Asheville – Wildfire season is upon us again. Our news feeds are beginning to fill up with familiar scenes of giant plumes of smoke dwarfing the mountains that birthed them and yellow-shirted firefighter’s faces smeared with soot and sweat marching into the belly of the beast. Images of structures, homes, vehicles, stores, schools, everything unfortunate enough to be in the path of such an awesome force decimated, burned down in a matter of minutes, leaving nothing behind but ash and rubble. These stories come in from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, California and even as far as away as Australia. With all this destruction and devastation happening so many thousands of miles away, it may come as a surprise to some that North Carolina found its way into the top ten of several WUI-related categories.
The Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI pronounced woo-eee) is defined as the area where homes and communities meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation. Wildfires that occur in the WUI can be extremely dangerous or destructive to lives and property. At 13,402,007 acres, North Carolina ranks first in the overall area of WUI, about 39.8 percent of the state. It comes in 4th in the number of homes that are in the wildland-urban interface at 2.24 million, or 51.9 percent, and 6th in the number of seasonal homes affected at 144,879, or 75.7 percent of all the seasonal homes in the state. There are also 4.83 million North Carolina residents, 50.7 percent of the population, living in WUI classified areas, which is 4th in the nation. Increasing development into the WUI in the past several decades has increased the risk and exposure of North Carolinians to the possible danger of wildfire.
Protect Your Home
With the potential for wildfire right in people’s backyards, residents must take the initiative to help protect their homes. With firefighters and resources stretched thin across the nation, there simply is not enough to protect every home. The North Carolina Wildfire Mitigation Program and Firewise USA programs provide information for homeowners, builders, planners, developers and fire officials to help mitigate the risks associated with wildfire in the WUI.
Another hard truth is that the more times that wildfire threatens homes and structures, the more danger the firefighters are put in. In, on and surrounding homes are flammable and combustible materials: the charcoal fluid or propane tank by your grill, the leaves in your gutters, the shrubs surrounding the house, the tree with the branch brushing against the bedroom window you’ve been meaning to take down. All these things can be mitigated, lessening the danger firefighters will face when they come to stop the giant wall of flames hellbent on taking what is ours.
“Doing structure protection or fighting wildfire in the urban interface,” a wildland firefighter that spoke to The Tribune explained, “puts the firefighter in an unfamiliar role that he is not typically trained or equipped for.”
WUI is what’s on every firefighter’s mind when they put those fire-resistant yellow shirts on and head out to do battle with one of nature’s most formidable foes. It’s what inspires them to go face to face with a 100-foot wall of flame armed with nothing but a simple hand tool or a chainsaw. They may spend most of their time deep in the forest where very few humans ever venture but homes, families and livelihoods will be destroyed if they don’t hold the line and keep that raging beast at bay. They are true American heroes.
We are always going to want to live on the edge of the wilderness, it’s a genuinely American desire. Proximity to land that has been virtually untouched since even before the birth of our nation can stir feelings of love and pride and awe in anyone. It also deserves our respect. Just like Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
Editor’s Note: all stats and information obtained from https://resistwildfirenc.org/ a site maintained by the North Carolina Forest Service which is a division of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.