensible space is our "friend" - keeping homes clear of fuels that are close to the home reduce the chance that the home will ignite by flying embers.
* The principles of Firewise are key to creating more fire resistive landscapes.
* Fuels, weather and topography, are important to understand how to fight fires and what tactics will be used.
* Home wildfire assessments help both firefighters and homeowners understand the work that needs to be done to help prepare and reduce risk before a wildfire happens.
Portie reminded the audience that it's important to tell homeowners that firefighters are not the only answer. Homeowners can and should play a key role in helping save their homes by engaging in Firewise and defensible space techniques. Firefighters can also do more to help save homes by engaging in more structural preparation and working with residents on their wildfire home assessments. In the end, the takeaway from Portie focused on this: the more that residents and the fire service can work together, the better the chance a community can reduce its fire risk and stay safer when a fire threatens.