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Every year, wildfires devastate the landscapes of Southern California from Los Angeles to San Diego. Why do some communities burn, and some don't? USGS is analyzing fire patterns at the wildland-urban interface (WUI) for clues to help cities balance their management of fire hazards and natural resources.

A burned down residence --Photographer: Jon Keeley/USGS


In Southern California, fires are traditionally thought of as preventable disasters that can be controlled through fuel treatments such as fuel breaks and prescribed burns, as well as vigorous fire suppression.

But research suggests that fire risk cannot be completely eliminated. Living with fire by planning fire-adapted communities and managing and minimizing fire risk may be more effective. Therefore, the aims of the Wildfire Risk Scenario project are based on the following foundational concepts:

  • Wildfires are natural phenomena in chaparral landscapes throughout Southern California counties, yet fire impacts are worsening with each decade. Meanwhile, housing development continues at the wildland-urban interface (WUI).
  • Drought and other factors may also be increasing fire probability, so policy makers and citizens need to adopt a mentality of fire risk management instead of fire elimination; that is, preparing and managing for fires as you would for earthquakes, floods and other inevitable disasters.
  • Wildfire spread to housing areas often depend on controllable factors, such as presence of fire-prone landscaping, poor powerline siting and maintenance, and the location/arrangement of housing.
  • So while wildfire risks cannot be eliminated, they can be managed. Managers can be proactive in addressing community vulnerability problems, such as altering local planning practices, and improved oversight of urban landscaping and housing design.

    Updated 2012.05.10

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