Presentation Type

Presentation

Faculty Mentor’s Full Name

Cara Ritchie Nelson

Faculty Mentor’s Department

Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences

Abstract

Worldwide, increasing wildfire frequency and magnitude present novel challenges for homeowners in the wildland urban interface (WUI). In addition to the threat wildfires pose to forest ecosystems, wildfires also have an unprecedented potential to damage and destroy human structures. This is especially true in Montana. In September, 2019, Verisk Wildfire Risk Analytics ranked Montana as the number one state facing high to extreme risks of wildfire, with an estimated 137,800 properties at risk. As we saw in the devastating fire in Paradise, California, most of the structure fires that occur in the WUI are not a result of direct flame contact from the main fire. Rather, they are mainly caused by embers landing on either the house or the surrounding property and igniting the vegetation or debris there. Homeowner fire risk is thus highly dependent on the selection and arrangement of vegetation and landscaping materials within a 100-foot defensive zone around the house. While this is a well-known scientific principle, public awareness of what safe landscaping may look like remains very low. To address this critical public awareness gap, we are collaborating with the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management to research, construct, and promote Montana’s first Firewise Demonstration Garden, which will be located on the University of Montana campus. By offering a visual model in a space accessible by the community, this garden will show homeowners how they can protect themselves and their families from a devastating house fire. We additionally intend to use our work to promote the development of other demonstrations in a range of ecozones to improve climate resilience and reduce state fire-related expenses on a national scale.

Category

Life Sciences

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Building Montana's First Firewise Demonstration Garden

Worldwide, increasing wildfire frequency and magnitude present novel challenges for homeowners in the wildland urban interface (WUI). In addition to the threat wildfires pose to forest ecosystems, wildfires also have an unprecedented potential to damage and destroy human structures. This is especially true in Montana. In September, 2019, Verisk Wildfire Risk Analytics ranked Montana as the number one state facing high to extreme risks of wildfire, with an estimated 137,800 properties at risk. As we saw in the devastating fire in Paradise, California, most of the structure fires that occur in the WUI are not a result of direct flame contact from the main fire. Rather, they are mainly caused by embers landing on either the house or the surrounding property and igniting the vegetation or debris there. Homeowner fire risk is thus highly dependent on the selection and arrangement of vegetation and landscaping materials within a 100-foot defensive zone around the house. While this is a well-known scientific principle, public awareness of what safe landscaping may look like remains very low. To address this critical public awareness gap, we are collaborating with the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management to research, construct, and promote Montana’s first Firewise Demonstration Garden, which will be located on the University of Montana campus. By offering a visual model in a space accessible by the community, this garden will show homeowners how they can protect themselves and their families from a devastating house fire. We additionally intend to use our work to promote the development of other demonstrations in a range of ecozones to improve climate resilience and reduce state fire-related expenses on a national scale.