The Wildfire Research (WiRē) Team

Science Center Objects

Wildfires cost billions of dollars to suppress annually, yet they still devastate lives, communities, and ecosystems. While wildfire is a natural phenomenon, learning to live with wildfire is a social issue – so we need a social solution.

Fort Collins Science Center’s research economist Dr. James Meldrum works in close partnership with other researchers and wildfire practitioners as the Wildfire Research (WiRē) Team. The Team unites research and practice, collecting and using community-specific data to tailor programs that support local solutions, thereby integrating social science into wildfire education and mitigation programs. Concurrent with its on-the-ground efforts, the Team also actively contributes to academic literature.

The WiRē Team has a proven history with implementing a tiered wildfire risk assessment approach to inform wildfire education programs administered by practitioner partners. This systematic collection of parcel level wildfire risk and social data for an entire community sets the approach apart from other models of wildfire risk assessment. At the core of our approach are two data collection efforts:

1) rapid wildfire risk assessments that serve as an indicator of relative risk of parcels within a community, and

2) social surveys of the residents of the assessed parcels to investigate homeowners’ perceptions of wildfire risk, risk mitigation behaviors, and responses to incentives to mitigate risk.

Members of the Wildfire Research (WiRe) Team

Members of the Wildfire Research (WiRe) Team

(Public domain.)


Learn more about the Wildfire Research Team (WiRē)


Core Concepts of the WiRē Team

The WiRē Team came into existence organically, evolving from the ideas of several passionate wildfire practitioners and researchers. The researchers have found that working in partnership with the practitioners improves their science by changing how they view problems and ask questions. Likewise, the practitioners recognize the benefits of science-based, programmatic changes that help them understand and quantify programmatic outcomes.

Our core concepts are backed by a combination of experience and research:

  • Residents (homeowners as well as renters) are critical actors in the wildland-urban interface wildfire problem. Their lives and properties are exposed to the wildfire hazard, and they can take actions to reduce their risk. Our goal is to use social science to foster understanding for the development of effective wildfire education programs that result in behavioral change.

  • Action is central to adaptation. We primarily focus on wildfire risk mitigation actions that reduce risk on private land. Actions (or behaviors) are related to attitudes and perceptions, therefore we are interested in all three.

  • People and their decisions are complex. We emphasize the value of conducting social science and using it to guide programs and policy. Conventional wisdom and “common sense” can be misleading. Local social data foster understanding of the community and context in which residents make decisions and can inform the development of effective programs.

  • Decisions are not made in a vacuum. Social and situational context matter. Many aspects of social context relate to decisions. People are influenced by neighbor interactions, community-level actions and programs, and local experts. The WiRē approach attends to the differences across contexts while also pursuing broader understandings.