Causal reasoning processes of people affected by wildfire: implications for agency-community interactions and communication strategies
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Y. Kumagai; S. E. Daniels; M. S. Carroll; J. C. Bliss; J. A. Edwards
Publication Year: 2004

Cataloging Information

  • attribution
  • cause of wildfire
  • education
  • fire damage (property)
  • fire injuries (humans)
  • fire management
  • perceptional gap
  • public information
  • wildfires
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 51334
Tall Timbers Record Number: 28172
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Not in File
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Fire officials are dismayed when victims of wildfire blame fire fighters and others responsible for fire management for damage resulting from uncontrolled fires. This is in spite of the fact that wildfire damage is a consequence of dynamic interactions among natural factors (wind, temperature, location of wildfire, topography, etc.) and human factors (past land management, promptness of firefighting activities, extent of homeowners' defensible space, etc.). Fire and land managers do not typically understand why and how the victims arrive at such oversimplified, and in some cases inaccurate, conclusions about wildfire causation. Attribution theory in social psychology provides a framework for understanding the mechanisms of these blaming processes. In this study, both quantitative and qualitative approaches were used to explore how people who live in wildfire hazard zones and experienced wildfire, perceive the causes of wildfire damage. In the spring of 1999, a prefire survey was conducted in the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, an area where numerous wildfires are recorded nearly every year. This was followed by a postfire survey in two communities that actually experienced a fire that season. In addition, qualitative interviews were carried out in these two affected communities. Results suggest that people who experienced wildfire tended to attribute the cause of wildfire damage to factors associated with fire officials and nature and did not attribute fire damage to their own actions (or inactions). The implications of these attributions are discussed as are recommendations for future fire education and communication. © 2004 by the Society of American Foresters.

Kumagai, Y., S. E. Daniels, M. S. Carroll, J. C. Bliss, and J. A. Edwards. 2004. Causal reasoning processes of people affected by wildfire: implications for agency-community interactions and communication strategies. Western Journal of Applied Forestry, v. 19, no. 3, p. 184-194.