Sponsor: Southwest Fire Science Consortium
Presenter: Miranda Mockrin, USFS Northern Research Station
Becoming a fire-adapted community that can live with wildfire is envisioned as a continuous, iterative process of adaptation. In eight case study sites across the United States we examined how destructive wildfire affected altered progress towards becoming fire-adapted, focusing on the role of planning and WUI regulations (building codes, hazard mitigation standards, zoning, and other local governmental tools used to reduce exposure to wildfire losses). Experience with wildfire and other natural hazards suggests that disasters may open a 'window of opportunity' leading to local government policy changes. However, we found mixed results in our study: for some communities, the fire was a focusing event that led to changes in WUI regulations (for example, modifying building codes). In other communities, destructive fire did not spur adaptation through changes in governmental policy. In some communities, local government officials thought current policies were effective and factors beyond their control such as extreme weather were to blame for structure losses In other cases, wildfire losses were accepted as a risk of living on the landscape, considered an isolated incident that affected few or was unlikely to be repeated, or enacting regulations was seen as incompatible with local norms and government capacity. We conclude that adaptation to wildfire through WUI regulations depends on multiple factors, including past experience with fire and the geographic extent and scale of the fire event relative to the local community and its government. While communities did not often pursue changes in WUI regulations, experience with wildfire was frequently cited as the impetus for other adaptive responses, such as improving emergency response or fire suppression, and expanding education and interaction with homeowners, such as Firewise programs or government support for fuel mitigation on private lands.
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