I will be the first to admit that I am no expert on wildfire protection. In fact, my area of focus is usually in building and life safety and passive fire protection methods, far from the world of wildfires. But, working with NFPA 1 has required me to expand my knowledge of other fire protection topics as the Fire Code is all encompassing when it comes to fire protection and fire prevention.
Anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to national news can’t help but notice the complete devastation that wildfires are causing right now in Northern California. I was amazed at the statistic that, at one point, the fires were advancing at a rate of more than a football field every three seconds. Unfathomable to a person like me, who hasn’t experienced a major wildfire where I live. As of this morning the statistics show the following:
• 23 fatalities
• 285 missing
• 170,000 acres burned
• 3,500 structures burned
• 20,000 people evacuated
• 8,000+ firefighters working to control the fires
NFPA 1 addresses the Wildland Urban Interface in Chapter 17 of the Code. Chapter 17 and NFPA 1144, Standard for Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire, provide minimum requirements for planning, construction, maintenance, education, and management elements for the protection of life and property in areas where wildland fire poses a potential threat to structures. The term wildland/urban interface is defined in 3.3.275 as “the presence of structures in locations in which the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) determines that topographical features, vegetation fuel types, local weather conditions, and prevailing winds result in the potential for ignition of the structures within the area from flames and firebrands of a wildland fire.” Although the term wildland/urban interface implies that the primary concern is the location of structures relative to the wildland, it is actually the combustibility and density of structures that plays a larger role in establishing the risk from the hazard of wildland fires. The wildland/urban interface should not be thought of as a specific geographic location, but rather a set of conditions that can exist wherever structures are exposed to potential wildland fires. Where unusual conditions exist, the AHJ can approve alternative methods of providing a level of protection at least equivalent to that required by this chapter. See Section 1.4 for additional guidance on equivalencies, alternatives, and modifications.
Chapter 17 was expanded in the 2012 edition of the Code by extracting some of the major requirements of NFPA 1144. This expansion is intended to make the Code more self-contained and user-friendly for jurisdictions subject to potential wildland fire hazards. NFPA 1144 provides a methodology for assessing wildland fire ignition hazards around existing structures, residential developments, and subdivisions as well as for evaluating improved property or planned property improvement that is to be located in a wildland/urban interface area. The standard also provides minimum requirements for new construction to reduce the potential of structure ignition from wildland fires.
While I will emphasize that I am no expert on wildland fire protection or prevention, NFPA is. NFPA’s team of experts offers free resources, fact sheets, research and reports, and other educational materials to help jurisdictions protect their communities from the devastation of wildfire. Firewise USA™, a project of NFPA cosponsored by the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, is a recognition program for small communities that take action to reduce wildfire risks. The Firewise website (www.firewise.org) offers a wealth of information including on-line education. In addition, NFPA offers a professional, two-day, on-site training course, Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire, based on the principles of NFPA 1144 and NFPA 1141, Standard for Fire Protection Infrastructure for Land Development in Wildland, Rural, and Suburban Areas. For more information, you can visit www.nfpa.org/wildfire.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe!
(you can follow me on Twitter for more information, @KristinB_NFPA)