reasons: (1) urban residents are moving in greater numbers to urban-interface property, and (2) accumulation of highly flammable fuels is increasing partly because of the success of past fire-suppression efforts.
Six of the 10 urban-interface wildfires with the highest losses of structures in California history have occurred since 1990; similarly increasing losses are occurring in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, and Washington. The problem is national, and it is growing. Many of the intermingled lands are privately owned, and fire protection for both structures and wildlands is the responsibility of state and local agencies. Federal agencies have long been requested to assist local forces in these crisis situations, even when there is no threat to federal lands. Priority has been given to scattered structures, resulting in considerable sacrifice of natural-resource values and the threat of loss of structures elsewhere. Substantial costs to all levels of government and insurance carriers are increasing, and urban-interface residents have suffered financial and emotional losses.
As the problem increases, the response capability of government is decreasing. Federal policy defined fire-protection priorities as (1) life, (2) property, and (3) resources. The 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and Program Review redefined these priorities as (1) life, and (2) property and natural and cultural resources based on relative values to be protected, commensurate with suppression costs. That redefinition implies a cutting back of urban-interface structural protection by federal fire fighting forces and a shifting of cost to state and local agencies. The federal government would continue to be involved operationally in urban-interface fire fighting, hazardous-fuels reduction, cooperative fire prevention and education, and technical assistance. A major challenge is to develop a uniform national approach to hazard and risk assessment and fire prevention and protection in the urban and wildland interface.
A successful approach to wildfire prevention and control, urban-interface fire problems, and intelligent use of prescribed fire should shift the focus away from emergency fire fighting efforts to an emphasis on enhancing preventive approaches that are well-established as successful methods to avoid loss. Primary fuel-management approaches are reducing fuel in wildlands and around structures and decreasing the flammability of structures. Technical assistance can improve the implementation of these and other approaches and will complement fire prevention, fire suppression, and prescribed fire efforts.
In addition to changes in fire regimens for nonfederal forests in the United States, changes have occurred in the air quality and environmental conditions of these forests during the past decade, although the ecosystem consequences are harder to determine. Issues involving climate or air quality will be resolved only through the involvement of the federal, state, and local government, and the nongovernmental sector.