Fire frequency and vulnerability in California
Wildfires pose a large and growing threat to communities across California, and understanding fire vulnerability and impacts can enable more effective risk management. Government hazard maps are often used to identify at-risk areas, but hazard zones and fire experience may have different implications for communities. This analysis of three decades of fire footprints, hazard maps, and census and real estate data shows that communities with high fire experience differ substantially from communities with high fire hazard. High-hazard communities average higher incomes than low- and no-hazard communities; conversely, communities with high fire experience average lower incomes than those with little to no experience. Home values have grown more slowly in communities with high fire experience, translating to differences in total appreciation of $165M-$630M per year relative to communities with no fire experience. Warming over the remainder of the century could add tens of thousands of homes to high-experience zones. This relationship between income and fire experience may be a reflection of the impacts of repeated fires relative to mapped hazards or single fires, or it could point to a relationship between income and the success of fire prevention or suppression. The discrepancies between dimensions indicates that considering fire frequency can support efforts to equitably target risk management resources.