, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 379-420
Date: 29 Jun 2010

A Case Study of a Community Affected by the Witch and Guejito Wildland Fires

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Abstract

Wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires occur when fire spreads through both wildland and community (structures and vegetation) fuels. These fires are capable of causing significant destruction to both the built and the natural environments. When these fires occur under extreme fire danger conditions (e.g., high winds, low humidity) and in areas of significant population (e.g., San Diego, California) firefighters, and other emergency responders, are significantly challenged by the combination of firefighting and aiding the public. This paper presents the results of an in-depth case study of a community of 274 residences which was subjected to two wildland fires (within 2.5 h of each other) during the October 2007 firestorm in southern California. A significant amount of effort was spent obtaining information from residents and emergency responders to determine the fire spread timeline, structure ignition mechanisms, and defensive actions. Of the 274 residences, 245 were within the fire perimeter, 74 were destroyed, and 16 were damaged. When the first fire front arrived, the rate of structure ignitions peaked at 21 per hour. Direct and indirect ember, or firebrand, attack was responsible for the ignition of 2/3 of the destroyed homes. Defensive actions were taken on one of every three homes. Of the 16 damaged homes, 15 were successfully defended. Further study of this community is ongoing to investigate what currently recommended pre-fire hazard reduction actions could be, and were, implemented and their effectiveness at reducing the likelihood of structure ignition.