Wildfire Risk Assessment Guide for Homeowners in the Southern United States

One of the major issues in the southern Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) is the loss of homes and structures to wildland fire. Wildfires are an important and necessary occurrence in many natural areas of the southern United States. However, many homes are constructed within the WUI in close proximity to these natural areas and are at risk of damage by wildfires. Managing this risk impacts fire control organizations, landowner and community associations, and individual homeowners. No fire control agency or local government has the resources to reduce the hazards to all homeowners and in most situations individual landowners must assume some responsibility for mitigating their risk. However, assuming that responsibility requires that those landowners have the necessary information and guidelines to help them fireproof their homes and landscapes and that this information is presented in an appropriate and acceptable way. To help address these issues, the Wildfire Risk Assessment Guide was developed for the southern United States, where such guidelines are generally less common than in the western states; the guidelines are simplified versions of the broader national information.

The assessment and accompanying guidelines were designed to provide information on fire risk focused on individual properties throughout the South, as a complement to guidelines available for whole communities. For individual homeowners, the risk of wildfire damage is based on nearby land use, vegetation near homes and building design and materials. Homes surrounded by undeveloped, shrubby or wooded land could be at risk if a wildfire occurs. This guide provides homeowners with the information to help them:

1) understand wildfires and the types of damage they can cause,
2) assess their property's risk of damage,
3) identify the critical factors that contribute to fire risk on their property, and
4) develop strategies for minimizing risk of damage by wildfires.

Background Information
The Wildfire Risk Assessment Guide begins with background information on factors that contribute to a home's susceptibility to damage and ignition during wildfires. Several sources of ignition are defined, followed by descriptions of characteristics of a property and a home that can contribute to flammability:

  • Property characteristics - types of plants in the landscape, layout and structure of landscape plants, distance of plantings from house and surrounding wildland
  • Home characteristics - building materials used for home and deck, structural design of the house, other flammable materials associated with the house (such as propane tanks or woodpiles).

By explaining the key components of flammability and how they contribute to the risk of fire damage, this background section prepares homeowners for conducting the Wildfire Risk Assessment.

The Wildfire Risk Assessment
In this section of the guide, WUI homeowners put the information they learned in the background material to use and evaluate the fire risk of their own property using the Wildfire Risk Assessment for Southern Homeowners. To complete the Assessment, homeowners simply select the most appropriate point rating for each of 5 questions about easily observable features of their property and house. The point ratings rank the characteristics of the vegetation surrounding the home and the home's design and building materials according to how they influence fire risk.

As aids to homeowners completing the Risk Assessment, a glossary of terms used in the assessment guide and an appendix of wildland plant communities are included. The appendix identifies and describes the fire hazard of major wildland plant communities in the southern United States. Homeowners can refer to the pictures and descriptions of these communities in the appendix to decide which type of wildlands surround their home and select the appropriate point rating in the Assessment.

After making the point rating selections in the Assessment, homeowners calculate an overall wildfire risk rating score to determine if their home is fire safe or at risk of damage from wildfire. For homeowners with high risk scores, a clear set of wildfire hazard reduction actions is provided. The suggested actions are grouped according to the categories of fire risk characteristics that were identified in the Wildfire Risk Assessment. By reviewing their selections in the Assessment and scanning the list of hazard reduction actions, homeowners can easily decide which actions will be most effective for lowering their home's wildfire risk score.

Implications for WUI Homeowners
The Wildfire Risk Assessment Guide for Homeowners in the Southern United States is a practical tool for homeowners in the WUI to assess the risk of wildfire damage to their homes and property. In addition, the easy to follow list of wildfire risk reduction actions will help homeowners reduce their risk of wildfire damage. Many links to additional information on wildfire in the WUI are included, so this booklet is an excellent place to start for homeowners in the WUI planning to manage fire risk on their property.

Where to Obtain the Wildfire Risk Assessment Guide for Homeowners in the Southern United States:

Links to Additional Information about Fire in the Wildland-Urban Interface: