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NIST Releases Study on Reducing Damage and Loss from Wildfires

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A wooded area aflame during the 2007 Witch Creek/Guejito wildfire in Southern California. A new report from NIST looks at the fire's impact on structures in one community based on their pre-fire exposure risk to direct fire contact and embers (both seen in the photo). Credit: With permission from Dan Tentler, lightbending.net

recent study of one of California's most devastating wildland fires by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) strongly suggests that measures for reducing structural damage and property loss from wildland urban interface (WUI)* fires are most effective when they are based on accurate assessments of exposure risks both for individual structures and the community as a whole.

The report also describes how the NIST-USFS WUI Hazard Scale provides a state-of-the-art tool for making such assessments and how that data could be linked to improved building codes, standards and practices that will help communities better resist the threat of wildfires.

The Witch Creek/Guejito WUI fire (commonly known as the Witch Fire) was the largest of a series of wildfires that began burning across Southern California on Oct. 20, 2007. It affected areas north and northeast of San Diego, starting in Witch Creek Canyon near Santa Ysabel and quickly spreading westward toward the coast because of strong Santa Ana winds. The Witch Fire burned some 80,000 hectares (nearly 200,000 acres), destroyed more than 1,600 structures, caused an estimated $1.8 billion in property damages and cost $18 million to fight. It also was responsible for two civilian deaths and 39 firefighter injuries.  Full release

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