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Building for wildfire

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BIG SKY – Sixty-four percent of homes in Montana are tucked among trees and sage, within an area known as the wildland-urban interface. This region, recognized as a land-use type by federal agencies, county officials and the fire department, is defined as an area where homes and flammable vegetation meet. Approximately 90 percent of homes in Big Sky exist within this category.

Currently, there are about 4,200 homes in Big Sky and 90 percent of them are within this wildland-urban interface, according to Big Sky Deputy Fire Chief Dustin Tetrault. He added that an estimated 2,000 more homes are expected to pop up throughout the mountain town’s forest over the next 10 years.

Facing such growth projections and aware of the warming climate that is making the fire season longer and more intense, the Big Sky Fire Department partnered with Bozeman’s Headwaters Economics on Sept. 18 to host a Building for Wildfire Summit at Buck’s T-4 Lodge.

Approximately 100 of the area’s architects, builders, county government officials, fire personal, private business owners and residents piled into the conference room. Research engineer Daniel Gorham with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety shared the latest science in fire-resistant building materials, while physical scientist Jack Cohen, now retired from the U.S. Forest Service, discussed wildfire behavior.

“Wildland-urban fire disasters are a home ignition problem not a wildfire problem,” Cohen said. “There are things that we can do that are easy.”

Kathy Clay, Battalion Chief Fire Marshal in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Vail, Colorado’s Wildland Program Manager Paul Cada shared experiences within their own mountain communities in order to explore best practices and potential solutions to create a fire-resilient community.

The speakers’ recommendations were clear: build homes using fire-resistant designs and materials, minimize flammable items around the exterior of a home, and participate in community-wide wildfire risk reduction ethics.

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