Community Adaptation to Fire

Group 2: Emily Disbury, Sam Peltier, Megan Espinola, Kaylee Duncanson

Here is the link to our presentation on Community Adaptation to Fire:

Fire adapted community is defined as a human community consisting of informed and prepared citizens collaboratively planning and taking action to safely coexist with wildland fire. The biggest problem with this is that current fire adapted communities lack cohesive response and design.

Fire adapted communities are better prepared for the risks of wildfire, they have a more effective outlook after fire, they save taxpayer money, and limit property damage from fires. Creating wildfire regulations in wildland-urban interfaces builds collaboration with local fire departments, state forestry agencies, the Forest Service, and property owners. Programs like Firewsie are nationally recognized and help wildland-urban interfaces become fire adapted. The National Fire Prevention Association gives property owners guidelines on how to reduce wildfire risk on their property.

Having a national collaborative program helps communities after fires by ensuring agencies and property owners know their responsibilities and ensures that damage costs are disrupted fairly. These programs protect the lives of residents and firefighters, limit property damage and protect community assets, and they save taxpayer money.

Fire adapted plans need to be implemented in more communities to help reduce fire risk and to help these communities with the aftermath of fires.

The size and scope of wildfires is increasing, and the resources required to combat them is increasing as well. This forces a larger proportion of agencies to address or respond to fire in some way, many indirectly. From this results a larger financial burden and convoluted management structure. While dispersed and adaptive management has resulted in overall better response, a convoluting of the financial and management liabilities has also increased. Should the roles of lower-level managers be more clearly defined, they would be able to more accurately allocate budgets as well as being able to better engage with the community.

Community engagement is necessary because the wildland-urban interface is ever-expanding. Its increasingly scattered nature had led many managers to pursue community involvement, in both proactive and reactive measures. For example, a lower-level manager with a clear area of responsibility and budget would be better able to disseminate basic information about defensible space, perform property mapping, and better organize community leaders for post-wildfire response.

Community leaders are critical to post-wildfire response because there is a huge difference in the availability of trained management pre and post fire. Before a fire, many are widely available for collaboration. Post-fire, they are busy, and there is a huge gap in management. Communities affected by fire naturally mobilize – checking on neighbors, repairing damage, and seeing how they can help. However, without proactive instruction, these neighborhoods are left to self-organize. By allowing lower-level managers to control their local community outreach, they can identify potential problems and establish lines of communication to gather critical data post-fire. As an example, people living on the WUI can be put into small groups based on proximity and geography, be made aware of any members of their group that would have potential mobility issues in the event of an evacuation, and be given a clear leader and method of communication which can be used to report key information to professionals in an ever-evolving emergency. 

After fire, it can be a stressful and difficult time for members of the community to bounce back. Having a fire management and adaptation plan for when this occurs is crucial for efficient and timely community adaptation. 

Most states take a disorganized mixed method approach, which causes issues with costs and resources. For example, in one study it was recorded that in Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico that acres burned was the primary or only method, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming all had mixed methods, and then Idaho declared no clear method (GAO, 2006). This not only increases the wildland fire debt of each state, but also makes it difficult to split up costs between states if fires crossed state lines. Also regarding resources, we are depleting them faster than we can rebuild making fighting fires more costly adding to the issue. 

In a study across four US communities that had a Community Wildfire Protection Plan in place, it was found that they “improved relationships among firefighting agencies, clarified responsibilities and improved communication systems, contributing to fire response efficiency and effectiveness” compared to other communities without one (Jakes, 2013).

For policy recommendations, we have four main areas to consider that would help create more wildfire adaptive communities. First is the improvement of communication resources and extension of educational outreaches through programs such as Firewise and National Fire Academy. These fire recognition programs offer a broad audience easy access to online tools that help communities learn more about how to reduce their risk within the wildland urban interface. Improving the use and accessibility of these programs would greatly increase community knowledge and help to build better mitigation strategies. 

Hand in hand with this first recommendation, we recommend the increased funding to these programs. Increasing investments into programs that focus on prevention such as those mentioned in the national plan and cohesive strategic plan will improve the resources that these programs can deploy. Current efforts being made by the Forest Service to fund a pilot program on land use planning are underway through non-profit organizations like Headwaters Economics. Funding would also enable options for seed banks, access to tools, and help catalog information on fire adapted communities. On a smaller scale, communities could draw mitigation funding for WUI treatments from HOA fees or tax districts.

The third recommendation we have is the standardization of guidelines that define fire adapted community. This national minimum standard would be easy to follow and would include interagency communication plans, consistent outreach terminology, defined fire response efforts, and clear zoning for defensible spaces in the WUI. Currently, states are left to define their own policies on what a fire adapted community looks like and what the consequences are for failing to meet these regulations. The addition of a federal plan would give weight to the importance of creating these fire adapted communities. Non-profit organizations like the National Fire Prevention Association have already been outlining standards for wildland fire prevention within their plans that would work as a federal guideline. These plans define many of the standards that would be useful within a federal framework like roof ratings, evacuation plans, and defensible zone sizes.

Finally, we recommend a focus on prepared response plans. While mitigation should be the goal to reduce loss, fire is inevitable and every community needs to have a response plan in place to better aid the community and first responders. This can be included as part of the standard guideline for adaptive communities, but it is important that it not be left out when designing adaptive communities. Such things as designing roads to include the accessibility for first response vehicles and allow access to defensible spaces are key to emergency responders being able to work effectively. There also needs to be a plan in place for volunteer community response. They should have individuals trained to have some level of disaster response leadership in place. Programs like FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team give basic training in disaster response organization, fire safety, and basic medical operations.

Our final thoughts on adaptive communities are that current policy is limited and lacks cohesive plans for mitigation and response. If changes are not made we will continue to see losses of  lives and properties. Changes to guidelines, funding, and communication would be points where we recommend that agencies focus their attention to have the greatest impact on improving adaptive community structures.


Assignment #2

Though it is a difficult subject with much controversy attached to it, the topic of fire policy and tactics has been one debated for many years now with constant changes made year after year. Many individuals argue whether suppression or prevention tactics are the best route. Either way, the costs of fire fighting and suppression is exceeding $2 million every year causing much strain on fire fighting services (Ingalsbee, 2010). 

In the subject of suppression and prevention, one example of how suppression tactics caused some problems for the fire service was the Yellowstone fire in 1988. Though fire fighting officials had data and models to follow the fire and make sure based off of past fires when the best time to jump in and suppress would be, this particular fire was different and burned out of control, causing about ⅓ of the park to burn. Much of the public and surrounding communities were upset by this as to them it looked like officials had simply just let the park burn with no intervention. Media blasted a false “let it burn ” policy that also caused much backlash to fire officials. This event, though difficult for all involved, brought about the importance for adaptation in fire policy (NPR, 2008). 

Now, firefighters and fire officials are both prepped and taught different tactics and policies to fight fire which include minimum impact suppression tactics, prescribed burning policies, and safety policies to make sure that each unique fire is handled to the best ability possible (NWCG, 2003; BLM, 2013).  

BLM Oregon. (2013). “Becoming a Wildland Firefighter”. Bureau of Land Management: Oregon. Youtube. Retrieved from: 

Ingalsbee, T. (2010). “Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide To Wildland Fire Suppression Costs”. Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology. Retrieved from: 

NPR. (2008). “Remembering The 1988 Yellowstone Fires” National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

NWCG. (2003). “Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics”. National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Youtube. Retrieved from:


Assignment #1

The topic of wildfire management and wildfire suppression is one that has been heavily debated over the years and provides many possible approaches. One approach that has had some controversy between different officials has been the prescribed burn approach. Prescribed burning is a practice that creates small, controlled fires within a forested area to help alleviate the possibility of more destructive fires in the future. By doing so, it diminishes the amount of fuels present within the forest which is what creates the larger and more destructive fires. Though not used regularly in all forested environments, it is a growing practice that has seen positive results in areas where it has been used. 

An opposing view that has been presented by author William Greenley advocates to stop prescribed burns. He claims that this use though deemed “controlled” still creates fires that cause damage to the area, and that the reasoning of past local tribes using small burns is not a good enough reason to do so. Greenley pleads that the best approach is fire suppression and more fire management. He believes that by using our firefighting resources to help prevent fire is a more effective use of time and resources to help protect not only our forested areas but also the communities living near them (Greenley, 2000). 

A more progressive approach, as proven by more research and ecological study of fire on forested land, shows that providing periodic prescribed burns can be a more proactive and effective tactic. Authors Donovan and Brown in their paper titled “Wildfire management in the US Forest Service: A brief history” outlines the Forest Service’s evolved approach to fire management over the years until they finally came to the conclusion of a balance of light burns and fire suppression. After countless policy changes attempting to find the best way to manage fire, prescribed burning is more readily accepted and used, proving to be very effective (Donovan and Brown, 2005). 

Overall, the views and practice of fire management has evolved over the years and across many federal agencies but the goal has always remained the same. Though some groups and individuals still may take the view that was presented by Greenley where light burning is the wrong approach, many are turning towards a more sustainable direction with light burns and fuel management. As we wait for more advancements and research to come out, this is seen to be the most effective approach to date. 

Greenley, W. (2000). ‘”Paiute Forestry” or the fallacy of light burning”. Fire Management Today. 60; 4. Retrieved from:
Donovan, G.H. and Brown, T.C. (2005). “Wildfire management in the US Forest Service: A brief history”. Natural Hazards Observer. Retrieved from:


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