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Title: In the Line of Fire: Consequences of Human-Ignited Wildfires to Homes in the U.S. (1992-2015)
With climate-driven increases in wildfires in the western U.S., it is imperative to understand how the risk to homes is also changing nationwide. Here, we quantify the number of homes threatened, suppression costs, and ignition sources for 1.6 million wildfires in the United States (U.S.; 1992–2015). Human-caused wildfires accounted for 97% of the residential homes threatened (within 1 km of a wildfire) and nearly a third of suppression costs. This study illustrates how the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which accounts for only a small portion of U.S. land area (10%), acts as a major source of fires, almost exclusively human-started. Cumulatively (1992–2015), just over one million homes were within human-caused wildfire perimeters in the WUI, where communities are built within flammable vegetation. An additional 58.8 million homes were within one kilometer across the 24-year record. On an annual basis in the WUI (1999–2014), an average of 2.5 million homes (2.2–2.8 million, 95% confidence interval) were threatened by human-started wildfires (within the perimeter and up to 1-km away). The number of residential homes in the WUI grew by 32 million from 1990–2015. The convergence of warmer, drier conditions and greater development into flammable landscapes is leaving many communities vulnerable to human-caused wildfires. These areas are a high priority for policy and management efforts that aim to reduce human ignitions and promote resilience to future fires, particularly as the number of residential homes in the WUI grew across this record and are expected to continue to grow in coming years.  more » « less
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National Science Foundation
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