Our Wildfire Research
The wildfire problem is growing
Since the 1970s, wildfires are burning longer, causing more damage, and costing more. Thousands of U.S. communities are impacted every year. The full costs of wildfire are largely borne at the community level by local governments, small businesses, and homeowners.
The problem is likely to get worse in the future due to converging trends of climate change, denser forests from a century of fire suppression, more human ignitions, and rapid growth in fire-prone lands.
From 2000-2019, nearly 2,000 U.S. communities were threatened by wildfires or potential ember spread, showing the need for adaptive planning strategies.
Almost half of the full community costs of wildfire are paid for at the local level, including homeowners, businesses, and government agencies.
Federal wildfire policy that emphasizes suppression—a legacy of early-1900s forest management—has resulted in a paradox: accumulated fuels and larger, more severe wildfires.
Wildfire experts outline key science insights important to inform policy discussions and development while reducing future risks and costs.
Land use planning tools can reduce risk
There is no single solution to the wildfire challenge, but land use planning tools such as zoning, building codes, and subdivision design can help communities become better fire-adapted. Risk assessments can help communities identify where regulations and mitigation strategies are most needed.
Headwaters Economics co-leads the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program, which provides communities with land use planning recommendations, wildfire hazard assessments, custom research, and training.
This report outlines a number of solutions to alter the pace, scale, and pattern of future development in the Wildland-Urban Interface.
Land use planning can help communities become fire-adapted and resilient in the face of increasing wildfire potential.
A new home built to wildfire-resistant codes can be constructed for roughly the same cost as a typical home.
The new Wildfire Risk to Communities website—developed by the USDA Forest Service in partnership with Headwaters Economics and Pyrologix—offers maps and data about community wildfire risk nationwide.
It is unlikely that insurance rates and policies alone will determine whether or not a landowner decides to build a new home on wildfire-prone land.
Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire
Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) works with communities to reduce wildfire risk through improved land use planning. The program is a partnership of Headwaters Economics, Wildfire Planning International, and the USDA Forest Service.
In addition to publishing research on our website, Headwaters Economics work has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed publications. A sampling is below.
Quarles S, Pohl K. (2020). Costs of WUI codes and standards for new construction. In: Manzello S. (Eds). Encyclopedia of Wildfires and Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fires. New York: Springer.
Barrett K. (2019). Reducing wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface: policy, trends, and solutions. Idaho Law Review, 55, 3-27.
Schoennagel T, Balch JK, Brenkert-Smith H, Dennison PE, Harvey BJ, Krawchuk MA, Mietkiewicz N, Morgan P, Moritz MA, Rasker R, Turner MG, Whitlock C. (2017). Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes. PNAS, 114(18), 4582-4590.
Rasker R. (2015). Resolving the increasing risk from wildfires in the American West. Solutions Journal, 6(2), 55-62.
Gude PH, Jones K, Rasker R, Greenwood MC. (2013). Evidence for the effect of homes on wildfire suppression costs. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 22, 537-548.
Gude PH, Rasker R, van den Noort J. (2008). Potential for future development on fire-prone lands. Journal of Forestry, 106(4), 198-205.