When wildfires hit, richer and whiter neighborhoods are more likely to get government support

Source(s): Bustle Digital Group

By AJ Dellinger

Wildfires like the ones that blazed their way through California and much of the West Coast earlier this year are capable of doing devastating amounts of damage — not just to the planet, but to entire communities that fall in the path of the flames. When neighborhoods are lost to these disastrous events, government agencies typically help those affected combat the causes of the fire to limit future damage. A new study published by Resources for the Future found that wealthy, white communities are more likely to get support during these rebuilding efforts than marginalized communities, leaving some of our most vulnerable populations at increased risk.

The study focuses largely on fuel treatment projects, which the federal government often pursues after a fire has damaged a community. Fuel treatment reduces the amount of flammable vegetation in areas that are prone to wildfires. This is done either by mechanical thinning, which cuts and clears out wood and brush that could serve as tinder to flame, or through prescribed fires that burn off existing fuel in a controlled manner before it can accumulate and help feed a wildfire.

Fuel treatment projects are typically expensive, so only a limited number of such projects can actually be carried out each year — a problem as wildfires grow increasingly common and devastating. Because of the prohibitive costs, the government can only perform so many fuel treatment projects each year. As it turns out, according to Resources for the Future, those projects are more likely to happen if the neighborhood near the treatment area is made up of a high percentage of high-income, well-educated, and white residents.


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