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Wildland Urban Interface: It's a good thing, if you prepare for it

Article Published 04/07/2008

By Mark Reece
April 7, 2008

LAYTON — It seems we live in world of alphabet soup acronyms. We have IRS, UTA, CNN, NIMBY, IM, FYI and TGIF. And of course, 9-1-1 and 24/7.

Now add one more acronym, an important one for property owners in the urban and mountainous area we call home sweet home: WUI, short for Wildland Urban Interface.

Many residents of Layton live in this WUI area. So what exactly is it? Think urban growth (homes and residential development) meets the wilds (vegetation of the mountainsides).

Layton and its surrounding areas are a beautiful place to live, where you can look out the window and feel like being in the mountains and not in the city. Where you can enjoy country living and still have the benefits of living in a great city.

And, according to Layton City Fire Marshal Dean Hunt, while this is a good thing, it can have its drawbacks, too, "as we all witnessed in California just last year."

"The effects of wildfire can be devastating to a community that is in the area we call the WUI," Hunt says. "Many people in California lost their homes and everything in them to these raging wildfires. Are we safe from this type of disaster here where we live? The answer to this question is a big fat 'NO!'"

While our region of the country doesn't experience hot temperatures for the length of time as in California, Hunt says we have similar vegetation — cheat grass, sage and oak brush.

"We do have high temperatures but not for the length of time that they have. Just two years ago most of us witnessed a raging wildfire burn up the mountainside above our homes. Many were evacuated as the winds whipped the flames dangerously close to many homes. If the rains had not prevailed, the outcome of that fire would have been quite different," he adds.

So what can be done to better protect property in the event another wildland fire? How can homes be protected?

"One answer is to put more fire fighting resources into fighting the fire and put it out," Hunt says. "While that sounds like a good answer to the problem, we have to remember that when we had the fire two years ago every fire department in the county and some from Weber and Salt Lake counties were here fighting that fire and until the rains fell we were not making much, if any, progress.

"That's a lot of firefighters and the truth of the matter is if we had even double the numbers of firefighters we probably would not have made much more of an impact on that fire because of the erratic winds. The answer is in a mitigation program by the community or homeowners themselves," Hunt adds. "While this program does not guarantee that your home will not be affected by a wildfire, it does give it the best chance of survival."

By building what is referred to as "defensible space" around property, firefighters are given an improved chance of successfully defending from wildfires.

"Building a defensible space does not mean that you clear all vegetation away from and around your home. It is simply reducing the fuel load around your home. This can include trimming the branches of the trees up a few feet from the ground. Replacing some combustible vegetation with some that are less or noncombustible. You can still keep your trees!"

Other measures include looking at the type of building materials on the exterior of your home, to see if it could be replaced with materials that are less combustible.

"There are many things that you can do to reduce the risk of losing your home to wildfire and still keep the beauty of the mountain side vegetation," Hunt adds. "We, your fire department, are willing to help you identify what you can do."

He urges residents to call the fire department at 336-3940 for more information or to be involved in this program.