Rising wildfire risk to houses in the United States, especially in grasslands and shrublands

By Radeloff et al.
November 9, 2023
Category: Forestry
Region: United States

The number of homes destroyed by wildfires has doubled over the past 30 years, and most of them were in grasslands and shrublands, not near forests. Wildfire risks to homes are increasing, especially in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), where wildland vegetation and houses are in close proximity. Notably, we found that more houses are exposed to and destroyed by grassland and shrubland fires than by forest fires in the United States. Destruction was more likely in forest fires, but they burned less WUI. The number of houses within wildfire perimeters has doubled since the 1990s because of both housing growth (47% of additionally exposed houses) and more burned area (53%). Most exposed houses were in the WUI, which grew substantially during the 2010s (2.6 million new WUI houses), albeit not as rapidly as before. Any WUI growth increases wildfire risk to houses though, and more fires increase the risk to existing WUI houses.

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