This article first appeared on the WiRe (Wildfire Research) blog. Republished with permission:
Do people living in the [wildland-urban interface] WUI expect the fire department to save their home in a wildfire? Many do, but maybe fewer than you think.
Over the past few years, WRWC surveyed nearly 1600 WUI residents in three counties in southwestern Colorado. These surveys asked: “If there is a wildfire on your property, how likely do you think it is that the fire department would save your home?” People could respond on a scale from 1 (Not likely) to 5 (Very likely).
As the graphic shows, about 25% answered that they did not think it was likely (12% for “1”, 13% for “2”), another 24% placed themselves in the middle (“3”), and the remaining 50% thought it was likely (21% for “4” and 29% for “5”). As we typically find, the results look different in different communities, but the overall pattern is fairly robust to community context.
It’s sometimes assumed that everyone living in the wildland-urban interface expects that, no matter how big a wildfire might be, firefighters will be there and able to protect their individual homes. However, fire behavior can get too intense for people to be in the area, and a lack of proper mitigation can increase the danger and/or difficulty of protecting a house. Beyond that, sometimes there’s simply not enough suppression equipment or personnel available for the number of houses exposed at once. This survey question helps get at whether residents think about these factors.
We find that although this expectation is indeed common, far from everybody living in the WUI feels this way. We should consider how this affects the way we communicate about risks with homeowners, and how this can inform broader discussions among the fire service about expectations of protecting homes during wildfire.