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High price homes are more likely to be threatened by wildfires

A large air tanker drops fire retardant over a blackened hill near Boise neighborhood.jpg
Austin Catlin
Bureau of Land Management
A large air tanker dropped retardant on the ground in the Boise Foothills to help stop the spread of the 2015 Eyrie Fire in southern Idaho.

News Brief

People facing high wildfire risks are more likely to be older, white, live in pricier homes and have higher incomes, according to new research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“The highest income households are as much as 70% more likely than median households to be living in high fire-hazard areas,” said Matt Wibbenmeyer, a fellow with the nonprofit Resources for the Future who co-authored the study.

The findings suggest that this demographic is drawn to amenities on the outskirts of Western cities, such as tree cover, views and access to recreational opportunities. That often puts them in areas of the wildland-urban interface that have higher wildfire risks.

However, this data is somewhat skewed towards the larger number of people living on the outskirts of urban centers where costs are higher.

Heat map showing where housing costs more or less in high wildfire risk areas.jpeg
Matthew Wibbenmeyer and Molly Robertson, "The distributional incidence of wildfire hazard in the western United States"
Environmental Research Letters
This shows median home values and number of homes in high wildfire hazard areas. 140 sq. km hexagonal grid cells are colored according to the median property value in high wildfire hazard areas in the cell. Grid cell height is based on the number of properties in high fire hazard areas in each cell.

Looking at more rural areas of the Mountain West, the report highlights where there are also significantly lower-income homes that are disproportionately affected by wildfire risks. It found Native Americans were disproportionately impacted, too.

Wibbenmeyer cautioned that the researchers were only studying risk, and not vulnerability. Those with lower incomes and underinsured homes will likely have a significantly harder time recovering from a wildfire.

The report collected economic data for houses and individuals using Zillow and the U.S. Census Bureau. It also relied on U.S. Forest Service data to assess wildfire risk areas.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.