The information provided in this chapter will assist the owner of a structure in the Central Pine Barrens to prepare for a wildland fire. Fire departments are encouraged to conduct walk throughs within their districts to assist owners in making their structures "fire resistive".

5.1.1 Defensible Spaces

The following excerpt from Wildland/Urban Interface Protection, a textbook produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provides a comprehensive discussion of the importance of defensible space:

"There is one general protection strategy that has proved its effectiveness in every locality. This is the concept of "defensible space". Defensible space is a simple strategy. It involves providing sufficient space between the structures and the wildland's flammable vegetation within which the fire service can mount a defense against fire. Within this space, the fire service has room to battle oncoming wildfire before it reaches structures or to stop a structural fire before it ignites the wildland vegetation. With sufficient defensible space, the structure even has a chance to survive on its own when fire service personnel and equipment are not available - as often happens during a significant interface wildfire.

Defensible space can be nothing more than a minimum 30- foot clearance between homes and flammable vegetation or as complex as a series of green belts (or fuel breaks) surrounding a planned community. Creating defensible space provides the firefighter with a line of defense against fires - an opportunity to stop their spread. Defensible space in the wildland/urban interface can be compared to the first line of attack in a battle. It is here that firefighters have the best chance to stop the enemy and win the war.

Defensible space is only one of a number of protection strategies, but it incorporates a number of additional options that we will be discussing in this text. What is most important about defensible space is that it accomplishes three critical objectives. First, creating defensible space can help prevent serious fires from ever starting. By understanding and implementing defensible space (considering issues such as flammable vegetation, building materials, access, water supply, etc.), homeowners, city planners, architects, and others will be building houses and communities that are more fire-safe and thereby reducing the hazard from fires. Secondly, if fires do occur, defensible space provides the fire service with the "fighting chance" to stop it quickly and efficiently and to reduce the tragic costs in property, natural resources, and lives. Thirdly, with adequate defensible space, there is the chance that a structure can survive on its own - when fire service resources are strained and no immediate help is available".

Specific recommendations for defensible space suggest that it should extend for a minimum of 30 feet from a structure. Within this 30 foot area there should only be trees and shrubs that are drought and fire resistant. Trees should be pruned six feet up from the ground, grass growth should be cut and not more than six inches high. There should be no vegetation or combustible storage under decking, no aerial canopies within 10 feet of the chimney spark arrester, and no storage of fire wood within 10 feet of the structure.

The consideration and implementation of defensible space strategies should be based on area specific urban interface mapping and site specific hazard assessments. In addition, to ensure maximum fire protection and minimization of conflicts, the development and implementation of specific defensible space strategies should be coordinated among all pertinent local, municipal, county, state and federal fire protection, planning and regulatory agencies, including those having jurisdiction over land use, zoning, construction and land management.

5.1.2 Size-Up of Structures/ Determining Total Hazard Ratings

Fire departments and owners of structures should conduct a size-up of structures to determine what can be done to reduce the structure's risk from a wildland fire. This involves assessing total hazard ratings on a very detailed level within the wildland/urban interface; perhaps to a level of individual structures or small groups of homes.

A total hazard rating for a structure of group of structures is assigned based upon a number of factors, including the structures themselves (flammability of roof and siding), natural fuels ( the type of wildland), and slope of the land. A guide developed by FEMA is provided in Appendix C for assessing the interface in this way (FEMA, Wildland/Urban Interface Protection).

The hazard assessment identifies priority problem areas along the interface. Once identified, action plans can be developed to reduce risks and formulate protection strategies. Risk reduction can include fuel (vegetation) management, making structures more fire resistant, and/or increasing defensible space. Protection strategies would include activities such as predetermining the type and amount of equipment and personnel which would be required in a specific area (or at a specific structure) in the event of a wildland fire.

A desirable and natural outgrowth of this assessment process would be accomplishing risk reduction to reduce the amount of equipment and personnel necessary to protect property and life. As noted above, the risk reduction effort should be coordinated with all pertinent local, municipal, county, state and federal fire protection, planning and regulatory agencies, including those having jurisdiction over land use, zoning, construction and land management.


Fire Protection Assessment (FPA) planning is a comprehensive tool which results in a more efficient use of resources through the integration of fire prevention actions, suppression strategies, fuel management and fire administrative needs. The methodology has been developed by many individuals over the past decade and has been implemented in the San Bernardino National Forest, California, statewide in Colorado, Kauai, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and in several Michigan fire districts. Fire planners and managers in other regions are learning about FPA and considering the use of this powerful tool to aid in all aspects of fire protection.

What is the purpose of doing a fire protection assessment?

What is the expected result of a fire protection assessment? What is the process of doing the assessment?

An independent analysis of the following:

Risks and hazards are each categorized on a minimum of three levels (high, medium and low) and are mapped separately, if possible, utilizing a Geographic Information System (GIS). Values, as defined previously, are mapped, however, instead of rated, to determine each value's protection needs and requirements. Upon completion of each level of analysis, prepare a landscape description that explains why and how each area was given a particular rating. The process can be started using available data and can be refined as new information is gathered. How do you develop the final product or fire management action plan?

Based on protection priorities, prepare a fire management prescription which specifies the following for each FMAZ and then identify what agency or individuals can achieve specific activities.

The fire protection assessment should be kept as part of the local pre-fire assessment plans. These plans should be updated as warranted. The FPA is a total fire management tool that can be applied at a strategic or tactical scale and should include all stakeholders to successfully result in common understanding, common vision and closer working relationships.