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Study: Do More to Protect Communities of Color from Wildfires

A recent study found Native Americans are six times more vulnerable to wildfires. (University of Washington)
A recent study found Native Americans are six times more vulnerable to wildfires. (University of Washington)
November 12, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Communities of color face the greatest risk from wildfires, according to a new study.

Across the country, 29 million people are vulnerable to the fires' most devastating effects. Researchers found socioeconomic factors put 12 million people at the highest risk for disaster, and say that vulnerability is unequally distributed based on race.

Majority black, Hispanic and Native American areas are the least equipped to deal with fire.

Study co-author Ryan Haugo, conservation science director at The Nature Conservancy in Oregon, says while fire managers should reintroduce practices such as controlled burns to ease the threat, even more needs to be done to protect these vulnerable communities.

"That's important, but it's not enough,” he stresses. “We also have to look at how we help our communities adapt to fire and how we help them to adapt before, during and after wildfires."

Haugo says data showing just how vulnerable many communities of color were surprised him.

The study finds Native Americans are six times more vulnerable than would be expected if all things were equal.

Phil Levin, another study co-author and lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy in Washington, says fires may be natural, but not all their effects are.

He adds that the risk of wildfire affects a large swath of the West and hopes this data can be used to narrow down which communities need the most support.

"Not only where are we likely to have fires, but where are those fires likely to have the biggest impact on people?” he explains. “And use that as a way to prioritize our fire-management efforts."

Levin says the disproportionate effect of Hurricane Katrina on black communities in Louisiana compared with white communities inspired a deeper look into similar concerns in wildfire-prone areas.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR