Friday, September 26, 2008

fire-prone stress

Running Springs, early Oct. 23 2007. Photo by Guy McCarthy.

RIVERSIDE - A federal study released Wednesday evening shows that many residents in fire-prone communities surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest - one of the most flammable in the United States - have stress and anxiety related to living in high-hazard areas.

Focus groups for the study were held in Angelus Oaks, Forest Falls, Lake Arrowhead, Crestline, Big Bear, Wrightwood and Idyllwild in March and April 2007 - before the destructive fires of October 2007.

Psychological impacts can linger for years after a fire, according to "The Experience of Community Residents in a Fire-Prone Ecosystem: A Case Study on the San Bernardino National Forest."

The study was completed this summer by Patricia Winter, a U.S. Forest Service research social scientist at the Forest Fire Laboratory in Riverside, and George Cvetkovich, a psychology professor at the Western Washington University Center for Cross-Cultural Research.

Winter and Cvetkovich conducted the study in the San Bernardino National Forest because it is one of the most fire-prone in the country, according to the Forest Service.

It is also the nation's most urbanized mountain forest, with more than 100,000 residents from Wrightwood to Idyllwild.

Recent destructive fires in the San Bernardino National Forest include the Old Fire of October 2003, the Esperanza Fire of October 2006, and the Slide and Grass Valley fires of October 2007. Hundreds of homes have been lost in the past five years, and the death toll includes the five-man crew of U.S. Forest Service Engine 57, who died Oct. 26 2006 as they tried to protect a vacant home in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Howling Santa Ana winds - an annual feature of Southern California weather - helped create firestorm conditions at times during each of these incidents.

"The communities included in this study are adjacent to the national forest and other federal lands and have been listed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as Hazard Level Code 3, indicating the highest fire threat level," Winter and Cvetkovich wrote in their introduction.

Most residents in fire-prone communities surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest have taken steps to protect their homes from wildland fires, according to Winter and Cvetkovich.

About 94 percent of homeowners who participated in surveys and focus group discussions in 2007 had taken defensible-space steps, according to the study. About 75 percent reduced flammable vegetation because it was required.

But inadequate financial resources, physical limitations, and a desire to leave the landscape unchanged were commonly cited as reasons for not taking action to protect homes from wildland fires, according to Winter and Cvetkovich.

The study can be found at this address:

Early Oct. 23 2007 in Running Springs. Photo by Guy McCarthy.

For a report from Running Springs during the Slide Fire, click here.


No comments: