Human Dimensions of Fire
We analyzed the relationship between predicted housing exposure to wildfire and local self-assessment of community competence to mitigate wildfire risks in 60 communities in the western US. Results generally demonstrate that (1) the number of sources of wildfire risk influences local housing exposure to wildfire, and (2) perceived community-competence is associated with predicted exposure to wildfire. We suggest that investments in ongoing updates to community risk planning and efforts to build multi-jurisdictional risk management networks may help to leverage existing capacity, especially in moderate capacity communities. The analysis improves the social-ecological understanding of wildfire risks and highlights potential causal linkages between community capacity and wildfire exposure.
Drawing from literature on natural hazard vulnerability, disaster recovery, and wildfire ecology, this paper proposes a linked social-ecological model of community recovery and adaptation after disaster. The model contends that changes during post-wildfire recovery shape a community’s vulnerability to the next wildfire event. While other studies have highlighted linked social-ecological dynamics that influence pre-fire vulnerability, few studies have explored social-ecological feedbacks in post-fire recovery. This model contributes to interdisciplinary social science research on wildfires and to scholarship on community recovery by integrating hazard vulnerability reduction with recovery in a cyclical framework. Furthermore, it is adaptable to a variety of hazards beyond wildfire. The model provides a basis for future empirical work examining the nature and effectiveness of recovery efforts aimed at long-term vulnerability reduction.
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.
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This year’s conference, Discover Your Role: Reducing Wildland Fire Risk will provide an in-depth exploration of how community members across the spectrum can effectively contribute to better fire outcomes and provide community wildfire resilience leaders with new knowledge and tools for engaging partners and the public.
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.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Socioeconomic Profile tool is a free, web-based tool created by Headwaters Economics to help government agency land managers, economists, planners, outreach specialists, researchers, citizen/private sectors, and others explore socioeconomic conditions near Service units.
This study compiled and analyzed an extensive dataset of building inspectors’ reports documenting homeowner mitigation practices for more than 40,000 wildfire-exposed structures from 2013–2018. Comparing homes that survived fires to homes that were destroyed, we investigated the role of defensible space distance, defensive actions, and building structural characteristics, statewide and parsed into three broad regions. Overall, structural characteristics explained more of a difference between survived and destroyed structures than defensible space distance. The most consistently important structural characteristics—having enclosed eaves, vent screens, and multi-pane windows—were those that potentially prevented wind-born ember penetration into structures, although multi-pane windows are also known to protect against radiant heat. In the North-Interior part of the state, active firefighting was the most important reason for structure survival. Overall, the deviance explained for any given variable was relatively low, suggesting that other factors need to be accounted for to understand the full spectrum of structure loss contributors. Furthermore, while destroyed homes were preferentially included in the study, many “fire-safe” structures, having > 30 m defensible space or fire-resistant building materials, were destroyed. Thus, while mitigation may play an important role in structure survival, additional strategies should be considered to reduce future structure loss.
This study presents the development and evaluation of a spatial fire danger index that can be used to assess historical events, forecast extreme fire danger, and communicate those conditions to both firefighters and the public. It uses two United States National Fire Danger Rating System indices that are related to fire intensity and spread potential. These indices are normalized, combined, and categorized based on a 39-yr climatology (1979–2017) to produce a single, categorical metric called the Severe Fire Danger Index (SFDI) that has five classes; Low, Moderate, High, Very High, and Severe. We evaluate the SFDI against the number of newly reported wildfires and total area burned from agency fire reports (1992–2017) as well as daily remotely sensed numbers of active fire pixels and total daily fire radiative power for large fires (2003–2016) from the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) across the conterminous United States. We show that the SFDI adequately captures geographic and seasonal variations of fire activity and intensity, where 58% of the eventual area burned reported by agency fire records, 75.2% of all MODIS active large fire pixels, and 81.2% of all fire radiative power occurred when the SFDI was either Very High or Severe (above the 90th percentile).
This study specifically surveyed county emergency managers; the individuals who are responsible for mitigating and responding to disaster events. The results suggest that emergency managers are subject to decision biases and by knowing this, we can improve emergency management and decision-making processes.
This collection of essays—divided into three key categories: Risk, Culture, and Operations—daylights qualities and practices in the wildland fire service across a broad spectrum, from outdated and unwarranted to honorable and profound. We must acknowledge our current culture and its shortcomings while using its strengths to lead change.