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Wildfire Impacts Communities of Color, Low-Income Areas, Hardest

David Winegar

Some thirty-seven million Americans live in areas at high risk of wildfire, a new report says. The report looks at which counties in America are most likely to see disproportionate impacts of wildfires. 

Nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics found that more than half the residents living in fire-prone areas are Black, Indigenous or people of color. 

Headwaters analyzed the risks of fire and smoke for each county in America, as well as information about residents – including age, race, income level and English proficiency. 

Associate Director Kelly Pohl says those factors can add to the impact of fires, which are growing larger and more frequent due to climate change.

"Wildfire smoke and environmental stress can exacerbate existing medical conditions which are more common among the elderly, the disabled and people living in poverty," Pohl said

For example, Owyhee County, Idaho has a disproportionately high share of residents with disabilities. And in Park County, Colorado, a fifth of the population is older than 65.

Pohl hopes the report will guide policy makers as they decide where to invest in wildfire resilience. 

The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.