Social Vulnerability of the People Exposed to Wildfires in U.S. West Coast States

Arash Modaresi Rad, Boise State University
John T. Abatzoglou, University of California
Erica Fleishman, Oregon State University
Miranda H. Mockrin, U.S.D.A. Forest Service
Volker C. Radeloff, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Yavar Pourmohamad, Boise State University
Megan Cattau, Boise State University
J. Michael Johnson, Lynker Technologies LLC
Philip Higuera, University of Montana
Nicholas J. Nauslar, Bureau of Land Management
Mojtaba Sadegh, Boise State University


Understanding of the vulnerability of populations exposed to wildfires is limited. We used an index from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess the social vulnerability of populations exposed to wildfire from 2000–2021 in California, Oregon, and Washington, which accounted for 90% of exposures in the western United States. The number of people exposed to fire from 2000–2010 to 2011–2021 increased substantially, with the largest increase, nearly 250%, for people with high social vulnerability. In Oregon and Washington, a higher percentage of exposed people were highly vulnerable (>40%) than in California (~8%). Increased social vulnerability of populations in burned areas was the primary contributor to increased exposure of the highly vulnerable in California, whereas encroachment of wildfires on vulnerable populations was the primary contributor in Oregon and Washington. Our results emphasize the importance of integrating the vulnerability of at-risk populations in wildfire mitigation and adaptation plans.