Using structure locations as a basis for mapping the wildland urban interface

Avi Bar-Massada, Susan I. Stewart, Roger B. Hammer, Miranda H. Mockrin, Volker C. Radeloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The wildland urban interface (WUI) delineates the areas where wildland fire hazard most directly impacts human communities and threatens lives and property, and where houses exert the strongest influence on the natural environment. Housing data are a major problem for WUI mapping. When housing data are zonal, the concept of a WUI neighborhood can be captured easily in a density measure, but variations in zone (census block) size and shape introduce bias. Other housing data are points, so zonal issues are avoided, but the neighborhood character of the WUI is lost if houses are evaluated individually. Our goal was to develop a consistent method to map the WUI that is able to determine where neighborhoods (or clusters of houses) exist, using just housing location and wildland fuel data. We used structure and vegetation maps and a moving window analysis, with various window sizes representing neighborhood sizes, to calculate the neighborhood density of both houses and wildland vegetation. Mapping four distinct areas (in WI, MI, CA and CO) the method resulted in amounts of WUI comparable to those of zonal mapping, but with greater precision. We conclude that this hybrid method is a useful alternative to zonal mapping from the neighborhood to the landscape scale, and results in maps that are better suited to operational fire management (e.g., fuels reduction) needs, while maintaining consistency with conceptual and U.S. policy-specific WUI definitions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-547
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2013


  • Mapping
  • Structure locations
  • Wildland urban interface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Environmental Engineering


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