Wildfire protection and suppression costs in the United States have more than tripled since the
1990s, surpassing $3 billion annually. The rise in cost is indicative of bigger
fires and the greater threat posed by fires to communities.
factors have caused wildfires to grow and their threat to increase. Rising temperatures and drought reduce moisture in the air and water in the soil. Higher temperatures and less precipitation
make it much easier for fires to start. Also, many developments have been built in areas where fires are a natural part of the ecosystem. A proliferation of homes in these areas has therefore led to an increase in wildfire risk. In these communities, there has also been the purposeful suppression of small fires, which then greatly increases the amount of understory fuel that wildfires can feed on.
How Resilient Planning and Design
Smarter land planning and management is key. Some areas may simply be too high risk to live in. However, established communities already at high risk can embed remote sensors in areas prone
to fire to track humidity,
wind, temperature, vegetation density, and water availability, receiving alerts during highest risk periods. Communities can also create a comprehensive landscape-based wildfire protection strategies, such
as “defensible spaces,” which have been successful in fending off fires. Planting trees and
plants known to be more
resistant to fire is a related strategy. And in some communities, prescribed burns can alleviate some of the threat that larger, uncontrolled fires pose. They
remove some of the fuel that larger fires feed on.
In many ecosystems, fire is integral to their function, so re-establishing the use of controlled burns can help restore the ecosystem. In these ecosystems, controlled burns induce vegetative succession, which is necessary for system health. Native plants
are fire-resistant, so they support both the reduction of wildfire risk as well as increased biodiversity. And ecosystem restoration and prescribed burn projects can serve as great community-building projects.
Role of the Landscape Architect
Landscape architects work with planners,
foresters, and arborists to design natural defenses against fire that protect individual
homes or communities. Landscape architects create master plans that lay out
communities, so they can integrate landscape plans that improve safety.
Firefighters watch a prescribed fire in Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana / Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Management in National Parks
Bend Wildfire Protection Plan
Lincoln Marsh Conservation, Lincoln Marsh Natural Area
the Ground: Applying Fire as a Design Element for the Stapleton Community
Prescribed Burns, High Park, Toronto, Ontario
The Science of Firescapes: Achieving Fire-Resilient Communities, BioScience
Architecture of Fire, Current Anthropology
and Fire-safe Landscapes, California Native Plant Society
Landscape Design for Fire Safety, Pacific Horticulture Magazine
the Wildland-Urban Interface, Oregon State University
Fire Resilience Program, U.S. Department of Interior
Space Landscapist in the Urban/Wild Interface, University of Califoria Cooperative Extension
Synopsis of Prescribed Fire in New England, Ecological Landscape Alliance
Landscaping to Reduce Wildfire Risk, Normandeau Associates
Wildfire Planning Strategies in the Southeast, Mississippi State University
Fire, U.S. Forest Service
Residences from Wildfire, U.S. Forest Service
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