The wildland-urban interface (WUI), the area where human development encroaches on undeveloped land, is expanding throughout the western United States resulting in increased wildfire risk to homes and communities. Although census based mapping efforts have provided insights into the pattern of development and expansion of the WUI at regional and national scales, these approaches do not provide sufficient detail for fine-scale fire and emergency management planning, which requires maps of individual building locations. Although fine-scale maps of the WUI have been developed, they are often limited in their spatial extent, have unknown accuracies and biases, and are costly to update over time. In this paper we assess a semi-automated Object Based Image Analysis (OBIA) approach that utilizes 4-band multispectral National Aerial Image Program (NAIP) imagery for the detection of individual buildings within the WUI. We evaluate this approach by comparing the accuracy and overall quality of extracted buildings to a building footprint control dataset. In addition, we assessed the effects of buffer distance, topographic conditions, and building characteristics on the accuracy and quality of building extraction. The overall accuracy and quality of our approach was positively related to buffer distance, with accuracies ranging from 50 to 95% for buffer distances from 0 to 100 m. Our results also indicate that building detection was sensitive to building size, with smaller outbuildings (footprints less than 75 m2) having detection rates below 80% and larger residential buildings having detection rates above 90%. These findings demonstrate that this approach can successfully identify buildings in the WUI in diverse landscapes while achieving high accuracies at buffer distances appropriate for most fire management applications while overcoming cost and time constraints associated with traditional approaches. This study is unique in that it evaluates the ability of an OBIA approach to extract highly detailed data on building locations in a WUI setting.
Keywords: Environmental science; Geography.