The UC effort in protection of homes and buildings located in WUI areas of California began with a research grant from the Office of the State Fire Marshal in 1997. The objective of this grant was to develop standard test protocols to evaluate the relative performance of exterior construction materials and assemblies. The reason we worry about wildfires is primarily because humans have developed into fire-prone wildland areas. This situation poses a direct threat to those living in and along the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Past catastrophic losses due to wildfires impacting the WUI and the growing number of people living in these areas indicate that the problem is only getting worse. Directed by Steve Quarles, the Building in Fire-Prone Areas Program focuses on research and outreach related to reducing structure loss in the wildland-urban interface.
The resulting test protocols were subsequently used in the development of a largely performance-based building code, and incorporated as a new chapter in the California Building Code. As a result, we were also appointed to serve on the state-wide committee that developed the code, and in the state-wide education effort that accompanied code adoption and implementation during 2007 – 2008.
The new building codes only applied to new construction. Therefore, another effort has been on outreach and education effort to homeowners already living in wildland urban interface areas. These outreach efforts have included assessments and workshops, including fire demonstrations, discussions of the fire performance of building materials and design, and the connection between building survival and management of near-home vegetation (defensible space). These efforts began in 2005 with a FEMA-funded project to develop and implement a science-based homeowner’s assessment as part of the Fire Information Engine Toolkit. This was motivated by the fact that, even in highly fire-prone areas, there are many steps that property-owners and communities can take to reduce fire risk. Identifying the fire hazards for a specific property or neighborhood can be difficult, however, because the public often does not have access to relevant information. The Toolkit was developed to help homeowners and communities better understand fire hazards at a local parcel level, using a science-based wildfire hazard assessment (also available in Spanish), search-by-address wildfire maps for California, and up-to-the-minute wildfire news; there are also other tools available for researchers.
While many of these projects are no longer funded/supported, they still provide essential information to many stakeholders. The information developed through these projects is maintained, but the original website architecture has been retired (e.g. the Fire Information Engine Toolkit). Links for where this information currently resides can be found below:
UC Cooperative Extension