More than half of US properties face at least some wildfire risk

More than half of all homes, 56 percent, in the lower 48 states face at least some wildfire risk in the coming decades, according to a first-of-its-kind report released today by the nonprofit research organization First Street Foundation.

First Street gave each address in the continental US a rating from one to 10, with one representing almost no risk and 10 representing a 36 percent or greater chance that a property could be caught in a wildfire at some point. time for the next three decades. More than 20 million properties in the continental US are threatened by at least “moderate” wildfire risk. Those houses have up to a 6 percent chance of burning down at some point during a 30-year period, the typical time period for a home mortgage.

Even a 1 percent chance of being in a wildfire is worth taking seriously. By comparison, the federal government considers an area with a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year as a “Special Flood Hazard Area” on maps used to determine flood insurance rates. But unlike the floods, The New York Times Reports, there has been no comprehensive property-level data on wildfire risk so far.

Now, you can type an address into First Street’s online search tool to see the organization’s fire risk rating for that property (you’ll also find a First Street flood risk rating). The information will also be incorporated into Realtor.com.

To assess the risk of each property, First Street built a peer-reviewed model using government data on available fuels (dry vegetation) and weather patterns. Then, he was able to simulate more than 100 million wildfires to see which properties they might threaten.

Using First Street data, washington post reports that one in six Americans now lives in a place with “significant” wildfire risk.

Wildfire seasons have become more intense as climate change makes the western US hotter and drier. The past century of fire suppression has also made fires more devastating when they do break out, as suppression tactics have allowed dry vegetation to build up to dangerous levels rather than allowing it to burn in smaller, more sporadic flames. On top of that, residents have moved deeper into vulnerable places where urban development meets fire-prone ecosystems, especially in states with sky-high home prices like California. There has been a nearly tenfold increase in costs associated with wildfires from $8.5 billion between 2012 and 2016 to $79.8 billion in costs from 2018 to 2021, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Map of properties facing wildfire risk in the US;  annual probability of forest fires in 30 years.

Among properties facing wildfire risk, annual probability of wildfire in 30 years.
Image: First Street Foundation

Things will only get riskier as climate change continues to warm the planet, The Washington Post and First Street both warn. In 30 years, about one in five Americans will live in areas at significant risk.

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