Living in the Wildland-Urban Interface

Susan and Al Maza live in an area called the “wildland-urban interface” and were serious about making their home as fire-safe as possible. This included building a wrap-around driveway that fire crews could access, and maintaining an area around the house that is free of trees and other fire-fuel. This planning on the Maza’s part allowed firefighters to save their home when the 2010 Cowiche Mill Fire got to within 20 feet of their home.

Experts say many other residents in the wildland-urban interface do not go to the lengths the Mazas did to protect their property. The result: resources in time, money, personnel, and equipment are used to save homes where the value of the resources spent is many times the value of the property. “Politically, no one wants to hear it – but the reality is that there are places we should not be putting people. You own property and you want to build on it…but for your own protection, maybe you shouldn’t be there,” says Jakki McLean, Yakima County’s fire marshal.

The priciest part of fighting large wildfires is defending homes in this wildland-urban interface. Approximately 45 million homes are already in fire-prone forests across the country and by 2030 experts expect the number to rise another 40 percent. Policy is also being driven by the fact that homes are in these areas. Fires that would be better off running their course for the health of the forest are now suppressed. “Only about 2 percent of these (naturally-ignited) fires are allowed to burn now, and the main reason is there are homes in the way,” says Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics.