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Human and infrastructure exposure to large wildfires in the United States

July 3, 2023

An increasing number of wildfire disasters have occurred in recent years in the United States. Here we demonstrate that cumulative primary human exposure—the population residing within the perimeters of large wildfires—was 594,850 people from 2000 to 2019 across the contiguous United States (CONUS), 82% of which occurred in the western United States. Primary population exposure increased by 125% in the CONUS in the past two decades; it was noted that there were large statistical uncertainties in the trend analysis due to the short study timeline. Population dynamics from 2000 to 2019 alone accounted for 24% of the observed increase rate in human exposure, and an increased wildfire extent drove the majority of the observed trends. In addition, we document the widespread exposure of roads (412,155 km) and transmission powerlines (14,835 km) to large wildfires in the CONUS, with a relative increase of 58% and 70% in the past two decades, respectively. Our results highlight that deliberate mitigation and adaptation efforts to help societies cope with wildfires are ever more needed.

Publication Year 2023
Title Human and infrastructure exposure to large wildfires in the United States
DOI 10.1038/s41893-023-01163-z
Authors Arash Modaresi Rad, John T. Abatzoglou, Jason R. Kreitler, Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, Amir AghaKouchak, Nicholas Hudyma, NIcholas Nauslar, Mojtaba Sadegh
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Sustainability
Index ID 70249392
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center