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Wildfire experts talk solutions as risk grows for homeowners in the wildland-urban interface

 Firefighers working in the wildland-urban interface or WUI.
Bryan Day
U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Firefighers working in the wildland-urban interface or WUI.

News brief

A panel of experts weighed the benefits and challenges of living near wildlands and how best to prosper in these spaces prone to wildfire on Oct. 12 as part of a new webinar series.

The nonprofit research group Resources for the Future hosted the panel as part of its "Sparking Solutions" series on meeting the growing threat of wildfires. They discussed mitigating fire risk at home, home insurance, the need for better communication with homeowners living in the wildland-urban interface, or WUI, and how towns can put this information into practice.

Andrew Plantinga is an economist at the University of California Santa Barbara. He discussed home insurance in the WUI – the zone where human development and wildlands meet, which contained about 50 million homes in 2021 – and said he’d like to see insurance companies incentivize homeowners to reduce wildfire risk.

“The way it would work is that a homeowner would get a reduction in premiums for taking certain kinds of risk-reducing actions,” he said. “It’s clearly in the interest of the homeowner and I think the insurance companies would welcome this as well.”

He said it's feasible for insurance companies to do this, but it would mean building the incentive into their rate formulas.

Panelist Patricia Champ, an economist at the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station, emphasized the power of community surveys in reducing fire risk in the WUI.

On a recent project in Wyoming, she said 10% of residents thought their properties were at high or extreme fire risk, but an expert found it was closer to 50%.

“That really suggested to our partners that they need some individualized information,” she said. "Sending them a brochure saying, ‘Hey, you live in a place at risk,’ that will do nothing, because they’re like, ‘I know and I’ve taken care of it.’”

The next webinar in the Resources for the Future wildfire series, the date of which has yet to be announced, will discuss home insurance in-depth.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, 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.

Copyright 2022 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson

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