The Distributional Incidence of Wildfire Hazard in the Western United States

This peer-reviewed study shows that hazards from recent wildfires disproportionately affect both the highest- and lowest-value properties in the American West.

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May 26, 2022


Journal Article in Environmental Research Letters

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1 minute


Increases in wildfire activity in the western United States in recent years have led to significant property loss in wildland-urban interface areas, raising difficult questions for policymakers regarding mitigation of wildfire damages and how mitigation costs should be distributed. Yet in spite of increased attention to the distribution of environmental and climate-related risks across socioeconomic groups, and its relevance to current wildfire-related policy debates, the distributional incidence of wildfire hazard is not well understood. This paper fills this gap by combining property-level data on locations and values of residential properties, demographics, wildfire hazard, and historical wildfire perimeters. We find that there is substantial heterogeneity within high wildfire hazard areas, but that high wildfire hazard and impact from recent wildfires (2011–2018) have disproportionately been borne by high-income, white, and older residents, and by owners of high-value properties; properties in the tenth decile of market value by county are on average 70% more likely to be in high wildfire hazard areas than median value properties. However, because many high-value high wildfire hazard properties are concentrated in high density areas, most of the high wildfire hazard area in the western US is sparsely populated and comprises mainly relatively low-value properties.


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