We reviewed the socio-demographic dimensions of the wildfire literature using an environmental justice (EJ) lens. Specifically using a literature review of wildfires, human communities, social vulnerability, and homeowner mitigation, we conducted bibliometric and statistical analyses of 299 publications. The majority of publications were from the United States, followed by Canada and Australia, and most dealt with homeowner mitigation of risk, defensible space, and fuel treatments in WUI areas. Most publications studied the direct effects of wildfire related damage. Secondary impacts such as smoke, rural and urban communities, and the role of poverty and language were less studied. Based on a proposed wildfire-relevant EJ definition, the first EJ publication was in 2004, but the term was first used as a keyword in 2018. Studies in WUI communities statistically decreased the likelihood that a publication was EJ relevant. There was a significant relationship between EJ designation and inclusion of race/ethnicity and poverty variables in the study. Complexity across the various definitions of EJ suggest that it should not be used as a quantitative or binary metric; but as a lens to better understand socio-ecological impacts to diverse communities. We present a wildfire-relevant definition to potentially guide policy formulation and account for social and environmental justice issues.
The case study research presented in this article evaluates social characteristics present in a WUI community that faces extreme wildfire risk to both people and property. It explores social processes that impede the ability of community members to work together collectively to solve problems (e.g., wildfire risk) and offers an alternative perspective about the nature of residency status (i.e., full-time and non-full-time) and its role in influencing wildfire mitigation efforts.
The effect of providing parcel-specific information depends on baseline conditions: Informing homeowners about their property’s wildfire risk increases information-seeking among homeowners of the highest-risk parcels by about 5 percentage points and reduces information-seeking among homeowners of lower-risk parcels by about 6 percentage points. Parcel-specific information also increases the overall response in the lowest risk communities by more than 10 percentage points.
Our research was guided by the general question, does a near-miss wildfire influence residents’ perceptions and self-reported fire risk mitigation behaviors? Specifically, we examined the cognitive appraisals and physical risk factors influencing residents’ previous and planned mitigation actions both before and after the fire. Our findings show risk perceptions declined significantly after the fire while residents’ intentions to take nine different fire risk mitigation actions increased. These results suggest near-miss fire events result in simultaneous “let-downs” and “wake-up calls” among affected residents. Near-miss wildfires present a unique opportunity for wildfire community preparedness, outreach, and engagement programs to capitalize on an increased willingness to take risk mitigation actions. However, these programs may face difficulties in communicating the continued threat of subsequent fire events.
The overall objective of this paper is to clarify areas of debate, clearly define and contrast disparate approaches, and synthesize findings that may help address vulnerability to wildfires and other natural hazards. While land managers and fire personnel might find it pertinent to approach biophysical and social issues separately, addressing both aspects of wildfire hazard can be productive for minimizing risk and empowering communities, neighborhoods, and households to prepare and recover from wildfire events. We aim to provide a practical grasp of social vulnerability research as it relates to wildfire hazards in order to advance its application by people involved in wildland fire management in their efforts to address the social diversity and complexity they face in their wildfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression activities.
This article analyses homeowners’ decisions to undertake fire-safe investments and create defensible space on their property using a unique dataset from 35 wildland–urban interface communities in Nevada. The dataset combines homeowner information from a mail survey with their observed fire-safe investments obtained through parcel-level hazard assessments. We find that homeowners’ self-reported mitigation expenditures are driven by their subjective beliefs about their wildfire risk, whereas observed defensible space status is driven by their costs of investment. We develop a theoretical model of a homeowner’s fire-safe investment decision that accounts for our empirical results.
Exploring the influence of local social context on strategies for achieving fire adapted communities
This study evaluated 19 interactive focus groups across five communities spanning five Western US states using a mixed-method design that allowed for the collection of quantitative and qualitative data. Results indicate a number of significant differences in effectiveness ratings for adaptation approaches across communities, including requirement of vegetation mitigations on private properties, fostering Firewise communities, and zoning efforts in fire-prone areas. We used qualitative data to help explain the differences between communities as a function of unique local social context operating in each location. We also compare our results with existing frameworks promoting community “archetypes” to evaluate their continued use in wildfire management planning or response.
A socio-ecological approach to mitigating wildfire vulnerability in the WUI: Case study from the 2017 Thomas Fire
We utilize geospatial data, recorded interviews, and program documentation to synthesize how those strategies subsequently impacted the advance of the 2017 Thomas Fire on the community of Montecito under extreme fire danger conditions. Despite the extreme wind conditions and interviewee estimates of potentially hundreds of homes being consumed, only seven primary residences were destroyed by the Thomas Fire, and firefighters indicated that pre-fire mitigation activities played a clear, central role in the outcomes observed. This supports prior findings that community partnerships between agencies and citizens are critical for identifying and implementing place-based solutions to reducing wildfire vulnerability.
This study used focus groups with local officials and residents in McCall, Idaho, to better understand their application for formal, city-wide recognition from the Firewise program. Results indicate the importance of early public involvement in adaptation of wildfire mitigation programs because many local residents indicated confusion over what Firewise recognition meant for them. Both professionals and residents thought Firewise could improve local capacity to address risk but also identified critical needs for adapting the program, including concerns about impacts to area aesthetics, differences between seasonal and full-time residents, and support for locally based organization rather than federal or state government organization that could infringe on personal freedoms.
This study, which can be found in the journal PLoS One, suggests that people of color, especially Native Americans, face more risk from wildfires than whites. It is another example of how the kinds of disasters exacerbated by climate change often hit minorities and the poor the hardest.