homes in forested, shrubland, savanna, and desert/grassland areas subject to urban/wildland fire hazard. As population and investment at risk are expanding in wildland areas, fire suppression and landscape practices are increasing fuel supply, even as climate change is projected to cause warmer temperatures, drought, and conditions that produce lightning strikes (IPCC 2001). All of these factors conspire to increase the risk of losses and threat to public safety.
The most noteworthy case studies of urban/wildland fire in the United States are the Oakland/Berkeley Hills, California fire in 1991 and more recently the Cerro Grande, New Mexico fire in 2000. Kelly Carpenter, community development director of Los Alamos County, New Mexico, presented a case study of the Cerro Grande fire at the Roundtable forum.
The Cerro Grande fire began as a prescribed fire set by the National Park Service to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations in the Jemez Mountains. The Cerro Grande Peak, part of Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, New Mexico, subject to frequent lightning strikes in the summer months, was the target of this controlled burn (Marble 2000). When the fire was finally extinguished on June 6, 2000, about 43,000 acres burned and 235 residential structures were damaged or destroyed (LANL 2000 pg. 14) but about 8000 residential structures did not burn and there were no fatalities (Carpenter 2001). Los Alamos County Councilor Robert Gibson credits the County's preparedness to a “wake up call” dome fire in 1996. The 1996 fire prompted the county and all of the affected jurisdictions to begin planning and preparation for such an event (Gibson 2000); this preparation will continue.
In July 2000 the Cerro Grande Fire Act was signed into law (Public Law 106-246) providing financial assistance to business and home owners who lost property or whose property suffered diminution of value as a result of the Cerro Grande Fire. Also, FEMA has guaranteed funding to Los Alamos County to make the community more fire-resistant. The funds will be used to create defensible space, reduce fuels in the forest, and bury utilities underground (See FEMA 2001: <http://www.fema.gov/CerroGrande/cg_00r35.htm>for more information). The rebuilding of Los Alamos is in progress.
One of the most damaging urban/wildland fires to date occurred on October 20, 1991 in the Oakland/Berkeley Hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. Despite a long history of wildfire outbreaks, the steep, west-facing slopes of the Hills had been extensively subdivided with homes on very small lots served by narrow, winding roads. Under conditions of desiccation due to a prolonged drought and strong offshore winds, a brush fire developed into a firestorm that within one day destroyed 2,621 homes and 758 apartments and condos, and caused 25 deaths. Among many factors identified in post-disaster reports were (1) the buildup of flammable vegetation due to landscaping and fire suppression for many years, (2) the use of decorative but combustible wood shake roofs, (3) difficulty of mobility due to narrow roads, (4) a failure of the water supplies (5) equipment and procedural incompatibility among various fire companies that responded to the disaster, (6) lack of familiarity with fire suppression/monitoring techniques at the urban/wildlands interface by fire departments trained primarily in structural fire suppression; (7) lack of interorganizational training among emergency response departments that responded to the fire from the surrounding region; and (8) inadequate information infrastructure to support decision making among multiple organizations and jurisdictions in a rapidly evolving disaster response system. With the benefit of federal assistance and over one billion dollars in private insurance payments, the burned area was substantially rebuilt at the same or greater density due to unwillingness of local political authorities to buyout properties or change permissible