Our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change are leading to higher temperatures, record-setting heat waves, and drier and more arid conditions in the West.
These conditions matched with underfunded forest management, outdated land use policies and practices, and more people living in fire-prone areas has led to catastrophic wildfires that affect more people. Since 2000, an average of 73,200 wildfires burned an average of 6.9 million acres, a figure which has nearly doubled the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s (3.3 million acres). In 2017 alone, wildfires burned 10 million acres. In addition, a new study has found that approximately 85% of wildfires are caused by human activity and one in three houses in the US resides in the wildland urban interface (approximately 44 million homes). These conditions are having severe consequences on communities, most significantly marginalized and vulnerable communities, such as low-income, disabled, elderly and communities of color. The effects of wildfires range from access to emergency response, disaster relief, and public and mental health services to job security, economic productivity, land use planning and affordable housing.
Latino communities are more vulnerable to experiencing these adverse effects of wildfires and Latino voters are not only aware of these impacts, but are ready for decision makers to take action to address climate change, provide more funding for forest management and community readiness, and ensure communities have access to the services they need to plan for, respond to, and recover and adapt to life with wildfires.
Certain factors create additional barriers and challenges for Latino communities before, during, and after a wildfire. These may include distrust of government agencies, emergency responders or service providers; language and cultural barriers; access to information or alerts; or socioeconomic factors, such as access to transportation, adequate and affordable housing, income, and eligibility for insurance or government services.
There is a growing body of work, models, and frameworks in addition to grassroots, grasstops, and government efforts regarding emergency management and disaster relief practices to ensure Latino and other diverse communities are prepared for, appropriately respond to, and recover from disasters, such as hurricanes, heatwaves, severe storms and flooding. It is our job in the west, to acknowledge wildfires as equally catastrophic disasters that have the potential to devastate our communities, especially marginalized and vulnerable populations. In the face of rising temperatures, a more arid climate, and a growing wildland urban interface, acting now is particularly critical for Latino communities living in these fire prone regions with inequitable access to resources and services.
The resources and tools provided in this toolkit are meant for educational purposes and are not meant to be prescriptive for all communities. Communities across the country are unique and require informed agencies, organizations, and decision makers to make the best decisions for their constituents based on existing models and frameworks of what has and has not worked previously, in addition to active community engagement and collaborative planning for a tailored approach and innovative practices and policies. While this toolkit contains multiple resources, this is not a complete literature review and there are many frameworks, strategies and efforts that may be useful that are not included in this toolkit.
- The Unequal Vulnerability of Communities of Color to Wildfire ()
- Filling the Gaps: Inequitable Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Policies Serving Immigrant and Refugee Communities ()
- Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status ()
- Over 85% of Wildfires are Caused by Humans ()
- Wildfires Projected to Burn Twice as Many Acres by 2050 ()
- The New Normal: Wildfire Risk in the Face of Climate Change ()