Increasing risk driving higher code standards
Throughout North America, officials are sounding the alarm about the rising risk of major fire events and the real threat that exists to life and property in North America’s wildfire “danger zones,” known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
They hope to apply lessons learned from previous wildfire activity to strengthen fire and building codes to reduce risk and prevent losses. WUI areas are those where the built environment and wildfire-prone vegetation/forested areas meet.
WUI zones are expanding as a result of ongoing population growth and urban sprawl which is driving significant housing development in WUI designated areas.
When more homes are built in WUI zones, the potential for wildfires sparked through human and natural ignition sources (i.e. lightning) rises, while the ability to battle these fires (or for controlled burns to occur)becomes ever more challenging due to a wide variety of factors including topography, density, community design and construction materials.
Approximately one in three houses and one in ten hectares in the United States are now in the Wildland Urban Interface. From 1990 to 2010, the number of homes in WUI swelled from approximately 30 million to over 43 million, representing a 41 per cent increase, while the WUI land area grew from nearly 225,000 mi2 to just over 297,000 mi2, up 33 per cent.1,2,3 This rapid expansion continues unabated with approximately 60 per cent of new housing in the United States being built in WUI areas. The result is increased risk and a firefighting community with stretched resources.
Federal wildfire suppression expenditures rose significantly from 1985 to 2000 ($0.24 billion to $1.4 billion annually) and rose to just over $3.1 billion in 2018.4 Fire losses were expected to be at record levels in 2018for the second straight year. In California alone, insured losses reported to date by the California Department of Insurancetopped nearly $12 billion, a figure that may still rise as additional claims are filed.5 Severe fire seasons may be the new norm, given WUI growth, the trend toward higher temperatures, lower rainfall, and a longer fire season overall.
To mitigate risk, officials are seeking to improve the built environment, with a focus primarily on new construction, in an effort to improve the likelihood that homes in WUI areas and the people who occupy them might have a greater chance of survival during a fire event. Building to higher standards in terms of fire resistance and ignition resistance are the primary goals of the WUI code.
Within this page
Designing and building a house that has a greater chance of surviving a wildfire
About the Wildland Urban Interface Code
The requirements for fire and ignition resistance
WUI code generally sets out that the following major components of the home be addressed
WUI Design and Building Challenges
WUI code may seem as straight forward as addressing it with an approved solution
New Product Approvals
Convincing code officials and championing new solutions
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