U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Final Report: JFSP Project Number 11-3-1-29


US government work.


Wildfire hazard is a growing problem in many areas of the United States, especially in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), where homes and other structures border or intermingle with forests, shrubs and grasslands. Despite years of educational outreach by fire management officials promoting effective and affordable mitigation strategies, research shows that residents, especially seasonal residents and those new to an area, still tend to under-invest in mitigation, even when they perceive their risk to be high. Meanwhile, the social and economic costs of wildfire have increased with fire size and intensity and far exceed the costs of mitigation. This problem has led to increased research on what factors influence wildfire hazard mitigation behavior, as well as how to improve communication and facilitate public involvement in strategic planning for wildland fire. Increasingly, researchers are uncovering the importance of the emotional relationships that residents have with certain places that, in turn, affect the perception, communication, and mitigation of risk. This research from Truckee, CA addresses important questions about how emotion interacts with wildfire hazard perception in the WUI. A qualitative analysis of over 80 interviews with residents, fire, and community managers has revealed that WUI residents possess deep and complex emotional connections to “natural” spaces; that public opinion about and compliance with mitigation policy hinges on the way residents and risk managers define these spaces; and that the emotional characterization of wildfire hazard is very important in hazard communication. It also suggests that a focus on certain mitigation policies (like maintaining defensible space) over others (such as those that target the built environment), has led to a lopsided view on the part of residents as to what measures can and should be taken to reduce risk. Lastly, the research offers specific suggestions for fire managers on how best to work with the public to reduce community vulnerability to wildfire hazard.