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Project ID: 14-2-01-6

Year: 2014

Date Started: 06/15/2014

Ending Date:  09/30/2018

Title: Trial by fire: community adaptation and rebuilding after catastrophic wildfire

Project Proposal Abstract: Each year more wildland-urban interface (WUI) homes are exposed to wildfire. From 1999 to 2011, an average of 1,354 residences were destroyed annually by wildland fire, despite billions spent on fire suppression. Costs of fire suppression continue to rise with housing growth and the expansion of the WUI. In response, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy urges the creation of fire-adapted communities, designed to coexist with and adapt to wildfire. To become fire-adapted, communities must fundamentally alter the location, design, and type of development in high wildfire risk zones. Social changes this significant are not quickly made, but the rebuilding process after a wildfire may be a window of opportunity for adaptation because it requires action, and highlights risk and vulnerability. We propose several key research questions: How do rebuilding and new development change residential development patterns and risk of future wildfire damage to structures? And, do communities enact new regulations post-wildfire, and do they enhance or hinder a communitys progress towards becoming fire-adapted? Progress toward being fire-adapted could be measured in many ways, but we focus on widely-available public data on housing development and local regulations, which allows us to examine post-wildfire response across multiple sites. We conceptualize progress toward being fire-adapted in two ways: 1. A decrease in the average likelihood that a house in that community will burn if a fire occurs, because rebuilt and newly constructed homes are placed in less risky locations, and 2. Enactment of new local incentives and regulations that address wildfire risk, post-fire debris flows, or post-fire flooding. Our goal is to expand our understanding about the rebuilding process and its role in creating fire-adapted communities, so that communities can encourage adaptation through rebuilding. Our proposed project will take a nationwide perspective and create a novel GIS dataset of structures lost and rebuilt after wildfires, while also examining community-level zoning and regulatory issues that surround rebuilding. Using digital imagery and public records, we will map all homes lost to wildfire, for all fires for which 50 or more houses were lost (1970 to 2010, approximately 50 fires total). Regulations, community initiatives, and socioeconomic factors influence the characteristics of new and existing homes (home materials, vegetation around homes) and home locations. We will gather documents and interview local officials in 8-10 communities where numerous homes were lost to wildland fire. Analysis of government documents and interviews will yield evidence of regulations and regulatory changes made following the fire. We will then analyze the spatial patterns of structures (new and rebuilt) to examine community-wide development patterns. We will use summary statistics to assess whether a change in housing density has occurred and use statistical models to estimate the likelihood that homes will be lost to future fires. If the average likelihood of losing a home decreases, then we will conclude that community adaptation is occurring. Interview results will aid in interpreting observed changes in patterns. Results will provide a better understanding of rebuildinghow much is occurring, how widely rates of rebuilding vary, and what factors are associated with adaptation, as well as peer-reviewed spatial data, statistics, maps, and narratives of post-fire rebuilding. This project will make novel contributions to the fire management and broader natural hazards literature, where the problems unique to rebuilding after wildfire have gone unexamined. We need to understand whether and under what conditions adaptation to fire occurs, so we can advise communities on how best to capitalize on the brief post-fire window of opportunity.

Principal Investigator: Miranda H. Mockrin

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Budget Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Roger B. Hammer

Oregon State University

Department of Sociology

Co-Principal Investigator

Volker C. Radeloff

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology


Brent S. Steel

Oregon State University



Susan I. Stewart

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network


Lake States

Northern Rockies


Southern Rockies







Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
There are no deliverables available for this project.

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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