Wildfire preparedness for a changing climate

States were evaluated for how ready they will be to manage and mitigate wildfires in coming decades.

Above: Wildfire preparedness, according to StatesAtRisk.org

Two organizations have collaborated to develop what they call America’s Preparedness Report Card (StatesAtRisk.org), laying out their scores for how America’s 50 states are preparing for a changing climate. They came up with ratings in five categories:

  • Extreme Heat
  • Drought
  • Wildfires
  • Inland Flooding
  • Coastal Flooding

According to their web site, ClimateCentral.org, one of the two organizations, is “An independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public.” The other, ICF International, is a private company that appears to offer a very broad range of consulting services.

We were most interested in their analysis of wildfire issues. The states colored gray on the map above are labeled “n/a”, which means wildfire was not identified as a threat. The methodology used was to determine the average number of days each year when the Keetch-Byram Drought Index exceeded 600. This was weighted by the county-level population living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). They did not take into account fire history, the number of homes destroyed by fire, or vegetation.

We noticed, for example, that wildfire was not identified as a threat in Colorado in spite of the fact that in 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes in Colorado Springs and killed two people. Almost exactly a year later, the Black Forest Fire ignited east of the city and burned more than 15,000 acres, 486 homes and killed two people.

Their map is different from the ones below created by the U.S. Forest Service (showing the frequency of wildfires greater than 299 acres from 1994 to 2013) and FEMA’s map of wildfire hazard potential.

map wildfires by county

2014 Wildfire Hazard Potential

In looking at two other states, Alabama was given an “F” in wildfire preparedness while California earned an “A”.

The list of factors that were considered in determining the grades included:

  • Current wildfire vulnerability assessments and hazard mitigation and emergency response plans;
  • Guidelines or requirements for resilient activities (e.g., construction);
  • Wildfire adaptation policy or guidelines;
  • Communication with residents about mitigating for wildfire.

Below are graphical wildfire preparedness summaries from StatesAtRisk.org for Alabama and California:

Alabama wildfire preparedness according to StatesAtRisk.org
California wildfire preparedness
California wildfire preparedness according to StatesAtRisk.org

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Wildfire preparedness for a changing climate”

  1. Bill! You threw a lot of useful information yesterday! I appreciate the information and page. However, this article caught me immediately as bullcrap. There are a good 6 or 7 reasons why and you highlighted some of those. As a native Coloradan, wildfire is always a concern. We had Four Mile Canyon in 2010, (Boulder 169 homes destroyed), High Park in 2012 (Ft. Collins, 259 homes), Waldo Canyon in 2012 (CO Springs, 346 homes destroyed), and Black Forest in 2013 (CO Spring, 511 homes destroyed). Cities/towns like Durango, Steamboat Springs, Denver west, (Golden, Evergreen, Genessee), Boulder, Ft. Collins, and CO Springs are all susceptible to wildfire. Throw in the Pine Beetle epidemic and climate change causing fires to burn at higher elevation, and the fact that Colorado has a lot of area that still has not seen fire for a century (The states largest fire was the Hayman Fire back in 2002 at 138,000 acres). Though California is definitely leading the forefront for home preparation, I’d hardly give them an A due to the amount of homes that are still unprepared for wildfire.

  2. I wonder about the credibility of this report when Kansas is identified as having a wildfire threat but not Colorado or the Lake States of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. In my 35 years in the profession I have never heard of a wildfire threat in Kansas. It may have something to do with using KBDI as an indicator of fire danger. KBDI doesn’t correlate very well with significant fire potential and occurrence in all parts of the country. It does in the SE US, but ERC is better in the western states for example whereas BI works better in the Lake States. Other than that, this has some good information. I’m still skeptical of climate change being worse now than in previous decades or centuries even. Remember the dust bowl drought of the 1930’s, followed by a cool period in the 50’s and 60’s when scientists were talking about a possible ice age. There are other reasons beside fire danger and drought that fires are getting larger. The earth has been through many other much more extreme climate swings. I suppose people want to live in a museum with a constant perfect temperature, the same rainfall amounts and trees that don’t get old, insect infested and die. Of course it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, there will always be wildfires.


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