In general, there are tens of thousands of wildfires each year, destroying millions of acres of forests and grasslands (NIFC, 2000). During the 1990s the U.S. National Fire Protection Association estimates that more than 900 homes were destroyed each year, on average, by wildfires (USDA et al, 1995). Cost of damage to infrastructure due to wildfires has increased in the last 15 years. Even with all the information currently available, in part developed in Texas A&M, it has not been sufficient to mitigate the damage to structures caught in a wildfire. For example, the Cerro Grande wildfire in Los Alamos, New Mexico, required the evacuation of 18,000 residents, and burned or damaged nearly 250 homes. Six thousand insurance claims were filed as a result of this wildfire, costing insurers $70 million. Likewise, the Oakland/Berkeley Tunnel fire of 1991 destroyed 2,500 homes, causing $1.7 billion of insured damage and 25 deaths (Guidette, 2000). Unfortunately, the cost of residential damage from wildfire will continue to rise as communities expand farther into forested areas and the median cost of homes rise. It is clearly apparent that more work is necessary in the area of damage mitigation due to fires. Current technology and information is not coherent and insufficient, researchers have failed in providing usable information that applies to the new type of community in development in US cities; requiring a new and better planned mitigation development program in this area.
A minimum of 3.5 million acres have burned across Texas since the last week of December. Firefighters in the state of Texas are battling the worst series of wildfires in Texas history. In a single instance in the month of March, in the Texas Panhandle, fires killed 11 people, injured more than a half-dozen, and burned nearly 700,000 acres in just a few days. In Amarillo Texas the wildfire destroyed 9 homes, 80 other structures and other miscellaneous structures in a single day. The Star-Telegram reported that a single wildfire burned 432,000 acres and killed three people who were overrun by flames. Four homes and 16 outbuildings were destroyed as well. Most of the information available addressing structural damage and wildfires is based on distance to fire and not on sustained exposure to heat and debris. New housing developments are not following these guidelines and therefore more attention must be placed in methods and systems to mitigate the damage to the exposed structures.
The state of Texas and the national community would benefit greatly with the development of mitigation methods and policies to protect infrastructure and housing from fire damage. This would include not only damage due to wildfires but also fires in contained structures caused by other means.