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Washington residents are five times more likely to feel wildfire's impact compared to years past

Thursday, May 2, 2019by  Derek Wing

As the Northwest braces for an "above normal" risk of wildfire this year, PEMCO Insurance is out with a new poll that shows Washington residents are five times more likely to believe that they'll be directly impacted by wildfires, than they were four years ago.

PEMCO first asked Washington and Oregon residents about the threat of wildfire in 2015 and back then, just 5 percent of Washington respondents thought it was extremely likely that a blaze would directly affect them. Today, that number has increased fivefold to 25 percent.

Similarly in Oregon, residents are three times more likely to think there's an extreme chance wildfire will directly impact them (7 percent in 2015 vs. 22 percent in 2019). Across the Northwest, just 14 percent of residents say they won't be affected by wildfire at all.

Residents here have good reason to be concerned – a number of independent studies, including one by the Climate Impacts Group of University of Washington, have confirmed that the risk of wildfires will only increase over time.

"The Northwest is facing a new reality, and our poll confirms that people are increasingly concerned about the real threat of wildfire – whether it's because they live in an area where wildfire can cause property damage or injury, or even simply because of the smoky haze that now descends on western areas of our region during wildfire season," said PEMCO Spokesperson Derek Wing. "While there are some aspects of wildfire that are out of our control, by being cautious and by planning ahead, we can work together to reduce the risk and impact of wildfires." 

For some, this could mean performing simple home maintenance by creating a defensible space around your property. Keeping grass mowed and watered within 30 feet of your home, pruning back trees and clearing wood debris around your property, and mulching with pumice or gravel are all important parts of prevention.

Residents should also invest time in creating a family emergency plan and disaster preparedness kit in case of a worst-case scenario like an ordered evacuation. Remembering, too, that 84 percent of wildfires are sparked by humans, being cautious when using fire starters and knowing how to react during an emergency situation can reduce panic and improve wildfire prevention.

The best part – protecting your home can create a domino effect throughout the region. When you're prepared, your neighbors are better equipped, too. The fires can't spread from one property to the next if there's nothing to burn, and by working together neighbors can minimize common wildfire fuels.  

"Already we have seen Northwest neighbors coming together to fight the threat of wildfires," Wing said. "As people become more aware of the risk, they aren't walking away from the fight."

For a complete summary of PEMCO's poll results, visit www.pemco.com/blog/nw-polls where you'll find the responses collected by FBK Research of Seattle in January 2019.

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About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey, conducted by FBK Research of Seattle, that asked Washington and Oregon residents questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 600 respondents in Washington and 600 in Oregon, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range.

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personTrudy Ann Cameron05/04/2019 08:06 AM
Are the datasets produced by these wildfire surveys potentially available for academic research? We are seeking sources of identity-redacted information about wildfire "risk salience" that can be indexed by time and some degree of spatial location (zip, county, etc.), to be combined with other similarly indexed sociodemographic and event data to create a longitudinal dataset. This would be for Ph.D. dissertation research by a doctoral candidate in the Department of Economics. - Trudy Ann Cameron (Mikesell Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics), Department of Economics, University of Oregon

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