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Urban-Wildland Interface

What is UWI?

The urban-wildland interface (UWI) refers to the area where urban or suburban development meets natural wildland or rural areas. It is the zone where human civilization and the natural environment converge. This interface has become a significant issue, particularly in areas where wildfires are common.

The UWI exists in various environments, such as deserts, forests, grasslands, and wetlands. The interface can sometimes be narrow, with only a few feet of vegetation separating developed areas from the natural wilderness. In other cases, the interface can be several miles wide, encompassing entire neighborhoods and communities.

The UWI is not a new phenomenon, but it has become more pressing in recent years as populations have grown and more and more people have moved into formerly undeveloped areas. This growth has increased pressure on natural resources like water and land and created new challenges in managing fire risks.

One of the key factors contributing to the UWI is urban sprawl. As cities and towns grow, they often expand into formerly rural areas, leading to conflicts between human development and natural habitats. This process can be particularly problematic in areas where wildfires are common.

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Wildfires can start for many reasons, including natural causes such as lightning strikes and human activities such as campfires, fireworks, and even cigarettes. When a wildfire starts in an area where the UWI exists, the potential for disaster is high. The UWI is particularly vulnerable to wildfires because it often contains large amounts of flammable vegetation, such as trees, grasses, and shrubs. Furthermore, high-wind areas typically host the UWI, which can rapidly spread fire and make it challenging to contain.

Risk Factors

It is crucial to understand the factors contributing to the problem and manage the risks associated with UWI. One key factor is the design of the built environment. For instance, individuals constructing homes and other structures in or near the UWI should make them with fire-resistant materials, including metal roofs, concrete walls, and tempered glass windows. These materials can help prevent the spread of fires and reduce the risk of damage or destruction to homes and other structures.


Another critical factor is the management of vegetation in the UWI. Removing dead or dry vegetation, such as fallen leaves, branches, and other debris, can help reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading. Additionally, creating defensible space around homes and other structures by removing flammable vegetation and other materials can help protect structures from fire damage.


Image from Klamath-Siskiyou Wildland Center - PRESENTATION: Reducing Fire Hazards in the Wildland Urban Interface. Check out their webinar on UWI Here!


Managing the UWI requires collaboration between government agencies, community groups, and individual homeowners. Local and state agencies can help create and enforce land use, zoning, and building code regulations. At the same time, community groups and homeowners can take steps to create defensible space around their homes and other structures. This collaboration can help reduce the risks associated with the UWI and promote more sustainable and resilient communities.

The urban-wildland interface is a critical issue that requires attention from policymakers, community groups, and individual homeowners. The UWI represents the intersection of human development and natural ecosystems and is vulnerable to various risks, including wildfires. Understanding the factors contributing to the problem, such as urban sprawl and poor vegetation management, is essential to developing practical solutions. Collaboration between stakeholders is also critical to promoting more sustainable and resilient communities in the UWI. By working together to manage the risks associated with the UWI, we can help protect lives, property, and the environment. 

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