Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires

Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires
This map shows wildfire vulnerability across the United States. Wildfire vulnerability takes into account both landscape wildfire risk and socioeconomic factors in determining how likely an area is to adapt and recover from a wildfire. Gray areas on the map correspond to areas where physical risk of large-scale wildfire is unlikely. Credit: Ian Davies

Environmental disasters in the U.S. often hit minority groups the hardest.

When Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans in 2005, the city's black residents were disproportionately affected. Their neighborhoods were located in the low-lying, less-protected areas of the city, and many people lacked the resources to evacuate safely. Similar patterns have played out during hurricanes and tropical storms ever since.

Massive wildfires, which may be getting more intense due to climate change and a long history of fire-suppression policies, also have strikingly unequal effects on minority , a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy used census data to develop a "vulnerability index" to assess in communities across the U.S. Their results, appearing Nov. 2 in the journal PLOS ONE, show that racial and ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires compared with primarily white communities. In particular, Native Americans are six times more likely than other groups to live in areas most prone to wildfires.

"A general perception is that communities most affected by wildfires are affluent people living in rural and suburban communities near forested areas," said lead author Ian Davies, a graduate student in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. "But there are actually millions of people who live in areas that have a high wildfire potential and are very poor, or don't have access to vehicles or other resources, which makes it difficult to adapt or recover from a wildfire disaster."

Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires
Firefighters work near homes during the Taylor Creek and Klondike Fires in the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon, in 2018. Credit: Kari Greer

This study is one of the first to integrate both the physical risk of wildfire with the social and economic resilience of communities to see which areas across the country are most vulnerable to large wildfires. The approach takes 13 socioeconomic measures from the U.S. census—including income, housing type, English fluency and health—for more than 71,000 census tracts across the country and overlays them with wildfire potential based on weather, historical fire activity and burnable fuels on the landscape.

There aren't many studies looking at the societal impacts of massive wildfires, so the researchers relied on existing literature that examined other environmental disasters, mainly hurricanes, to identify socioeconomic factors that contributed to whether a person recovered from a disaster. Some of these factors include whether a person is above or below the poverty line, has a disability, is elderly, has a vehicle, and owns or rents their home.

All of these factors and additional data went into creating a vulnerability index that the research team used in combination with U.S. Forest Service assessments of wildfire potential to determine the vulnerability of 71,901 census tracts across the country.

"The argument that we and other scientists have made is natural disasters aren't completely natural—they are products of both an environmental impact and the social, political and economic context in which the impact occurs," Davies said.

Overall, more than 29 million Americans—many of whom are white and economically secure—live with significant potential for extreme wildfires. However, within that segment, about 12 million people are considered "socially vulnerable" to wildfires based on the socioeconomic factors assessed in this study—and for whom a wildfire could be devastating.

Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires
Battling fire during the Taylor Creek and Klondike Fires in the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon, 2018. Credit: Kari Greer

Additionally, they found that wildfire vulnerability is spread unequally across race and ethnicity. Communities that are mostly black, Hispanic or Native American experience 50 percent greater vulnerability to wildfires compared with other communities.

In the case of Native Americans, historical forced relocation onto reservations—mostly rural, remote areas that are more prone to wildfires—combined with greater levels of vulnerability due to socioeconomic barriers make it especially hard for these communities to recover after a large wildfire.

"Our findings help dispel some myths surrounding wildfires—in particular, that avoiding disaster is simply a matter of eliminating fuels and reducing fire hazards, or that wildfire risk is constrained to rural, white communities," said senior author Phil Levin, a UW professor in environmental and forest sciences and lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy in Washington. "We can see that the impacts of recent fires were exacerbated for low-income residents facing a shortage of affordable housing, for example, and for Hispanic residents for whom English is not their first language."

As the researchers dug into their results, they corroborated their findings with news reports from specific wildfire events. For example, they found that in the 2017 wildfire season, emergency agencies in cities throughout California struggled to release timely and correct bilingual information. During the 2014 wildfires in eastern and central Washington, language barriers also prevented Hispanic farm workers from receiving evacuation alerts from authorities, and the only Spanish-language radio station in the area reportedly never received the emergency notification.

The researchers hope these broad, nationwide results will spawn more detailed studies focused on individual communities and their risk. But equally important, they say, is for organizations and municipalities to take these into account when helping their communities prepare for wildfires. Offering cost-share programs for residents to prepare their homes for wildfires, distributing evacuation notices in multiple languages and creating jobs focused on thinning local forests or clearing out flammable brush are all ways in which communities can reduce their vulnerability to wildfires, they said.

"I think the question is, how do we take these sorts of activities that are ultimately about building community and make it so they are attractive and useful for people who are busy and would much rather use what spare time they have to spend with their families?" Levin said. "I think ultimately it's about connections, building relationships and breaking down cultural barriers that will bring us to a better outcome."


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Journal information: PLoS ONE

Citation: Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires (2018, November 2) retrieved 14 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-11-racial-ethnic-minorities-greater-vulnerability.html
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Nov 02, 2018
The Title of this piece would be a lot more accurate if it said "Poor People face greater vulnerability to wildfires" than the title "Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires"
I can't say for out west as I've never spent any time there but for the east coast, that's what I see when looking at that map when considering population centers regardless of race.

Nov 03, 2018
This "diversity" nonsense becomes tedious after a while.

Nov 03, 2018
Crooked chitheads trying to create racial division with article titles.

Nov 03, 2018
If you are poor you are more susceptible to pretty much any environmental phenomenon such as a hot or cold spell.

Nov 04, 2018
Headline
Racial, ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires


Straight out of the article
Communities that are mostly black, Hispanic or Native American experience 50 percent greater vulnerability to wildfires


And then out come the folks who are so uncomfortable with conversations about the reality of structural racism - and start throwing around the childish insults - like "Crooked chitheads."


Nov 04, 2018
And then out come the folks who are so uncomfortable with conversations about the reality of structural racism - and start throwing around the childish insults - like "Crooked chitheads."
Doesnt mean they're wrong. You just dont like their attitude. So you call them racists - sorry, 'structural' racists - as usual.

Nov 04, 2018
So you call them racists
I said they are uncomfortable with conversations about the reality of structural racism. The content of the article - very much reflects the headline - so why would any one have a problem with it? Unless of course they are uncomfortable with the facts.

Of course no surprise that little racist Otto has to jump in on this one.

Nov 04, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 04, 2018
structural racism


What structural racism? You are full of chit. A fake reality made up by postmodernist humanities "professors" in a lambrained identity politics power play that is failing miserably. Hence you get Trump as one backlash of this foolish humanities lie.

Nov 04, 2018
Structural racism = affirmative action

Nov 04, 2018
If you think black people not getting the good jobs isn't racism you need to stop doing so much meth.

I don't meet many black people who are smarter than I am, but then again I don't meet many white people who are either. Seems about equal to me. But the stupid white people seem to get further than the black people. They're not smarter, they're just whiter.

Nov 04, 2018
What structural racism?
I am guessing you are white. There is no structural sexism if you are a guy either - right? I understand you will not be able to see the things I see. For example - I work in a very affluent - and incredibly well resourced (relative term) school district. There are NO black teachers, and maybe one black kid per classl. My wife works for an inner city school district. The school is run down, and desperately under resourced. Student population mostly hispanic, many black kids, and very few white. The surrounding community is blighted inner city.

Yes there is structural racism. There is a wealth of resource out there for you to read up on. I understand you will probably not be interested in facts - https://www.ameri...quality/

Nov 04, 2018
greenonion: you're the racist. Trying to stack everyone against straight white men. If you are: gay, a woman, or a minority; white men are your enemy.

This is what is being told and taught, I've never been racist my whole life, and find myself defending against the "racist" word attacks, from stupid minded white people.

Nov 04, 2018
If you think black people not getting the good jobs isn't racism you need to stop doing so much meth.


The average IQ for whites is 100, the average IQ for asians is 104, for ashkenazi jews 115,
I can't tell you the other race IQ's because I'll be called a racist. Actually saying that much was probably enough. We have to hide the truth from the unreasonable I guess.

Nov 04, 2018
Trying to stack everyone against straight white men
I am a straight white man. Why on earth would I do that? I am sure you did not read the article I linked about structural racism. The only thing I am trying to do - is understand the world I live in. There is structural racism in America. If you can't see it - it is clearly because you do not want to. That structural racism does not go away because you want to ignore it.
I've never been racist my whole life
But you need to bring up the IQ issue - of course in a back door kind of way - without any real discussion of the issue. Do you think it is not known that blacks score lower on standardized tests than whites? http://movies2.ny...gap.html

Failing any evidence of innate differences that would explain this gap - we are of course left with the conclusion that there is structural racism in our world.

Nov 04, 2018
Old_C
greenonion: you're the racist
It is an interesting thing that. When you start talking about structural racism (this is systemic racism - not individual) people get very defensive. Then just like Otto - you pull the five year old response - "I know you are, but what am I." Maybe you should add nanny nanny boo boo to your childish response...

Nov 05, 2018
Der Scheide spluuukt
I don't meet many black people who are smarter than I am, but then again I don't meet many white people who are either
Ahaaahaa thanks for the laugh. You dont get out much do you?
I am a straight white man
Heehee what is this, national 'tell a silly joke' day?
greenonion: you're the racist
-Hes one of these

"Reverse racism or reverse discrimination is a concept that portrays affirmative action in the United States and similar color-conscious programs as a form of anti-white racism on the part of black people and government agencies; it is commonly associated with conservative opposition to such programs.[1] The concept has also been used to characterize various expressions of hostility or indifference toward white people by members of minority groups."

-white people is people too ya know.

Nov 05, 2018
Heehee what is this, national 'tell a silly joke' day?
Nope - it was a very pertinent response to an assertion. Let me refresh your memory -
Trying to stack everyone against straight white men
Or are you trying to contest that I am a straight white male? That is just a fact. I also understand the privilege that bestows on me - and the structural/personal discrimination experienced by members of the non straight white male group.

Reverse racism
Wonder why you now need to raise that straw man. What relevance does it have to an article that identifies that
Communities that are mostly black, Hispanic or Native American experience 50 percent greater vulnerability to wildfires


Do you have evidence to the contrary?


Nov 05, 2018
Or are you trying to contest that I am a straight white male?
Maybe you're like a reverse oreo then.

Nov 05, 2018
Maybe you're like a reverse oreo then.
Or maybe as usual - you say really stupid shit.

Nov 06, 2018
You know, like vanilla wafers with a creamy chocolate filling.

I dont think they actually make those. Let's see

"Golden Oreo series have vanilla biscuits with other fillings such as vanilla and chocolate as Uh-Oh Oreo"

Ha so you're an uh-oh oreo.

Nov 06, 2018
Maybe you're like a reverse oreo then

Ha so you're an uh-oh oreo


And you wonder why people call you a racist - and why you have no respect from people not interested in racist rubbish....

Nov 07, 2018
Theyre just cookies man

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