Planning for Wildfires

PAS Report 529/530

By James Schwab, FAICP, Stuart Meck, FAICP, Jamie Simone, AICP

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Wildfires are both dangerous and costly, yet people continue to build in wildfire-prone areas. This poses challenges for governments and planners, who must decide whether to permit development in such areas and how best to design developments that are allowed.

This report explores both issues, outlining how knowledge of wildfire risks can be incorporated into comprehensive planning and identifying best practices for development in at-risk areas.

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Page Count
Date Published
March 30, 2005
Adobe PDF
APA Planning Advisory Service

Table of Contents


1. Wildfires as a Planning Priority
Where to Build and How • Why Planning Matters • Trends in WUI Development • Why People Live and Build in the WUI • Federal Initiatives • The Impact of Firewise

2. Historical Overview of Wildfires in the U.S.
Early History of the Frontier • The "Great Barbecue" • The War on Fire • Modern Development of WUI

3. The Science of Wildfires
The Ecological Role of Fire • What Is Natural • The Physics of Wildfires • Implications for the Built Environment

4. Wildfire Planning and Regulation: Examples from the Field
Comprehensive Plan Elements and Local Specific Plans • Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Provisions, Including Models

5. Big Issues in Planning for Wildfires
Influencing Perceptions and Attitudes • Factors Influencing Behavior • Institutional and Legal/Political Barriers • Three Strategies for Dealing with Development in the Wildland-Urban Interface

Appendix A. Glossary of Terms

Appendix B. List of References and Contacts

Appendix C. Bibliography

Appendix D. Fire Danger Rating System

Appendix E. Fire Hazard Severity Form

Appendix F. American Planning Association Growing Smart Model • Statute for a Natural Hazards Element of a Comprehensive Plan