Do Planners Have A Role in Wildfire?

Yes! Maybe it’s not strapping on heavy gear and dragging hose, but Molly Mowery (MCP 2008) argues that planners play an important role in shaping policies that reduce catastrophic wildfire incidents. Since writing her DUSP thesis on wildfire and development, Molly has been advocating for stronger links between planning decisions and wildfire risk. You can see her latest thoughts on this topic in this New York Times Room for Debate thread, “Does the Government Cause or Prevent Wildfires?”

In Molly’s 2008 thesis, she claims that traditional roles dictate that the wildfire problem is someone else’s responsibility – namely, fire and emergency services. Yet planners and community leaders who sanction development decisions in wildfire-prone areas can and must ensure communities have taken measures to reduce their wildfire risk. With the recent home losses throughout the West, this issue is more timely than ever.

Photo credit: Molly Mowery

If planners DO allow development to occur in wildfire-prone areas (which, by the way, includes over 70,000 communities throughout the United States), they have a toolkit of options. These options reduce the likelihood of damage when a fire does occur, and include: overlay zoning districts that identify high-risk areas, development and design standards, subdivision ordinances, and comprehensive planning policies. Through such tools, planners can require vegetation maintenance surrounding a property, fire-resistant building and construction materials, adequate water supply, and access and driveway clearance. Incorporating standards into the development process before development occurs is more cost effective than retrofits. More importantly, proactive planning makes the job of the firefighter easier, and increases the likelihood that homes, businesses, and lives will be safe during a wildfire event.

Learn more about effective regulations to reduce wildfire risk at and general wildfire risk reduction programs by visiting the Fire Adapted Communities website:


Posted on July 15, 2012, in environmental planning, land use and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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