By Stephani Dingreville
Corrales is a wild land.
Most communities fit into one of three categories, urban, suburban or rural. However, a new classification is being used ever-increasingly to describe some areas, Corrales among them: WUI.
Pronounced “wooey,” WUI stands for Wildland-Urban Interface. This is where the border of urban development overlaps with an area that has continuous vegetation, called a “wildland”. WUI is that bit of space that is not quite urban, and not quite wild, but a unique, some would say magical, combination of the two.
Overpopulation has added to the amount of land designated as WUI, as housing developers move farther and farther away from urban centers. The pandemic has also driven more people away from populated urban areas to places that offer a bit more room to spread out.
Unfortunately, all the wonderful benefits of living in an untamed, wild space come at a dangerous cost. Namely, the risk of damaging wildfires increases exponentially in a WUI. This has pushed these areas into the spotlight in the last few years, with wildfire incidence on the rise.
The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) lists wildfires as one of their climate change indicators. And it is easy to find many statistics supporting this link. The data shows that over the last 30 years, fires have not only increased in size and frequency, but also in the amount of damage they have done to property. This is where WUI lands really come into discussion.
When responding to the buzz around WUI, Corrales Fire Chief Anthony Martinez surmises: “We are living it!” And indeed, a map of the US drawn in 2010 by the Silvas Lab of the University of Wisconsin-Madison classified Corrales almost exclusively as WUI.
Fire fighters face bigger challenges in WUI areas. Many of these areas are further away from fire stations, and the travel time adds to the increased danger. The Corrales Fire Department has an incredibly quick response time for all village fires, but deals with other WUI setbacks.
For one thing, Corrales has many areas that are not covered by a fire hydrant line. This necessitates the transportation of water from a source to the site of a fire. Urban centers typically have city water and fire hydrant lines within reach of all citizens. But this is usually not the case in a WUI.
Another of the fire dangers Corraleños face is the continuous vegetation. Chief Martinez says: “People love the vegetation for the quail, so they can run from yard to yard. But imagine that sagebrush catches fire. We can have 20 to 30 foot flame lengths. Just look at your yard and imagine what that could do.” Even for villagers living far from the bosque, the risk is high.
Chief Martinez readily admits he is not an expert on climate change or global warming. He is only focused on the present conditions right now in Corrales, and the present risks. “I can tell you that something is changing. The Riverside drain has never gone dry, since I have been in Corrales,” the chief asserts. “That has been a reliable source of water for firetrucks to use. However, in the last two to three years, that’s just what has happened.” The CFD has responded to this new threat by placing large water tanks at intervals along the bosque.
Should Corrales have stricter regulations to combat the increased risk of wildfire because of its WUI status?
In 2008, California adopted rules requiring new homes in WUI areas to meet minimum standards on fire-resistant construction and access to water for firefighters. Similar legislation in Austin, Texas was adopted in 2020.
The Chief admits that the village has been reluctant to classify any properties as technically WUI, since this could have implications for insurance premiums. Although the village does receive special funding because of its WUI status, the CFD is unable to use that funding for private property.
Instead, the CFD asks that all Corrales citizens have an “All Hazard Plan”. The chief says this would cover “wildfire, winter storms, flooding, really any emergency.” Examples of these plans can be found online on the US Department of Homeland Security website, Ready.gov.
All villagers are encouraged to sign up for “Code Red” on the CFD website. This system is utilized by the CFD as well as the Corrales Police Department to alert villagers of any emergency.
Another way to stay safe is to remove dead vegetation from Corrales yards. The village is hosting a ‘Community Clean Up’ event on Saturday, November 20 from 8am to noon at the Public Works Building. Green waste will be accepted as well as other household discards.
Villagers are also urged to have controlled burns on their property on designated safe burn days. The CFD’s ‘burn line’ is updated daily and can be reached at (505) 899-1899.
The chief summarizes: “I’m not trying to put fear in anyone, but we need their help. We can’t do it unless everyone in Corrales helps.”