Over the past 30 years, the cost of wildfire suppression and homes lost to wildfire in the US have increased dramatically, driven in part by the expansion of the wildland–urban interface (WUI), where buildings and wildland vegetation meet. In response, the wildfire management community has devoted substantial effort to better understand where buildings and vegetation co-occur, and to establish outreach programs to reduce wildfire damage to homes. However, the extent to which the location of buildings affected by wildfire overlaps the WUI, and where and when outreach programs are established relative to wildfire, is unclear. We found that most threatened and destroyed buildings in the conterminous US were within the WUI (59 and 69% respectively), but this varied considerably among states. Buildings closest to existing Firewise communities sustained lower rates of destruction than further distances. Fires with the greatest building loss were close to outreach programs, but the nearest Firewise community was established after wildfires had occurred for 76% of destroyed buildings. In these locations, and areas new to the WUI or where the fire regime is predicted to change, pre-emptive outreach could improve the likelihood of building survival and reduce the human and financial costs of structure loss.