People in Fire-Prone Landscapes — Rethinking How We Adapt and Mitigate Risk from Extreme Wildfire

People in Fire-Prone Landscapes — Rethinking How We Adapt and Mitigate Risk from Extreme Wildfire

Organizer: 
Britt Anderson Parker
NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System/CIRES CU-Boulder
Time Slot: 
Concurrent Sessions 1
Session Type: 
Symposium
Abstract: 

Across the Western U.S. there is increasing evidence that the occurrence of extreme fire behavior is increasing, driven by rising temperatures, earlier melting of winter snowpack, and insect-related tree mortality. While wildfires continue to increase in numbers and acres burned, the opportunities for fuel mitigation through prescribed wildfire are constrained by environmental and cultural factors, and people continue to move into wildfire-prone areas. The need to successfully adapt communities to reduce wildfire risk is increasingly relevant to public and wildland firefighter safety. In this dynamic of extreme fire behavior and risk to communities, drought is a common climate phenomenon that impacts fire planning, fire behavior (during events), fire effects (post-event), and subsequently fire management overall. This session will focus on discussing the primary drivers of risk from extreme fire behavior in western communities and sharing how communities are approaching wildfire risk mitigation and adaptation. Additionally, this session will also use small group breakout practices, and will serve as a learning tool to for attendees to add to their facilitation tool kit.

Cross-Cutting Themes: 

Presentations

Seeing the Forest Through the Trees — Understanding How Perceptions of Risk Drive Adaptation Strategies (Co-presenter)
Britt-Anne A Parker, NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System/University of Colorado (CIRES)
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In this dynamic of extreme fire behavior and risk to communities, drought is a common climate phenomenon that impacts fire planning, fire behavior (during events), fire effects (post-event), and subsequently fire management overall. Many local communities are applying the latest science and best practices to build resilience to wildland fire through prescribed burns and mitigation programs that help homeowners in the wildland urban interface prepare for wildfire. This brief overview session will focus on of drought impacts on western communities in the context of wildfire risk.

Seeing the Forest Through the Trees — Understanding How Perceptions of Risk Drive Adaptation Strategies (Co-presenter)
Tamara Wall, Western Regional Climate Center/Desert Research Institute
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How residents living in perceive wildfire risk and respond (mitigation) can partially depend on their place-based attachments to where they live. Using a place attachment scale developed in the field of environmental psychology, research conducted previously in southwestern Montana suggests that there are differences in how residents living in forested wildland urban interface areas perceive wildfire risk and mitigation actions differentially based on if they are place referent, i.e., attached to the specific geographic location of their home, versus place congruent, i.e., attached to a particularly geographic type, rather than a specific area (such as forested mountain regions). This session briefly introduces these concepts to provide a framework to support the session and view how communities are responding to wildfire risk in the West.

Informed Drought Information for Wildland Fire Management: Lessons from the 2018 Northern California Fire Season
Daniel McEvoy, Western Regional Climate Center/Desert Research Institute
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Despite a clear link between drought and wildfire, there is currently a lack of information for stakeholders at the regional and local levels for improved wildfire risk management using drought early warning information. Fire managers and other specialized fire professionals, such as Incident Meteorologists, will increasingly need to effectively use drought information in forecasts of fire behavior at fire incidents, and in long-term fuel management planning (e.g., for prescribed fire treatments) as the climate continues to warm along with shifts in the timing and duration of fire seasons. This presentation will discuss recent efforts in using the Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) for fire management. EDDI is computed from temperature, wind, humidity, and solar radiation and has been shown to be strongly correlated to dead fuel moisture and the Energy Release Component. Topics covered will include background on EDDI, testing and case studies from summer and fall 2018 in northern California, tools available to obtain EDDI graphics and data, and progress on forecasting efforts of EDDI and evaporative demand at weather-to-seasonal time scales.

Wildfire Partners: Adapting to the New Era of Western Wildfires
James Webster, Wildfire Partners
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Boulder County has been a leader in wildfire mitigation since 1990. However, the new era of climate-driven wildfire in the Western U.S. motivated us to change our approach. Launched in 2014, Wildfire Partners is a public-private partnership where residents take responsibility for preparing for wildfires, creating and maintaining defensible space, and hardening their homes. Residents who perform mitigation receive a Wildfire Partners Certificate that helps them obtain insurance, sell their home, and receive building permits. Local, state and federal dollars help fund technical assistance for home owners that is essential for effective risk reduction. Creating fire adapted communities where residents learn to live with wildfire is an extremely ambitious national goal. To achieve it, local governments and private-sector partners must come together and pursue the necessary policies, regulations and programs to empower residents and communities to adapt to our increasing wildfire risk.

Adapting to wildfire in non-fire adapated forest systems
Crystal Raymond, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington
  • Lara Whitely-Binder, King County
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Washington has experienced several large fire seasons in the last decade that have burned extensive areas, destroyed homes, caused significant economic damage, and brought smoke into the metropolitan areas on the coast. The adaptation literature for forest and fire management provides direction on strategies to reduce fire risk in the eastern Pacific Northwest where the historical role of fire and forest management is clear – reduce understory fuels, decrease tree density, increase fire-resistant species, and clear fuels in the wildland urban interface to protect people and structures. Fire risk is also increasing in the western Pacific Northwest, but the appropriate response in these forests that are not well adapted is less clear. Large forest landowners (such as the National Park Service and US Forest Service) want information on the change in fire risk, the extent to which fire regimes are changing, and appropriate forest management strategies after a large wildfire burns. Local communities, counties, extension services, and conservation districts are seeking information that will help them communicate the change in risk and appropriate response strategies to small forest land owners and residents in the wildland urban interface. We directly engaged multiple stakeholders in a “deep dive” workshop to understand the challenges they face in preparing for wildfire in forested regions that are not adapted to fire. Through this process we identified information gaps in regarding the magnitude of the changing risk for forests in the western Pacific Northwest, communications needs regarding this change in fire risk, and post-fire forest management strategies.