Perspectives Differ on Wildfire Risks

Firefighting managers and Okanagan Valley residents believe that hot, dry, windy weather is largely to blame for British Columbia's catastrophic wildfires during the summer of 2003. Fire experts at BC Forest Service's Protection Branch particularly feel that human factors played only a minor role in causing the devastation.

Homeowners in Vernon and Kelowna are more likely to attribute the large wildfires to problems with detecting fires, inadequate firefighting resources, and poor communication and coordination.

As the smoke cleared in 2003, how valley residents felt about forest fire risks differed between the two cities. Those from Vernon, a city untouched in 2003 by large fires, worried more about fires and felt less safe than did Kelowna residents, where wildfires had raged. Vernon homeowners were also more motivated to do something about reducing risks to property.

This is despite residents in both cities having similar perceptions about the probability and consequences of future forest fires. The responses follow a pattern observed elsewhere after disasters where the people directly affected feel relieved and relatively safer.

The perspectives revealed in these surveys shed light on the hurdles to motivating people in reducing risks of major wildfires. Researchers conducting this study express concern that the opinions held by firefighting managers about what caused the destructive fires may inhibit the managers in addressing factors they can control.


Joseph Arvai, Robin Gregory, Dan Ohlson, Bruce Blackwell and Robert Gray. 2006. Letdowns, Wake-Up Calls, and Constructed Preferences: People's Responses to Fuel and Wildfire Risks. Journal of Forestry. 104(4): 173-181.

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