Nationwide study finds Californians moving to wildfire-prone areas, favoring space, affordability

ByMelanie Woodrow and Grace Manthey, Lindsey Feingold KGO logo
Saturday, December 10, 2022
Nationwide study finds Californians moving to wildfire-prone areas
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Researchers at the University of Vermont released a study called "Flocking to Fire" that found people are moving to wildfire-prone areas nationwide.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Researchers at the University of Vermont released a study Dec. 8 called "Flocking to Fire" that found people are moving to wildfire-prone areas nationwide.

The researchers looked at migration patterns of people from 2010 through 2020 using Census data and combined that with data on temperature, weather, landscape, demographic variables, and socioeconomic factors. While people are moving toward wildfire areas, the study also found people are moving away from other environmental hazards.

"While people do seem to be discouraged from moving to areas with high risks of heat waves and hurricanes, they actually seem to be attracted to counties with the highest risk of wildfires," said Interdisciplinary Environmental Scientist Mahalia Clark.

This is true for parts of California as well.

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Steve Culleton and his family survived the 2018 Camp Fire. Their home did not. Still, Culleton chose to stay in Paradise and rebuild. He says he's not surprised by the study's findings.

"After the fire everybody's property values were completely devaluated, so you could come in and buy an acre of land probably with a working septic system on it for $30,000, $35,000," said Culleton.

Value aside, Culleton says the community in areas sometimes prone to wildfires can't be beaten.

"If you want to get out of the big city, it's just a really nice place to live," said Culleton.

The ABC7 News Data Team further analyzed the data at a more granular level, finding that Solano, Alameda and Napa Counties had the greatest percentage population growth for neighborhoods with "high" wildfire risk.

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Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties had the greatest percentage population growth for neighborhoods with "very high" wildfire risk.

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"A lot of Americans like living out where they have a little bit more access to nature where they have a little bit more space, a backyard or they're out in the trees and sometimes those areas that are outside of the city are more affordable," said Clark.

The study's researchers hope their work will increase people's awareness of wildfire exposure and highlight the need for policymakers in affected areas to prioritize firefighting and fire prevention resources, as well as possibly discourage new development in areas where fires are more likely or most difficult to fight.

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