Carbon County, PA. Photo Credit: Flckr Creative Commons: Nicholas A. Tonelli

Topic: Wildfire WUI codes & ordinances Type: Tools / Resources

Studying WUI Fires in Pennsylvania

Authors: Wesley Martin Keller

When it comes to wildland-urban interface fires, most people think only the western states have that problem.

Many of us who respond to wildfires in the East know better. It is the norm for our station, Penn Forest Fire Control Station, in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, to have a structure of some kind or another mixed in with our wildfire.

Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the US for the percentage of houses in the WUI, with over 2 million houses (The 2010 Wildland-Urban Interface of the Conterminous United States, 2015).

Credit: Levi Gelnett with GIS help from Brian Pfister and John Smoluk

Credit: Levi Gelnett with GIS help from Brian Pfister and John Smoluk

Levi Gelnett, wildfire prevention specialist with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry’s Division of Forest Fire Protection, recently completed a study on wildfire as it relates to the urban interface/intermix in the Commonwealth. Levi’s investigation into wildfire in Pennsylvania may depicts the fire issue in the East in a different light.

The time frame in which the study takes place is from 2002 to present. In that time, the forest district I work in, Weiser Forest District, had 1,677 wildfires. Of those 1,677 wildfires, 55.69 percent had a WUI component. More than 75 percent of all forest districts lost some type of outbuilding, with all districts reporting fires that have threatened residences. Some forest districts have had more, some less. The point is, we all have a WUI problem to some degree.

Studies like this can help fire departments focus on their most important issues, and adjust to changing circumstances such as growth in the WUI.

For a copy of Levi’s study, please contact me, Wesley Keller, or Levi Gelnett at legelnett@pa.gov

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