|Likelihood of wildfire (top) compared to vulnerability of|
population. (UW map; click to enlarge)
The study's author, graduate student Ian Davies of the University of Washington, worked with researchers from conservation nonprofit the Nature Conservancy to identify which regions of the U.S. were at most risk for severe wildfires. They found that 29 million Americans live in high-risk areas, mostly in the West but also in the Southeast. Most of them are white and wealthy, but 12 million of them are particularly vulnerable to wildfires because of socioeconomic factors Davies calls "adaptive capacity." That includes things like access to a car to evacuate, a secure job, the ability to speak English fluently, or having insurance.
"We’re not saying that people who are not poor aren’t affected by wildfires," Davies told Pierre-Louis. "What we’re saying is, if you have the characteristics of a disadvantaged community, you’re much more likely to take longer to recover."
Native Americans on federal reservations are at a double disadvantage: many lack adaptive capacity and are six times more likely than average to live in particularly wildfire-prone areas, Pierre-Louis reports.