Fire Operations In The Wildland/Urban Interface 101: A Preview

The 2001 wildland and wildland/urban interface(W/UI) fire season began early this year with a large number of fire starts in Florida. As I began writing this short article, fires were still burning in that state and I am listening to my scanner radio chatter about numerous fires in my home state of Massachusetts.

My state has had little to no precipitation for weeks. The state's fire weather reports have been showing very low relative humidity, in the low 20s and mid-teens. These types of readings are rare in Massachusetts and are usually found in the desert climates of the Southwest.

Already this year, Massachusetts has logged more than 2,000 wildland fires that burned 2,623 acres - and that's not an accurate figure, because many of the larger cities do not report acres burned and there were many fires in those cities this spring.

There was also a report of a multiple-alarm W/UI fire on Staten Island, NY, that damaged some structures. And, as the spring fire season progressed without rain, many fires were reported in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, New England and the Midwest. For instance, the Karlstad Fire in Minnesota went to 1,200 acres. Albeit late, the spring rains arrived in the East and ended what was one of the driest and busiest spring wildfire seasons in memory.

Will last year's record-breaking fire season be a repeat this year? Some forecasters say yes. The wildland firefighting agencies are in a hiring frenzy to fill thousands of firefighter and support jobs in preparation for Fire Season 2001. The structural fire services, particularly in the South and West, are also getting ready. And many wildland and W/UI firefighting academies and conferences are planned for this summer and fall throughout the country. I highly recommend that structural firefighters take some wildland and W/UI fire courses.

On Saturday, July 28, at the 18th annual Firehouse Expo, I will be presenting a 90-minute program about "Fire Operations in the Wildland/Urban Interface." This will be a fast-paced class designed expressly for structural firefighters and officers who may, from time to time, be called to suppress W/UI fires. The presentation will include slides, videos, PowerPoint and handouts.

Topics to be covered include:

  • What is this W/UI, anyway?
  • What type of training do I need?
  • Fire weather, winds and topography.
  • Fuel loading and what it means to you.
  • Extreme fire behavior (my own story about this).
  • Engine operations including interface engines, water supplies, tools and equipment, strike teams and task forces.
  • Strategies and tactics in the W/UI.
  • Structure triage.
  • Different attack methods.
  • And the most important of topics of safety, evacuation and survival in the W/UI arena.

Last year, 22 firefighters line-of-deaths and injuries were directly associated with fire operations on wildland and W/UI fires. Proper training just might have prevented some of those deaths and injuries. You cannot get too much training. An injury-free fire assignment is no accident!

Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district fire chief in the Boston Fire Department with 31 years of structural and wildland fire experience. He is a Red Carded qualified Structure Protection Specialist and instructor for wildland/urban interface fire protection. Winston holds a degree in fire science and is a member of the National Fire Academy Alumni Association. He can be contacted via e-mail at or at 781-834-9413.