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As of September, 2017 was already the most expensive year on record for U.S. fire suppression as costs passed $2 billion.

The U.S. Forest Service is now spending at least 55% of their budget on suppression, compared to 15% in past years; and this preceded the current wildfires raging through California. By December 15, the Thomas Fire in Southern California had become the fourth largest in the state’s history, with tens of thousands ordered to evacuate, over 379 square miles of terrain burned and more than 950 buildings destroyed.

Fire suppression costs and the amount of land burned, especially near urban areas, has been steadily increasing over the last several decades, in part due to the growth in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) – the areas where denser populations intersect with wildfire risk. Last year saw some of the most destructive urban fires in North American history in Blue Cut, California; Gatlinburg, Tennessee; and Fort McMurray, Alberta – the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

This trend is likely to continue as the climate changes, development in the wildland-urban interface accelerates, and forest management practices continue to be constrained by local environmental, economic, and political conditions. For these reasons, we must hasten efforts to build communities’ resilience to the reality of wildfire, by creating safer and more fire-adapted communities through more effective fire protection, prevention, and response.

“Wildfire: A Changing Landscape,” a newly published report from the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) at Northeastern University and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) addresses this urgent need. Focused primarily on the effects of wildfires on vulnerable communities and critical infrastructure, the report is the result of a collaboration at the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It features critical findings and recommendations, as well as a checklist for city officials and planners.

Wildfire: A Changing Landscape by Global Resilience Institute on Scribd

Image: The Thomas fire burns through Los Padres National Forest near Ojai, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)


The research and educational mission of the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) is to develop and deploy practical and innovative tools, applications, and skills that drive social and technical changes which strengthen the capacity of individuals, communities, systems and networks to adapt to an increasingly turbulent world. Our objective is to help advance preparedness at multiple levels to effectively respond to slowly emerging disruptions and sudden disasters, both human-made and naturally-occurring. [GRI Communications Manager Christine Boynton:]