Review of Pathways for Building Fire Spread in the Wildland Urban Interface Part I: Exposure Conditions


While the wildland–urban interface (WUI) is not a new concept, fires in WUI communities have rapidly expanded in frequency and severity over the past few decades. The number of structures lost per year has increased significantly, due in part to increased development in rural areas, fuel management policies, and climate change, all of which are projected to increase in the future. This two-part review presents an overview of research on the pathways for fire spread in the WUI. Recent involvement of the fire science community in WUI fire research has led to some great advances in knowledge; however, much work is left to be done. While the general pathways for fire spread in the WUI (radiative, flame, and ember exposure) are known, the exposure conditions generated by surrounding wildland fuels, nearby structures or other system-wide factors, and the subsequent response of WUI structures and communities are not well known or well understood. This first part of the review covers the current state of the WUI and existing knowledge on exposure conditions. Recommendations for future research and development are also presented for each part of the review.

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    The terms brand, firebrand, flaming brand, flying brand, burning brand, ember, flying ember, and burning ember are used synonymously in the literature to denote small pieces of burning vegetation or structures (whether smoldering or flaming) lofted into the fire plume and transported ahead of the fire front. The terms firebrand or burning ember are therefore used synonymously throughout this report. Similarly, an ember “storm” or firebrand “shower” denotes a large flux of small burning particles lofted through the air, whether produced by a fire front or artificially in a laboratory.

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    Some codes and standards, such as the California State Fire Marshal standards associated with the California Building code Chapter 7A, have a flame contact exposure component [192].

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The authors would like to acknowledge the National Fire Protection Association, Fire Protection Research Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Joint Fire Science Program under project JFSP 15-1-04-4 for financial support of this project. They would also like to thank Casey Grant for his efforts coordinating this project, Kyle Kohler for his assistance compiling data, and comments from many experts in the field, especially Randall Bradley, Nelson Bryner, Jack Cohen, Ryan Depew, Steve Gage, Samuel Manzello, Alexander Maranghides, Don Oaks, Stephen Quarles, Michele Steinberg, Kevin Tolhurst and Rick Swan.

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Correspondence to Michael J. Gollner.

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Caton, S.E., Hakes, R.S.P., Gorham, D.J. et al. Review of Pathways for Building Fire Spread in the Wildland Urban Interface Part I: Exposure Conditions. Fire Technol 53, 429–473 (2017).

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  • Wildland urban interface
  • WUI
  • Wildfire
  • Wildland fire
  • Firebrands
  • Embers
  • Fire spread