In 2016, the United States and Canada experienced a series of catastrophic wildfires. In May, a wildfire erupted in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents and ultimately burning over 1.4 million acres. In August, another wildfire swept through San Bernardino, California, destroying hundreds of buildings, disrupting critical energy and transportation infrastructure, and burning over 36,000 acres. In November, a wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee required evacuations of over 14,000 people, burned nearly 18,000 acres, and took 13 lives.
Among the thousands of wildfires that occurred across the U.S. and Canada in 2016, these examples particularly demonstrate the risks wildfires pose to structures, people, and infrastructure. They also exhibit the increasing risks associated with the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), a set of conditions and interactions within the built and natural environments that increase communities’ vulnerability to wildfire.
At the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) jointly produced a report analyzing the 2016 wildfire season.
In addition to examining various public- and private-sector projects addressing wildfires in North America the report also includes a survey of existing resources on wildfire research combined with the results of a day-long workshop of experts and practitioners held at the NFPA’s headquarters in June 2017. In preparation for the workshop, participants with a variety of expertise were asked to present “Pop Up Innovations” to address wildfire challenges in urban environments that could help create safer and more fire-adapted communities and more effective fire response. In the workshop, these innovations addressed a range of issues from firefighter communication and training needs to city planning and zoning to homeowner education about wildfire risk reduction essentials.
“Wildfire: A Changing Landscape” highlights the impacts of wildfire on vulnerable communities and critical infrastructure.
“The 2016 fire season provides unfortunate but striking examples of the continued evolution of the wildfire landscape in the United States,” the report states. “In the recent past, much of the media’s attention has focused on large, destructive wildfires confined to the western areas of the nation, frequently originating on public lands. These fires could burn thousands of acres of forest lands, but the vast open natural spaces in the western United States often mitigated the risk to structures and people. However, recent disasters including the Blue Cut and Fort McMurray fires show how increasing development adjacent to wildlands is dramatically increasing the potential for destruction of both public and private infrastructure in the West.”
To read the report’s findings and recommendations click here.
For more information, or to speak to a member of GRI, please email GRI@northeastern.edu