It’s estimated that nearly 45 million homes abut or intermingle with wildlands in the United States. And while living in the wildland urban interface (WUI) is ideal for many, it comes with huge challenges, such as fire suppression costs, water supplies, and evacuation planning.
At the opening session of NFPA’s “Backyards & Beyond” conference in Denver today, NFPA President Jim Shannon said that resources to address these challenges continue to shrink due to tough economic times. “But wildfire isn’t concerned with those constraints, and as brush, grass and forest fires continue to rise, communities struggle with how to adapt,” he said.
The 2011 wildfire season is on its way to becoming one of the worst on record. The combination of severe drought and excess fuel build-up in forests and grasslands has made fire seasons progressively worse over the past 50 years. Just last month, in Bastrop County, TX, more than 1,500 homes were destroyed, making it one of the worst fires in the history of the state.
“Wildfires in the U.S. and around the world are placing greater demands on our resources and creating greater risks to lives and property,” said Mr. Shannon. “Many in this room have worked on the front lines and experienced first-hand the intensity and frequency of wildland fires. You know how much damage they do and anybody who lives in a community that has experienced a wildfire knows how devastating it can be.”
And wildland fires are not just a problem in the United States, said Mr. Shannon. “We know that wildland fires have had a profound impact on countries around the world. I extend a special welcome to our international visitors who have traveled from as far as South Africa, Australia and Canada to be with us today to join in this global wildfire conversation.”
Mr. Shannon thanked attendees for traveling to Denver, saying it was wonderful to see so many different organizations and agencies, including representatives from the forest service, fire departments, land management agencies, educational institutions, the insurance industry and homeowner associations. “All of you share this sense of purpose to protect lives and property in the wildland-urban interface,” he said.