Obama issues order to protect federal buildings from wildfires

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, May 18, 2016 - President Barack Obama issued an executive order to federal agencies today directing them to take action to protect government buildings in sensitive areas from wildfires.

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As the threat of wildfire has increased, so has the risk of fire damage to structures in areas between federal lands and populated areas, known as the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Since 1990, 60 percent of new homes in the U.S. have been built within this interface, the White House explained today in a fact sheet. An estimated 6,256 federal buildings can be found in these areas.

The agencies were given 90 days to ensure that all new buildings or alternations to existing buildings in excess of 5,000 square feet on federal land within the WUI are in compliance with the 2015 edition of the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code (IWUIC) or similar standards. The codes, which encompass the current understanding of wildfire hazard potential, will help increase safety and protect the lives of people who live or work in these buildings, the White House said.

More than 39 federal, state, local, tribal and non-governmental entities have committed to “a multi-scale, collaborative approach to address the challenges posed by wildlfire” within the interface, says the White House.

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The White House notes that the threat of wildfire is increasing. In 2015, over 68,000 wildfires in the U.S. burned more than 4,600 structures and 10 million acres - the highest number on record. Annual estimates on structure loss due to wildfire have increased dramatically for more than six decades.

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