Mapping Wildfire Evacuation Vulnerability in the Western US: The Limits of Infrastructure

GeoJournalGeoJournal, Published Online 21 May 2011

Thomas J. Cova, David M. Theobald, John B. Norman, and Laura K. Siebeneck

“Residential development in fire-prone areas of the western United States is a growing concern. The steady addition of homes to this region places more people and property at risk each year. In many areas housing is increasing without commensurate improvements in the road network, particularly in regards to the number, capacity and arrangement of community exit roads. This results in steadily increasing minimum evacuation times, as each additional household contributes to potential evacuation travel-demand in a wildfire. The goal of this research is to perform a comprehensive geographic search of the western U.S. for communities in wildfire-prone areas that may represent difficult evacuations due to constrained egress. The problem is formulated as a spatial search for fire-prone communities with a high ratio of households-to-exits and solved using methods in spatial optimization and geographic information systems (GIS). The results reveal an initial inventory and ranking of the most difficult wildfire evacuations in the West. These communities share a unique vulnerability in that all residents may not be able to evacuate in scenarios with short warning time. For this reason they represent prime candidates for emergency planning, and monitoring their development is a growing need.”