President Obama has made clear that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing our country and our planet. With a changing climate comes more extreme weather, including droughts and wildfires.
The increase in wildfires is particularly dangerous in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), where houses, structures and people are at risk of structure loss, injury and death. Since 1990, 60 percent of new homes built in the United States have been built in the WUI, increasing the amount of land at risk in the by 4,000 acres per day, nearly 2 million acres per year. The WUI now contains 46 million single family homes, several hundred thousands of businesses, and a population of more than 120 million.
Many of the homes and businesses located in the WUI are at greater risk from wildfire because of the impacts of climate change, threatening both structures and lives. It’s essential that we recognize the climate impacts on fire risks in these areas, and that we’re doing all we can to share information about these risks with fire professionals and community leaders. To better combat these fire risks, we need to increase our understanding of how wildfires interact with communities in terms of structures, terrain, and weather. Together, we must take action to enhance community resilience against these risks.
Today, Vice President Biden, in partnership with the U.S. Fire Administration and other Federal partners, is hosting a Fire Chiefs’ White House Roundtable with chiefs from across the nation to discuss the scientific basis for climate impacts and WUI fire threats, review lessons from recent fire events and practices employed to address these threats, and identify further policy actions needed to enhance community resilience in the WUI. At the roundtable, the following announcements will be made:
Ø A Commitment from Fire Chiefs Across the Country to Combat Climate Change Impacts in the Wildland Urban Interface: Over 37 fire chiefs and professional fire associations from local and tribal communities, counties, states and federal agencies have committed to ensure that fire fighters have the information, training and resources required to face the current and growing threats that climate impacts are having at the WUI, and to ensure community resilience by encouraging wildland fire prevention and mitigation practices by property owners, communities, and local governments across the country. The fire chiefs represent the following communities and organizations:
· Chief of Fire and Aviation, Alaska Division of Forestry, Alaska
· Fire Chief, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Fire Department, Arizona
· Fire Chief, Mesa Fire and Medical Department, Mesa Arizona
· Fire Chief, Salt River Pima – Maricopa Indian Community, Arizona
· Fire Chief, City of Oakland, California
· State Fire Marshal, State of California
· Fire Chief, Pasadena Fire Department, California
· Fire Chief, Fire and Rescue Division, Office of Emergency Services, California
· Fire Chief, Orange County Fire Authority, California
· Fire Chief, County of Los Angeles, California
· Fire Chief, North County Fire Protection District, Fallbrook (San Diego), California
· Director, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California
· Fire Chief, Cunningham Fire Protection District, Colorado
· Deputy Fire Chief, Castle Rock Fire and Rescue Department, Colorado
· Fire Marshal, Colorado Springs, Colorado
· Fire and EMS Chief, D.C. Fire and EMS, Washington, D.C.
· Fire Chief, Lakeland Fire Department, and President, Florida Fire Chiefs Association, Florida
· State Forester, State of Florida
· Fire Chief, Caldwell, Idaho
· Fire Chief, Kansas City Kansas Fire Department, Kansas
· Fire Chief, Red Lodge Fire Rescue, Montana
· Fire Chief (Interim), Lincoln, Nebraska Fire and Rescue, Nebraska
· Fire Chief, City of Omaha Fire Department, Nebraska
· State Forester, State of Nevada
· Fire Chief, City of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Chair, IAFC Wildland Fire Policy Committee
· Fire Chief, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Oregon
· Fire Chief, City of Austin, Texas
· Fire Chief (Acting), City of Fairfax Fire Department, Virginia
· Fire Chief, Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department, Virginia
· Chief of Emergency Services, County of Lancaster, Virginia
· Fire Chief, Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue, Kelso, Washington
· Fire Chief, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Washington
· Fire Chief, Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue, Ellensburg, Washington
· U.S. Fire Administrator
· Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, International Association of Fire Chiefs
· Western Fire Chiefs Association (AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, and Western Pacific Islands)
· Wildland Fire Coordinator, International Association of Fire Chiefs
Ø A New Study Illustrating the Need to be More Prepared: The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced the release of “A Case Study of a Community Affected by the Waldo Fire-Event Timeline and Defensive Actions”. This case study demonstrates the WUI fire event attributes that differ from either urban or wildland fires, including the extreme and rapid rates of structure ignition, and provides recommendations for planning and operational considerations before, during, and after fires in the WUI.
Ø A Report on Understanding the Science Behind Wildland Fires: A Wildland Fire Science and Technology Task Force, chartered under the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, is releasing a Final Report that proposes mechanisms to improve coordination between fire-science producers and the community of users of fire science, including a recommendation to establish a standing Federal Fire Science Coordination Council to define national-level needs for Federal fire science in support of the fire-management community. The proposed Council will also will serve as a formal, institutionalized mechanism to systematically link fire researchers with fire managers.
To continue to address wildfire risk, including risks in the WUI, the President’s FY 2016 Budget proposal would provide the necessary resources for the U.S. Forest Service as well as the Department of the Interior to address wildfire suppression and rehabilitation needs without resorting to detrimental transfers from other critical forest landscape resilience priorities. As more and more agency resources are spent each year to provide the firefighters, aircraft, and other assets necessary to protect lives, property, and natural resources from catastrophic wildfires, fewer and fewer funds and resources are available to support other agency work — including the very programs and restoration projects that reduce the fire threat on public and private land.