Perceptions of Fire Risk

Aug. 3, 2015
EC_JK

Hundreds of wildfires have burned throughout the US this year, and we can expect more—especially in drought-stricken areas. A new study from the University of Colorado–Boulder has found that most people living in areas prone to wildfires underestimate their risk.

The university, along with the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the Bureau of Land Management, and the West Region Fire Council, conducted the study, based on surveys of Colorado residents. Of the people surveyed, half rated their homes as being at “moderate risk” from fire. Fire professionals looking at the survey-takers’ properties, however, rated 65% of them as “high risk.” Even worse, the residents’ responses showed they were more concerned about things beyond their control, such as the type of vegetation surrounding their property, and considered less important the things they could actually do something about, such as replacing combustible siding, decks, and roofing with fire-resistant alternatives, or creating cleared space around their homes.

Hundreds of wildfires have burned throughout the US this year, and we can expect more—especially in drought-stricken areas. A new study from the University of Colorado–Boulder has found that most people living in areas prone to wildfires underestimate their risk. The university, along with the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the Bureau of Land Management, and the West Region Fire Council, conducted the study, based on surveys of Colorado residents. Of the people surveyed, half rated their homes as being at “moderate risk” from fire. Fire professionals looking at the survey-takers’ properties, however, rated 65% of them as “high risk.” Even worse, the residents’ responses showed they were more concerned about things beyond their control, such as the type of vegetation surrounding their property, and considered less important the things they could actually do something about, such as replacing combustible siding, decks, and roofing with fire-resistant alternatives, or creating cleared space around their homes. [text_ad] Many communities are now offering financial incentives for people who take steps to protect their own properties. There is growing concern about the safety of the “wildland-urban interface,” and increasing recognition that during many large fires, not enough resources will be available to protect all the homes that are threatened. A group called Fire Adapted Communities is helping people living in such areas recognize their risks and how to reduce them, as well as acknowledging that more than a century of fire prevention policies may have been misguided, allowing excess fuel to build up in wildland areas and creating larger and more dangerous fires when they finally do occur. Fire plays an important role in most forest ecosystems, eliminating old undergrowth and helping some plants to germinate. Another danger from wildfire, of course—one not covered specifically by this study—is what happens afterward, when the burned area is prone to erosion, mudslides, and flooding. An article coming up in Erosion Control will look at the aftermath of fires and what has been done in various places to speed revegetation. Many choices are possible depending on the location of the burn and the risk to life and property: seeding, applying mulch or other cover without seed, and doing nothing at all. The article, in the November/December issue, examines a range of options. 

Many communities are now offering financial incentives for people who take steps to protect their own properties. There is growing concern about the safety of the “wildland-urban interface,” and increasing recognition that during many large fires, not enough resources will be available to protect all the homes that are threatened.

A group called Fire Adapted Communities is helping people living in such areas recognize their risks and how to reduce them, as well as acknowledging that more than a century of fire prevention policies may have been misguided, allowing excess fuel to build up in wildland areas and creating larger and more dangerous fires when they finally do occur. Fire plays an important role in most forest ecosystems, eliminating old undergrowth and helping some plants to germinate.

Another danger from wildfire, of course—one not covered specifically by this study—is what happens afterward, when the burned area is prone to erosion, mudslides, and flooding. An article coming up in Erosion Control will look at the aftermath of fires and what has been done in various places to speed revegetation. Many choices are possible depending on the location of the burn and the risk to life and property: seeding, applying mulch or other cover without seed, and doing nothing at all. The article, in the November/December issue, examines a range of options. 
About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.