Map: Find out where Americans are most at risk from wildfires

0

When a wildfire ripped through drought-stricken towns near Boulder, Colorado late last year, it reminded Americans that fire risk is changing. It didn’t matter that it was winter. It didn’t matter that many of the more than 1,000 homes and other structures lost were in suburban subdivisions, not wooded enclaves. The old rules no longer applied.

A new analysis reveals for the first time that a large part of the country, not usually associated with forest fires, is already under threat. Nearly 80 million properties in the United States are at significant risk of being exposed to fire, according to a model built by the nonprofit organization First Street Foundation.

In the coming decades, many people will face greater danger than today.

A Washington Post analysis of the group’s data found that about 16% of the nation’s population now lives in hazardous areas. Over the next 30 years, this share will increase to 21%. Nearly half of all Americans who live in fire-prone areas will reside in the South, and minorities are at disproportionate risk.

How many properties are facing
fire hazard in your postcode?

Properties with significant wildfire risk


Hover over a zip code to view details

Wildfires are becoming more severe and frequent due to human-induced climate change. Record heat and drought fueled by rising greenhouse gas emissions are drying out grasslands and forests and lengthening the fire season. And more and more people are moving to communities built where wildfires are part of the natural ecology of the landscape. They build houses right next to vegetation, putting themselves in danger.

Until now, it has been difficult to determine how wildfires could imperil specific places. Publicly available wildfire risk data is not detailed enough to show the exposure of a particular home or commercial building. And most people don’t have access to the more accurate estimates calculated by insurance companies.

Fire Factor, the new model built by the First Street Foundation, aims to fill the void with a website where people can search for data to their addresses.

Communities facing the greatest risks

Overall, the First Street data covers the contiguous United States, revealing how unevenly the risk of fire is distributed across the country.

California has the most risky properties due to its large size and Mediterranean climate. But in the southern half of the country, states like Texas, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina and South Carolina stand at the forefront of a growing problem.

The Post’s analysis of the group’s fire data and population density found that by 2052, the South will be home to the largest number of people at significant fire risk – 32 million.


Nearly half of Americans exposed to fire

risk will live in the South by 2052

Nearly half of Americans at risk of wildfire

will live in the South by 2052

Nearly half of Americans at risk of fire will live in the South by 2052

Among the Southern states, Texas tops the list, followed by Florida. That might come as a surprise, given Florida’s history of being battered by hurricanes and, more recently, tidal flooding from rising seas and intense storms. But there are seasonal fires that start in early spring, part of a natural cycle that helps cone trees spread their seeds.

Deb Niemeier, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Maryland who focuses on community resilience and disaster recovery, said that just like in the West, climate change is extending the traditional fire season of the southeast coastal region through increasingly severe baking temperatures and droughts.

“The little things that we could contain in the past can be really big ignitions in the future because you have these other effects,” Niemeier said.

Western states bear a greater share of the risk, particularly in the Mountain West region. The Post found that about 33% of people in western states now face a significant risk of exposure to forest fires. This number will likely increase to around 39% by 2052.


Percentage of population

living in areas with

major forest fire

risk, by region:

32.7%

Population

at risk in 2022

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana,

Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyo.

Del., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina,

SC, Virginia, W.Va.

Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri,

ND, Neb., SD

Ill., Ind., Mich., Ohio, Wis.

Connecticut, Mass., Maine, NH, RI, Vermont.

Percentage of population

living in areas with

major forest fire

risk, by region:

32.7% of

population

at risk in 2022

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Mont., Nevada, NM, Utah, Wyo.

Del., Fla., Ga., Md., NC, SC, Va., W.Va.

Iowa, Kan., Minn., Mo., ND, Neb., SD

Ill., Ind., Mich., Ohio, Wis.

Connecticut, Mass., Maine, NH, RI, Vermont.

Percentage of population living in areas

presenting a significant risk of forest fire, by region:

39.5% of the population

at risk in 2052

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Mont., Nevada, NM, Utah, Wyo.

Del., Fla., Ga., Md., NC, SC, Va., W.Va.

Iowa, Kan., Minn., Mo., ND, Neb., SD

Ill., Ind., Mich., Ohio, Wis.

Connecticut, Mass., Maine, NH, RI, Vermont.

Although President Biden approved nearly $3.5 billion for communities to prepare for disasters related to extreme weather and climate change, only about 4% of all fire-prone counties in this analysis requested forest fire mitigation projects. To be eligible for this funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a county or state must first receive a major disaster declaration. But of the more than 2,000 counties facing a fire risk, only about 20 percent have had a FEMA-declared fire since 2010.

A disproportionate risk among minorities

The Post’s analysis of First Street data found that wildfire danger appears to disproportionately affect communities of color.

By 2052, approximately 44% of all Native Americans will live in areas with a high probability of forest fires. Almost 1 in 4 Hispanics will live in similar communities.

Ranking of white residents third on the list. Estimates show that in three decades around 1 in 5 people will face a significant fire risk.


Percentage of population

living in areas with

major forest fire

risk, by breed:

42.2%

Population

at risk in 2022

Percentage of population

living in areas with

major forest fire

risk, by breed:

42.2%

Population

at risk in 2022

Percentage of population living in areas

presenting a significant risk of forest fire, by breed:

43.8% of the population

at risk in 2052

Previous research has found that minority groups are particularly vulnerable to damage from wildfires. Language barriers and the limited number of cars can prevent them from fleeing a rapidly spreading fire. After a devastating fire, job insecurity and lack of insurance can complicate their recovery.

Lilliane Ballesteros, executive director of the Latino Community Fund in Washington, said Latinos in rural or farming communities in the center of the state know what they risk living in a fire-prone area, but they often don’t. the means to move.

“We work with farm workers who insist on returning to work when conditions are unsafe,” Ballesteros said. “They can’t take time off or live anywhere else.”

Ballesteros said Latino-led community groups are increasingly working to share information about steps residents can take to guard against fire hazards. His organization conducts training in Spanish, translates official documents and tries to gain the trust of people reluctant to have their properties assessed for fire risk, as this could lead to citations.

“People don’t even have the time and the resources to access this information,” she said. “In some communities, this work requires one-on-one conversations.”

The First Street website aims to put this information in the hands of anyone with a computer or smartphone. Their tool pulls data from a variety of sources, including federal wildfire databases and local information about each property’s age, building materials, and design, and it will calculate a risk factor for exposure to wildfires today and 30 years from now when the effects of climate change worsen. .

Similar to the foundation flood model, its fire analysis will also be available on Realtor.com, putting buyers, sellers and renters on equal footing when it comes to understanding a property’s vulnerabilities.

“It’s not just this catastrophic thing. There are great solutions out there,” said Matthew Eby, Founder and Chief Executive of First Street, in an interview. For each address, the website will show people how much they can reduce their risk by making their homes and properties more fire resistant. Creating a barrier between structures and flammable vegetation, known as a defensible space, and using fire-retardant building materials are proven ways to increase a home’s chances of surviving in the event of a disaster. ‘fire.

People will be “able to understand how different solutions would impact their vulnerability,” Eby said. “We hope they will act.”

About this story

The Post estimated the population at significant fire risk by adjusting census tract population by the percentage of properties and parcels with a risk of at least 0.03% that were provided by the First Street Foundation . At the county level, The Post used summary data provided by First Street and compared it to data from FEMA’s Risk Mitigation Grant Program through 2010. Regions and divisions were identified by the Census Desk.

Editing by Monica Ulmanu and Juliet Eilperin.

Share.

Comments are closed.