Cutting wildfire risk could save billions

July 19, 2021 — MEASURES to protect buildings and lives from fires in the wildland urban interface could prevent $500bn in future losses, according to a pair of new reports.

The National Research Council of Canada and Natural Resources Canada recently released a report titled ‘National guide for wildland-urban-interface fires.’

It was followed by an impact analysis of its findings by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. That analysis found that following the guide’s advice would cost about $125bn, a quarter of the losses that could be prevented.

Implementing the measures would also create 20,000 long-term jobs, save 2,300 lives, avoid 17,000 non-fatal injuries and increase tax revenues by $1bn, the ICLR said.

The NRC said fires in the interface have become a global issue, driven by increasing population and expansion of urban areas into wildlands and climate change.

Risk from WUI fires is expected to increase over the next several decades in both areas with a long history of fires and in regions that have been historically less affected.

The report is part of a National Research Council initiative that is intended to improve the resilience of Canada’s new and existing buildings and core public infrastructure to the effects of climate change and extreme weather events.

The NRC report includes detailed information about risk assessment and also about mitigation efforts that include fuel management and construction improvements.

The guide also provides information about how to break the wildland-urban interface fire disaster sequence at various points in order to enhance life safety and property protection.

The ICLR’s analysis says its benefit estimates of the report are conservatively low as some real benefits to health, historical and cultural value, peace of mind, pets, mementos and others can be difficult to quantify.

It also suggests that more could be done to reduce fire loss than is included in the report, such as addressing the science of climate change and gathering engineering details to develop the National Wildland-Urban Interface Guide into a standard.

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