USA — Two recent studies from the U.S. Forest Service discuss how wildfires affect and change urban communities. Both are more or less compendiums of decades of study and approach things from fire survivors perspectives.
The first study, Social Science at the Wildland-Urban Interface, looks at the social impacts of wildfirehow a devastating fire has psychological consequences for communities, and how homeowners learn from wildfire experiences and change their practices.
Most homeowners in the wildland urban interface know the dangers that wildfires pose to their neighborhoods. But, awareness of the risk doesnt always translate into homeowners taking action, such as doing mitigation on their properties. Often many have a lightning strikes once perspective, as in, this happened once, why would it happen again? Also, most homeowners who live in risk zones, but who have never experienced wildfire, wait until a wildfire hits to take precautions. Community perceptions of how wildfires were managed by firefighters or local governments have long-lasting impacts. Sometimes, a wildfire brings a community closer together; other times, it creates tension and drives a community apart. Communication during the fire is key to thisthe more people know, the better they feel. Psychological impacts of surviving a fire are equally long-lasting. Home loss, smoke damage, and permanently transformed landscapes all contribute. Are their alternatives to mandatory evacuations? The report considers how residents handle being driven out of their homes for days (not always well) and the incredible angst they might feel wondering if their homes have survived. Australia allows residents to fight brush fires, and also allows residents to seek shelter in their homes from flames. A few things are on residents mind after a fire, and first among them (according to researchers) is the cause of the wildfire. Officials have not yet released the cause of the Waldo Canyon fire. The second report, Wildfires, Wildlands, and People: Understanding and Preparing for Wildfire in the Urban Interface, is pretty self-explanatory. It looks at some of the same aspects as the first reportfor instance, what motivates people to prepare for wildfiresand also notes the growing number of homes in the danger zone. It also talks about the delicate balance of wildfiresfire is a key component to many ecosystems, but it is also proving more and more devastating to humans.
32 percent of homes in the United States are in the wildland urban interface. Wildfires serious impact home values. Studies have found that up to two years following a destructive wildfire, the values of the surviving home are lower. More people are moving into the wildland urban interfacesomething researchers have know for a while. But this report posits something newthat as Baby Boomers start to retire, more of them will be seeking off-the-beaten-path locales, in fire-prone areas, spiking the numbers of residents in the interface. If youre into reading more about fires and fire science, I suggest you sign up for the Joint Fire Science Program eblaststhey dont come very often, but when they do, they point great out studies, like these, on wildfire.