Section 9: Wildfire

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Why are Wildfires a Threat to Southern California?

For thousands of years, fires have been a natural part of the ecosystem in Southern California. However, wildfires present a substantial hazard to life and property in communities built within or adjacent to hillsides and mountainous areas. There is a huge potential for losses due to wildland/urban interface fires in Southern California. According to the California Division of Forestry (CDF), there were over seven thousand reportable fires in California in 2003, with over one million acres burned. According to CDF statistics, in the October, 2003 Firestorms, over 4,800 homes were destroyed and 22 lives were lost.

The 2003 Southern California Fires

The fall of 2003 marked the most destructive wildfire season in California history. In a ten day period, 12 separate fires raged across Southern California in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties. The massive "Cedar" fire in San Diego County alone consumed of 2,800 homes and burned over a quarter of a million acres.


Historic Fires in Southern California

Large fires have been part of the Southern California landscape for millennia. "Written documents reveal that during the 19th century human settlement of southern California altered the fire regime of coastal California by increasing the fire frequency. This was an era of very limited fire suppression, and yet like today, large crown fires covering tens of thousands of acres were not uncommon. One of the largest fires in Los Angeles County (60,000 acres) occurred in 1878, and the largest fire in Orange County's history, in 1889, was over half a million acres."

Table 9-2. Large Historic Fires in California 1961-2003


During the 2002 fire season, more than 6.9 million acres of public and private lands burned in the US, resulting in loss of property, damage to resources and disruption of community services. Taxpayers spent more than $1.6 billion to combat more than 88,400 fires nationwide. Many of these fires burned in wildland/urban interface areas and exceeded the fire suppression capabilities of those areas. Table 8-3 illustrates fire suppression costs for state, private and federal lands.



Wildfire Characteristics

There are three categories of interface fire: The classic wildland/urban interface exists where well-defined urban and suburban development presses up against open expanses of wildland areas; the mixed wildland/urban interface is characterized by isolated homes, subdivisions and small communities situated predominantly in wildland settings; and the occluded wildland/urban interface exists where islands of wildland vegetation occur inside a largely urbanized area. Certain conditions must be present for significant interface fires to occur. The most common conditions include: hot, dry and windy weather; the inability of fire protection forces to contain or suppress the fire; the occurrence of multiple fires that overwhelm committed resources; and a large fuel load (dense vegetation). Once a fire has started, several conditions influence its behavior, including fuel topography, weather, drought and development.

Southern California has two distinct areas of risk for wildland fire. The foothills and lower mountain areas are most often covered with scrub brush or chaparral. The higher elevations of mountains also have heavily forested terrain. The lower elevations covered with chaparral create one type of exposure.

"Past fire suppression is not to blame for causing large shrubland wildfires, nor has it proven effective in halting them."" said Dr. Jon Keeley, a USGS fire researcher who studies both southern California shrublands and Sierra Nevada forests. ""Under Santa Ana conditions, fires carry through all chaparral regardless of age class. Therefore, prescribed burning programs over large areas to remove old stands and maintain young growth as bands of firebreaks resistant to ignition are futile at stopping these wildfires."

The higher elevations of Southern California's mountains are typically heavily forested. The magnitude of the 2003 fires is the result of three primary factors: (1) severe drought, accompanied by a series of storms that produce thousands of lightning strikes and windy conditions; (2) an infestation of bark beetles that has killed thousands of mature trees; and (3) the effects of wildfire suppression over the past century that has led to buildup of brush and small diameter trees in the forests.

"When Lewis and Clark explored the Northwest, the forests were relatively open, with 20 to 25 mature trees per acre. Periodically, lightning would start fires that would clear out underbrush and small trees, renewing the forests.

Today's forests are completely different, with as many as 400 trees crowded onto each acre, along with thick undergrowth. This density of growth makes forests susceptible to disease, drought and severe wildfires. Instead of restoring forests, these wildfires destroy them and it can take decades to recover. This radical change in our forests is the result of nearly a century of well-intentioned but misguided management."

The Interface

One challenge Southern California faces regarding the wildfire hazard is from the increasing number of houses being built on the urban/wildland interface. Every year the growing population has expanded further and further into the hills and mountains, including forest lands. The increased "interface" between urban/suburban areas and the open spaces created by this expansion has produced a significant increase in threats to life and property from fires and has pushed existing fire protection systems beyond original or current design and capability. Property owners in the interface are not aware of the problems and threats they face. Therefore, many owners have done very little to manage or offset fire hazards or risks on their own property. Furthermore, human activities increase the incidence of fire ignition and potential damage.

Fuel is the material that feeds a fire and is a key factor in wildfire behavior. Fuel is classified by volume and by type. Volume is described in terms of "fuel loading", or the amount of available vegetative fuel.

The type of fuel also influences wildfire. Chaparral is a primary fuel of Southern California wildfires. Chaparral habitat ranges in elevation from near sea level to over 5,000' in Southern California. Chaparral communities experience long dry summers and receive most of their annual precipitation from winter rains. Although chaparral is often considered as a single species, there are two distinct types; hard chaparral and soft chaparral. Within these two types are dozens of different plants, each with its own particular characteristics.

"Fire has been important in the life cycle of chaparral communities for over 2 million years, however, the true nature of the "fire cycle" has been subject to interpretation. In a period of 750 years, it generally thought that fire occurs once every 65 years in coastal drainages and once every 30 to 35 years inland."

"The vegetation of chaparral communities has evolved to a point it requires fire to spawn regeneration. Many species invite fire through the production of plant materials with large surface-to-volume ratios, volatile oils and through periodic die-back of vegetation. These species have further adapted to possess special reproductive mechanisms following fire. Several species produce vast quantities of seeds which lie dormant until fire triggers germination The parent plant which produces these seeds defends itself from fire by a thick layer of bark which allows enough of the plant to survive so that the plant can crown sprout following the blaze. In general, chaparral community plants have adapted to fire through the following methods; a) fire induced flowering; b) bud production and sprouting subsequent to fire; c) in-soil seed storage and fire stimulated germination; and d) on plant seed storage and fire stimulated dispersal."

An important element in understanding the danger of wildfire is the availability of diverse fuels in the landscape, such as natural vegetation, manmade structures and combustible materials. A house surrounded by brushy growth rather than cleared space allows for greater continuity of fuel and increases the fire's ability to spread. After decades of fire suppression "dog-hair" thickets have accumulated, which enable high intensity fires to flare and spread rapidly.

Topography influences the movement of air, thereby directing a fire course. For example, if the percentage of uphill slope doubles, the rate of spread in wildfire will likely double. Gulches and canyons can funnel air and act as chimneys, which intensify fire behavior and cause the fire to spread faster. Solar heating of dry, south-facing slopes produces up slope drafts that can complicate fire behavior. Unfortunately, hillsides with hazardous topographic characteristics are also desirable residential areas in many communities. This underscores the need for wildfire hazard mitigation and increased education and outreach to homeowners living in interface areas.

Weather patterns combined with certain geographic locations can create a favorable climate for wildfire activity. Areas where annual precipitation is less than 30 inches per year are extremely fire susceptible. High-risk areas in Southern California share a hot, dry season in late summer and early fall when high temperatures and low humidity favor fire activity. The so-called "Santa Ana" winds, which are heated by compression as they flow down to Southern California from Utah create a particularly high risk, as they can rapidly spread what might otherwise be a small fire.

Although Drought can often be considered a natural hazard in it's own right, because the City of West Covina does not have much agriculture remaining in the City it will only be considered as to how it affects wildland fires. Recent concerns about the effects of climate change, particularly drought, are contributing to concerns about wildfire vulnerability. The term drought is applied to a period in which an unusual scarcity of rain causes a serious hydrological imbalance. Unusually dry winters, or significantly less rainfall than normal, can lead to relatively drier conditions and leave reservoirs and water tables lower. Drought leads to problems with irrigation and may contribute to additional fires, or additional difficulties in fighting fires. With periods of drought the fuel moisture drops significantly adding to increased fire danger. Where as usually we expect low moisture content in the fuels during Summer months, with drought conditions, the fuels reach these same low numbers eartlier in the year, prolonging the high fire danger period.

Drought also affects the City of West Covina by influencing the maintenance of parks, green belts, and other city horticulture. As the season dries out, landscaping requires greater amount of irrigation. If restrictions are placed on the amount of water any entity can use, irrigation is usually the use that is cut back. Any increases to water costs and the replacement of lost landscaping will add to the financial impact on the City.

Growth and development in scrubland and forested areas is increasing the number of human-made structures in Southern California interface areas. Wildfire has an effect on development, yet development can also influence wildfire. Owners often prefer homes that are private, have scenic views, are nestled in vegetation and use natural materials. A private setting may be far from public roads, or hidden behind a narrow, curving driveway. These conditions, however, make evacuation and fire fighting difficult. The scenic views found along mountain ridges can also mean areas of dangerous topography. Natural vegetation contributes to scenic beauty, but it may also provide a ready trail of fuel leading a fire directly to the combustible fuels of the home itself.

Wildfire Hazard Assessment

Wildfire Hazard Identification
Wildfire hazard areas are commonly identified in regions of the wildland/urban interface. Ranges of the wildfire hazard are further determined by the ease of fire ignition due to natural or human conditions and the difficulty of fire suppression. The wildfire hazard is also magnified by several factors related to fire suppression/control such as the surrounding fuel load, weather, topography and property characteristics. Generally, hazard identification rating systems are based on weighted factors of fuels, weather and topography.

Table 9-4 Illustrates a rating system to identify wildfire hazard risk (with a score of 3 equaling the most danger and a score of 1 equaling the least danger.)


In order to determine the "base hazard factor" of specific wildfire hazard sites and interface regions, several factors must be taken into account. Categories used to assess the base hazard factor include:

  • Topographic location, characteristics and fuels
  • Site/building construction and design
  • Site/region fuel profile (landscaping)
  • Defensible space
  • Accessibility
  • Fire protection response
  • Water availability
The use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology in recent years has been a great asset to fire hazard assessment, allowing further integration of fuels, weather and topography data for such ends as fire behavior prediction, watershed evaluation, mitigation strategies and hazard mapping.

Vulnerability and Risk
Southern California residents are served by a variety of local fire departments as well as county, state, and federal fire resources. Data that includes the location of interface areas in the county can be used to assess the population and total value of property at risk from wildfire and direct these fire agencies in fire prevention and response.

Key factors included in assessing wildfire risk include ignition sources, building materials and design, community design, structural density, slope, vegetative fuel, fire occurrence and weather, as well as occurrences of drought.

The National Wildland/Urban Fire Protection Program has developed the Wildland/Urban Fire Hazard Assessment Methodology tool for communities to assess their risk to wildfire. For more information on wildfire hazard assessment refer to

Community Wildfire Issues

What is Susceptible to Wildfire?

Although major fire conflagrations have spread over flat areas of communities, such as the Anaheim Fire, that even though it was on flat terrain, spread for many blocks because of wind driven flames spotting from roof to roof. Most communities are at highest risk of wildland fires in their hillside areas. The City of West Covina reflects this same type of risk with a concentration of homes that are built in the San Jose Hills area from Grand Ave. in the east to Pass and Covina Street in the west.

The City of West Covina has in this same area a natural vegetation park that is open to the public year round, but with fire restrictions during the driest part of the year. This park, Galster Park, has in addition to the usual amenities that you find at a park; acres of natural vegetation with developed trails and campsites for community groups.

The developed area for homes has good roads, and a good water supply providing the Fire Department with the necessary tools to respond to the area and aggressively attack any fire. Current and future development of the BKK landfill area increases the Fire Department access while at the same time reducing the amount of wildland to burn.

The undeveloped land in the San Jose Areas are shared by the communities of Covina, Walnut, and West Covina. Both the City of Covina and the City of Walnut contract with Los Angeles County Fire Department for fire protection and emergency medical response. The West Covina Fire Department has a good working relationship with the Los Angeles County Fire Department with Mutual Aid and Automatic Aid agreements in place to assist with any disaster.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department enforces the same codes and ordinances covering fire safety, as the City of West Covina.

As new homes are developed in the hillsides of West Covina, all are built to the most recent code requirements, minimizing the future risk to these homes from wildfire.

Of concern are the long private drives to some of the lots in this area and the spacing of hydrants along private roads.

Growth and Development in the Interface
The hills and mountainous areas of Southern California are considered to be interface areas. The development of homes and other structures is encroaching onto the wildlands and is expanding the wildland/urban interface. The interface neighborhoods are characterized by a diverse mixture of varying housing structures, development patterns, ornamental and natural vegetation and natural fuels.

In the event of a wildfire, vegetation, structures and other flammables can merge into unwieldy and unpredictable events. Factors important to the fighting of such fires include access, firebreaks, proximity of water sources, distance from a fire station and available firefighting personnel and equipment. Reviewing past wildland/urban interface fires shows that many structures are destroyed or damaged for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Combustible roofing material
  • Wood construction
  • Structures with no defensible space
  • Fire department with poor access to structures
  • Subdivisions located in heavy natural fuel types
  • Structures located on steep slopes covered with flammable vegetation
  • Limited water supply
  • Winds over 30 miles per hour
Road Access
Road access is a major issue for all emergency service providers. As development encroaches into the rural areas of the county, the number of houses without adequate turn-around space is increasing. In many areas, there is not adequate space for emergency vehicle turnarounds in single-family residential neighborhoods, causing emergency workers to have difficulty doing their jobs because they cannot access houses. As fire trucks are large, firefighters are challenged by narrow roads and limited access, when there is inadequate turn around space, the fire fighters can only work to remove the occupants, but cannot safely remain to save the threatened structures.

Fortunately for the City of West Covina roads are relatively new and wide into the hill area of the City. Of concern are the long narrow, low capacity driveways that access some of the homes in the area. The Fire Department is equipped to layout long hose lays by hand at a single residence, but could not do this cover a number of houses, which is often necessary in a wildland urban interface fire.

Water Supply
Fire fighters in remote and rural areas are faced by limited water supply and lack of hydrant taps. Rural areas are characteristically outfitted with small diameter pipe water systems, inadequate for providing sustained fire fighting flows. The City of West Covina has seven Water Companies with interconnected systems. A combination system give good volume and pressure throughout.

13map10wildlandriskheat legend


Map 10 Wildland Fire Risk for the City of West Covina  

Interface Fire Education Programs and Enforcement
Fire protection in urban/wildland interface areas may rely heavily more on the landowner's personal initiative to take measures to protect his or her own property. Therefore, public education and awareness may play a greater role in interface areas. In those areas with strict fire codes, property owners who are resist maintaining the minimum brush clearances may be cited for failure to clear brush.

The Need for Mitigation Programs
Continued development into the interface areas will have growing impacts on the wildland/urban interface. Periodically, the historical losses from wildfires in Southern California have been catastrophic, with deadly and expensive fires going back decades. The continued growth and development increases the public need for natural hazards mitigation planning in Southern California.

Wildfire Mitigation Activities

Existing mitigation activities include brush clearance and weed abatement programs, mitigation information distributed to homeowners, building ordinances requiring fire resistive construction, along with other mitigation programs and activities that are being implemented by county, regional, state, or federal agencies or organizations.

Local Programs
In Southern California there are dozens of independent local fire departments as well as large county wide consolidated fire districts. Although each district or department is responsible for fire related issues in specific geographic areas, they work together to keep Southern California residents safe from fire. Although fire agencies work together to fight urban/wildland interface fires, each separate agency may have a somewhat different set of codes to enforce for mitigation activities.

The fire departments and districts provide essential public services in the communities they serve and their duties far surpass extinguishing fires. Most of the districts and departments provide other services to their jurisdictions, including Emergency Medical Services who can begin treatment and stabilize sick and injured patients in emergency situations. All of the fire service providers in the county are dedicated to fire prevention and use their resources to educate the public to reduce the threat of the fire hazard, especially in the wildland/urban interface. Fire prevention professionals throughout the county have taken the lead in providing many useful and educational services to Southern California residents, such as:

  • Home fire safety inspection
  • Assistance developing home fire escape plans
  • Business Inspections
  • Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) training
  • Fire cause determination
  • Counseling for juvenile fire-setters
  • Teaching fire prevention in schools
  • Coordinating educational programs with other agencies, hospitals and schools
  • Answering citizens' questions regarding fire hazards.
The Threat of Urban Conflagration
Although communities without an urban/wildland interface are much less likely to experience a catastrophic fire, in Southern California there is a scenario where any community might be exposed to an urban conflagration similar to the fires that occurred following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

"Large fires following an earthquake in an urban region are relatively rare phenomena, but have occasionally been of catastrophic proportions. The two largest peacetime urban fires in history, 1906 San Francisco and 1923 Tokyo, were both caused by earthquakes.

The fact that fire following earthquake has been little researched or considered in the United States is particularly surprising when one realizes that the conflagration in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake was the single largest urban fire, and the single largest earthquake loss, in U.S. history. The loss over three days of more than 28,000 buildings within an area of 12 km2 was staggering: $250 million in 1906 dollars, or about $5 billion at today's prices.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the 1991 Oakland hills fire, and Japan's recent Hokkaido Nansei-oki Earthquake all demonstrate the current, real possibility of a large fire, such as a fire following an earthquake, developing into a conflagration. In the United States, all the elements that would hamper fire-fighting capabilities are present: density of wooden structures, limited personnel and equipment to address multiple fires, debris blocking the access of fire-fighting equipment, and a limited water supply."

This in Southern California, this scenario highlights the need for fire mitigation activity in all sectors of the region, urban/wildland interface or not.
Fire Codes

Local Fire Codes

The West Covina Municipal Code Article II Section 10-27 Sub-Section 1103.2.5 Removal of Flammable and Combustible Vegetation and Materials.

Removal of Flammable and Combustible Vegetation and Materials. All residential front, rear, and side yards including slopes shall be maintained, by the owner or occupant, free and clear of all flammable or combustible vegetation for a distance of 100 feet or to their property line whichever is closest.

A minimum clearance of 10 feet shall be maintained between all roads and all dry grass, weeds, vegetation and any other combustible material

The West Covina Municipal Code Article I Section 7-18.12 Sub-Section (a & b) Roof Coverings Amended.

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of the Building Code and Appendix to the contrary, the roof covering of any building hereinafter constructed, regardless of type of occupancy classification, shall be non-combustible or fire-retardant construction as defined in Section 1504.2 items 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the Uniform Building Code.

2001 California Building Code Section 1504.2 Non-Combustible Roof Covering.

Noncombustible roof covering shall be one of the following:

  1. Cement shingles or sheets.
  2. Exposed concrete slab roof.
  3. Ferrous or copper shingles or sheets
  4. Slate shingles
  5. Clay or concrete roofing tiles.
  6. Approved roof covering or noncombustible material.

County Fire Codes

The County Fire Department requires a clearance of 30 feet or more around all buildings and structures for fire safety. Remove all flammable vegetation and or other combustible growth. This does not apply to single specimen trees, ornamental shrubbery or cultivated ground covers, providing they do not readily transmit fire. Additional clearance can be required if conditions warrant.

State Fire Codes

2001 California Fire Code Section 1103.2.4 Combustible Vegetation

Cut or uncut weeds, grass, vines and other vegetation shall be removed when determined by the chief to be a fire hazard. When the chief determines that total removal of growth is impractical due to size or environmental factors, approved fuel breaks shall be established. Designated areas shall be cleared of combustible vegetation to establish the fuel breaks.

Section 16 Clearance of Brush or Vegetative Growth From Structures

16.1 General. Persons, owning, leasing, controlling, operating or maintaining buildings or structures in, upon or adjoining hazardous fire areas, and persons owning, leasing or controlling land adjacent to such buildings or structures, shall at all times:

  1. Maintain an effective firebreak by removing and clearing away flammable vegetation and combustible growth from areas within 30 feet of such buildings or structures. Exception: When single specimen trees, ornamental shrubbery or similar plants used as ground covers, provided that they do not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from the native growth to any structure.
  2. Maintain additional fire protection or firebreak by removing brush, flammable vegetation and combustible growth located 30 feet to 100 feet from such buildings or structures, when required by the chief because of extra hazardous conditions, causing a firebreak of only 30 feet to be insufficient to provide reasonable fire safety; Exception: Grass and other vegetation located more than 30 feet from buildings or structures and less than 18 inches in height above the ground need not be removed where necessary to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
Federal Programs
The role of the federal land managing agencies in the wildland /urban interface is reducing fuel hazards on the lands they administer; cooperating in prevention and education programs; providing technical and financial assistance; and developing agreements, partnerships and relationships with property owners, local protection agencies, states and other stakeholders in wildland/urban interface areas. These relationships focus on activities before a fire occurs, which render structures and communities safer and better able to survive a fire occurrence.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Programs FEMA is directly responsible for providing fire suppression assistance grants and, in certain cases, major disaster assistance and hazard mitigation grants in response to fires. The role of FEMA in the wildland /urban interface is to encourage comprehensive disaster preparedness plans and programs, increase the capability of state and local governments and provide for a greater understanding of FEMA programs at the federal, state and local levels.

Fire Suppression Assistance Grants
Fire Suppression Assistance Grants may be provided to a state with an approved hazard mitigation plan for the suppression of a forest or grassland fire that threatens to become a major disaster on public or private lands. These grants are provided to protect life and improved property and encourage the development and implementation of viable multi-hazard mitigation measures and provide training to clarify FEMA's programs. The grant may include funds for equipment, supplies and personnel. A Fire Suppression Assistance Grant is the form of assistance most often provided by FEMA to a state for a fire. The grants are cost-shared with states. FEMA's US Fire Administration (USFA) provides public education materials addressing wildland/urban interface issues and the USFA's National Fire Academy provides training programs.

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
Following a major disaster declaration, the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provides funding for long-term hazard mitigation projects and activities to reduce the possibility of damages from all future fire hazards and to reduce the costs to the nation for responding to and recovering from the disaster.

National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program
Federal agencies can use the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program to focus on wildland/urban interface fire protection issues and actions. The Western Governors' Association (WGA) can act as a catalyst to involve state agencies, as well as local and private stakeholders, with the objective of developing an implementation plan to achieve a uniform, integrated national approach to hazard and risk assessment and fire prevention and protection in the wildland/urban interface. The program helps states develop viable and comprehensive wildland fire mitigation plans and performance-based partnerships.

U.S. Forest Service
The U. S. Forest Service (USFS) is involved in a fuel-loading program implemented to assess fuels and reduce hazardous buildup on forest lands. The USFS is a cooperating agency and, while it has little to no jurisdiction in the lower valleys, it has an interest in preventing fires in the interface, as fires often burn up the hills and into the higher elevation US forest lands.

Other Mitigation Programs and Activities
Some areas of the country are facing wildland/urban issues collaboratively. These are model programs that include local solutions. Summit County, Colorado, has developed a hazard and risk assessment process that mitigates hazards through zoning requirements. In California, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has retrofitted more than 100 fire engines with fire retardant foam capability and Orange County is evaluating a pilot insurance grading and rating schedule specific to the wildland/urban interface. All are examples successful programs that demonstrate the value of pre-suppression and prevention efforts when combined with property owner support to mitigate hazards within the wildland/urban interface.

Prescribed Burning
The health and condition of a forest will determine the magnitude of wildfire. If fuels - slash, dry or dead vegetation, fallen limbs and branches - are allowed to accumulate over long periods of time without being methodically cleared, fire can move more quickly and destroy everything in its path. The results are more catastrophic than if the fuels are periodically eliminated. Prescribed burning is the most efficient method to get rid of these fuels. In California during 2003, various fire agencies conducted over 200 prescribed fires and burned over 33,000 acres to reduce the wildland fire hazard.

Firewise is a program developed within the National Wildland/ Urban Interface Fire Protection Program and it is the primary federal program addressing interface fire. It is administered through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group whose extensive list of participants includes a wide range of federal agencies. The program is intended to empower planners and decision makers at the local level. Through conferences and information dissemination, Firewise increases support for interface wildfire mitigation by educating professionals and the general public about hazard evaluation and policy implementation techniques. Firewise offers online wildfire protection information and checklists, as well as listings of other publications, videos and conferences. The interactive home page allows users to ask fire protection experts questions and to register for new information as it becomes available.

FireFree Program
FireFree is a unique private/public program for interface wildfire mitigation involving partnerships between an insurance company and local government agencies. It is an example of an effective non-regulatory approach to hazard mitigation. Originating in Bend, Oregon, the program was developed in response to the city's "Skeleton Fire" of 1996, which burned over 17,000 acres and damaged or destroyed 30 homes and structures. Bend sought to create a new kind of public education initiative that emphasized local involvement. SAFECO Insurance Corporation was a willing collaborator in this effort. Bend's pilot program included:
  1. A short video production featuring local citizens as actors, made available at local video stores, libraries and fire stations;
  2. Two city-wide yard debris removal events;
  3. A 3D-minute program on a model FireFree home, aired on a local cable television station; and
  4. Distribution of brochures, featuring a property owner evaluation checklist and a listing of fire-resistant indigenous plants.

Wildfire Mitigation Action Items

As stated in the Federal Wildland Fire Policy, "The problem is not one of finding new solutions to an old problem but of implementing known solutions. Deferred decision making is as much a problem as the fires themselves. If history is to serve us in the resolution of the wildland/urban interface problem, we must take action on these issues now. To do anything less is to guarantee another review process in the aftermath of future catastrophic fires."

The wildfire mitigation action items provide direction on specific activities that organizations and residents in Southern California can undertake to reduce risk and prevent loss from wildfire events. Each action item is followed by ideas for implementation, which can be used by the steering committee and local decision makers in pursuing strategies for implementation.

ST-WF#l: Enhance emergency services to increase the efficiency of wildfire response and recovery activities.
Ideas for Implementation:
  • Inventory water system and provide maps showing stored water information and crossover connections for adjacent water districts to fire companies;
  • Develop a City of West Covina reverse 911 call list that includes all at-risk urban /wildland interface residents in order to contact them during evacuations.
Coordinating Organization: West Covina Fire Department
Timeline: 2 years
Plan Goals Addressed: Emergency Services
Constraints: Data sharing with eight water companies

ST -WF#2: Educate agency personnel on federal cost-share and grant programs, Fire Protection Agreements and other related federal programs so the full array of assistance available to local agencies is understood. Ideas for Implementation:
  • Investigate potential funding opportunities for individual mitigation projects; and
  • Develop, approve and promote Fire Protection Agreements and partnerships to clarify roles and responsibilities and to provide for fire mitigation activities and suppression preparedness,
Coordinating Organization: Local Agency Fire Department
Timeline: 1-2 years
Plan Goals Addressed: Protect Life and Property, Public Awareness
Constraints: Scheduling staff training

LT-WF#l: Encourage development and dissemination of maps relating to the fire hazard to help educate and assist builders and homeowners in being engaged in wildfire mitigation activities and to help guide emergency services during response.
Ideas for Implementation:
  • Update wildland/urban interface maps.
  • Conduct risk analysis incorporating data and the created hazard maps using GIS technology to identify risk sites and further assist in prioritizing mitigation activities; and
  • Identify alternative water sources and incorporate into response maps.
Coordinating Organization: Fire Department
Timeline: 1-3 years
Plan Goals Addressed: Protect Life and Property
Constraints: Staff time to develop maps

LT - WF#2: Enhance outreach and education programs aimed at mitigating wildfire hazards and reducing or preventing the exposure of citizens, public agencies, private property owners and businesses to natural hazards.
Ideas for Implementation:
  • Visit urban interface neighborhoods to conduct education and outreach activities;
  • Conduct specific community-based demonstration projects of fire prevention and mitigation in the urban interface;
  • Continue weed abatement program identifying site-specific mitigation activities. Fire Prevention can give property owners personal suggestions and assistance; and
  • Perform public outreach and information activities directed at Wildland Fire mitigation at Fire Service Days and other public safety fairs.
Coordinating Organization: Local Agency Fire Department
Timeline: Ongoing
Plan Goals Addressed: Protect Life and Property, Public Awareness
Constraints: Development of Public Education events

Wildfire Resource Directory

Local Resources

West Covina Fire Department
1435 W. Puente Ave.
West Covina, CA., 91793
Telephone: (626) 338-8800
Facsimile: (626) 338-9720

County Resources

Los Angeles County Fire Department
1320 N. Eastern Ave.
Los Angeles, CA., 90063
Telephone: 323.881.2411

State Resources

California Division of Forestry & Fire Protection
1416 9th Street
PO Box 944246
Sacramento California 94244-2460
(916) 653-5123

Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM)
1131 "S" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
PO Box 944246
Sacramento, CA 94244-2460
Tel. (916) 445-8200
Fax. (916) 445-8509

Federal Resources and Programs

Federal Wildland Fire Policy, Wildland/Urban Interface Protection
This is a report describing federal policy and interface fire. Areas of needed improvement are identified and addressed through recommended goals and actions.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
This is the principal federal agency involved in the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Initiative. NFPA has information on the Initiatives programs and documents.
Public Fire Protection Division
1 Battery March Park.
P.O. Box 9101
Quincy, MA 02269-9101
Phone: (617) 770-3000

National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)
The NIFC in Boise, Idaho is the nation's support center for wildland firefighting. Seven federal agencies work together to coordinate and support wildland fire and disaster operations. These agencies include the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, National Weather Service and Office of Aircraft
National Interagency Fire Center
3833 S. Development Ave.
Boise, Idaho 83705

United States Fire Administration (USFA) of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
As an entity of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the mission of the USFA is to reduce life and economic losses due to fire and related emergencies through leadership, advocacy, coordination and support.
USFA, Planning Branch, Mitigation Directorate
16825 S. Seton Ave.
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
(301) 447-1000 - Wildfire Mitigation - U.S. Fire Administration

Additional Resources

Firewise - The National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire program
Firewise maintains a Website designed for people who live in wildfire prone areas, but it also can be of use to local planners and decision makers. The site offers online wildfire protection information and checklists, as well as listings of other publications, videos and conferences.
1 Battery March Park.
P.O. Box 9101
Quincy, MA 02269-9101
Phone: (617) 770-3000

National Fire Protection Association Standard 299: Protection of Life and Property from Wildfire, National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program, (1991), National Fire Protection Association, Washington, D. This document, developed by the NFPA Forest and Rural Fire Protection Committee, provides criteria for fire agencies, land use planners, architects, developers and local governments to use in the development of areas that may be threatened by wildfire. To obtain this resource:
National Fire Protection Association Publications
(800) 344-3555 or

An International Collection of Wildland- Urban Interface Resource Materials
(Information Report NOR- 344). Hirsch, K., Pinedo, M., & Greenlee, J. (1996). Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Forest Service.
This is a comprehensive bibliography of interface wildfire materials. Over 2,000 resources are included, grouped under the categories of general and technical reports, newspaper articles and public education materials. The citation format allows the reader to obtain most items through a library or directly from the publisher. The bibliography is available in hard copy or diskette at no cost. It is also available in downloadable PDF form.
Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, I-Zone Series
Phone: (780) 435-7210

Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Hazard Assessment Methodology.
National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program, (1998).
NFPA, Washington, D.C.
Firewise (NFPA Public Fire Protection Division)
Phone: (617) 984-7486

Fire Protection in the Wildland/Urban Interface: Everyone's Responsibility.
National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program, (1998). Washington, D.C.
Firewise (NFPA Public Fire Protection Division)
Phone: (617) 984-7486

Section 9 - Wildfire Endnotes

vi. Planning for Natural Hazards: The Oregon Technical Resource Guide, (July 2000) Department of Land Conservation and Development
viii. Overgrown Forests Require Preventive Measures, By Gale A. Norton (Secretary of the Interior), USA Today Editorial, August 21, 2002
x. Ibid
xi. Planning for Natural Hazards: The Oregon Technical Resource Guide, (July 2000), Department of Land Conservation and Development
xiv. Source: National Interagency Fire Center, Boise ID and California Division of Forestry, Riverside Fire Lab.

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