It is currently fire season in the American West. Since the start of 2017, more than 37,000 wildfires have burned 5.2 million acres nationwide. The fire season in some areas has become nearly year-round, a significant change from fifty years ago when fire season was typically only in summer and fall. Compared to the 1970’s, fire season is now 105 days longer, the annual number of large fires has tripled, and the amount of land they burn is six times greater.
Some wildfire experts say climate change and decades of aggressive wildfire suppression have primed forests to produce large, destructive blazes. Making things worse, people are increasingly building homes and offices in regions categorized as “wildland urban interface.” This term describes wildfire-prone zones where wilderness and civilization meet.
This new and highly dangerous fire situation is requiring western states, fire managers and policy makers to rethink their strategies for preventing, preparing for, and combating wildfires.
During October 2007, dozens of fires burned through Southern California, fueled by powerful Santa Ana winds. Several of the worst were found to be ignited and attributed to overhead power lines and aerial communications facilities. Those fires burned more than 207,000 acres, destroyed 1,141 homes, damaged scores of others, killed 2 people and injured 40 firefighters.
Most asset owners lack the data and tools to address maintenance and repairs in a proactive and methodical way. Too often, issues are handled based on the “squeaky wheel,” where the biggest, hottest issue of the day is addressed, and everything else needs to wait.
Historically, joint use asset management has been perceived as a “necessary evil” across the industry. This has created a reactive culture that is slow to change and advance, and struggles with minimal tools and resources for improvement. The result is significant financial costs, which we will detail in our next article, as well as risks of damage to property and life.
What is your utility doing to proactively use fire mapping or other types of boundary data to proactively maintain assets? Share your thoughts in the comments below.