WWU grad student creates map of homes in path of potential wildfires

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 16, 2013 

Jacob Tully spent thousands of hours, many of them late at night with loud music and lots of coffee, figuring out how many people in the lower 48 live where their houses could be destroyed by wildfire.

His research for his master's degree at Western Washington University took a new approach to calculating the extent of WUI - shorthand for "wildland-urban interface" - in those states in 2000 and 2010.

In simple terms, WUI refers to homes built close to potential fuels for wildland fires, such as grasses and trees. Such areas range from the wooded slopes of Chuckanut Mountain to the dry forests of Yosemite National Park to the chaparral canyons of Yarnell Hill in Arizona.

Tully fine-tuned his analysis by considering the extent of roads in an area, the presence of water and protected lands, and the average height of vegetation surrounding communities.

Nationwide, he found that nearly 12 percent of the 48 states' acreage was WUI in 2010, an increase of nearly 6 percent from a decade earlier, while 45 percent of residents in those states lived close to potential wildfire fuels, up 14 percent.

In Washington, more than 4.7 million acres qualified as WUI in 2010, up 8 percent, with half of the state's residents living in WUI areas in 2010.

Tully graduated from WWU in August and now works for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in La Conner.


To see Jacob Tully's map of "wildland-urban interface" areas in the Pacific Northwest, click here.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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