These maps show how wildfires are changing in the United States

Over the past two decades, the area burned by wildfires in the western United States has quadrupled; in the Great Plains, it is sevenfold. The number of individual wildfires has also increased in almost all parts of the country, and as climate change progresses, the fires will get worse. A new tool helps show how likely your house or apartment (or a house you might want to buy) will be to wildfires.

“To date, nothing from government or private industry has looked at the specific wildfire risk of a building today, how your home might be affected, and then how that will change over time. next 30 years because of climate change,” says Matthew Eby, founder and executive director of First Street Foundation, the nonprofit that released the new tool, called Fire Factor.

[Image: courtesy First Street Foundation]

The team developed a peer-reviewed model that takes into account multiple factors, from topography to the presence of combustible fuels like trees, and then ran it repeatedly under a wide range of weather conditions. “We need to run this model 100 million times, on all of its components, to create a probabilistic map of how wildfires can move across the landscape,” says Ed Kerns, chief data officer at the First Street Foundation. . For each property, the model takes into account specific building materials and age, as older homes may be less likely to have features such as vents that prevent hot embers from being sucked into an attic.

[Image: courtesy First Street Foundation]

A tool the nonprofit built earlier, called Flood Factor, calculates the risk of flooding in specific homes. Now the flood and fire tools will be available on a site called Risk Factor. The same data will also be available on Realtor.com, where potential buyers can quickly understand the risks of any property.

The risks are not limited to states like California or Colorado; fires are also increasing across much of the country, including southeastern states like the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee. “There’s a lot of fuel there, a lot of forest, a lot of vegetation,” Kerns says. “And it’s going to get drier and hotter inside with climate change. These fuels will dry out and become more combustible. This can happen quickly, even in wet, humid states like Florida, which already experiences major fires frequently.

When homeowners better understand their risk, they can take steps to protect their home, such as clearing vegetation to create a buffer zone around the house or replacing a wooden roof with metal. Governments can also use the model to look at larger maps and strategize to add larger infrastructure like firebreaks, or to decide which communities are most at risk and should be the first to get funding for become more resilient.

As people consider their risk of fire or flooding, Eby recommends looking beyond their own address. “The house is as safe as the community it is part of,” he says. “Unfortunately some homes are totally safe, and they see the fire factor or the flood factor for their individual property and think it’s okay, but you kind of have to scroll down a bit to see what’s going on in the community – what roads are at risk, what critical infrastructure is at risk, what social infrastructure such as schools and government buildings are at risk – so that you kind of understand the bigger picture.

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