The worldwide “wildfire” problem


  • Corresponding Editor: K. A. Hibbard.


The worldwide “wildfire” problem is headlined by the loss of human lives and homes, but it applies generally to any adverse effects of unplanned fires, as events or regimes, on a wide range of environmental, social, and economic assets. The problem is complex and contingent, requiring continual attention to the changing circumstances of stakeholders, landscapes, and ecosystems; it occurs at a variety of temporal and spatial scales. Minimizing adverse outcomes involves controlling fires and fire regimes, increasing the resistance of assets to fires, locating or relocating assets away from the path of fires, and, as a probability of adverse impacts often remains, assisting recovery in the short term while promoting the adaptation of societies in the long term. There are short- and long-term aspects to each aspect of minimization. Controlling fires and fire regimes may involve fire suppression and fuel treatments such as prescribed burning or non-fire treatments but also addresses issues associated with unwanted fire starts like arson. Increasing the resistance of assets can mean addressing the design and construction materials of a house or the use of personal protective equipment. Locating or relocating assets can mean leaving an area about to be impacted by fire or choosing a suitable place to live; it can also mean the planning of land use. Assisting recovery and promoting adaptation can involve insuring assets and sharing responsibility for preparedness for an event. There is no single, simple, solution. Perverse outcomes can occur. The number of minimizing techniques used, and the breadth and depth of their application, depends on the geographic mix of asset types. Premises for policy consideration are presented.