Campus News

Dean discusses need for help in underserved communities amid wildfires

Matthew Auer, dean of the School of Public and International Affairs, was quoted in a recent Terra Daily article about lower income families and wildfires.

Wildfires in many parts of the country have been increasing in occurrence and severity over the past decade or so. The fires have been creeping ever closer to cities, burning through towns along the way.

However, the fires are having a different impact on communities based on household income and economic disparities.

“We are learning about a growing number of people in the United States who have had their homeowner’s insurance canceled because they live in wildfire prone areas, leaving homeowners to shoulder the costs for fireproofing,” Auer said. “There are many mitigation strategies that could lower risks, but they are often out of reach for low-income households.”

While higher income households can take measures to prevent wildfire damage or destruction, lower income households don’t have those options.

“We actually have the tools to help mitigate risks from destructive wildfires, but we have to make sure that they are accessible to whole communities,” he said.

Auer describes some programs that are working to help local groups gain support for wildfire prevention and mitigation.

“[The] essential first step is getting everyone to agree that a plan is needed in the first place,” Auer said.

“All of the probabilistic forecasts say that this is the future,” he explained. “We have to get serious about wildfire risks in rural areas that don’t get much attention and recognize the large numbers of at-risk households that can’t fend for themselves.”