Climate Change: Wildfires

Our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change are leading to higher temperatures, record-setting heat waves, and drier and more arid conditions in the Southwest. These conditions matched with underfunded forest management and more people living in fire-prone areas has led to more severe wildfires that impact more people. Since 2000, an average of 73,200 wildfires burned an average of 6.9 million acres, a figure which has nearly doubled the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s (3.3 million acres). In 2017, wildfires burned 10 million acres.

These conditions are having severe consequences on public health and access to services, job security, and economic productivity. Latino communities are more vulnerable to experiencing these wildfire impacts and Latino voters are not only aware of these impacts, but are ready for Congress to take action to address climate change, provide more funding for forest management, and ensure communities have access to the services they need to respond to wildfires and have the resources to plan and adapt before and rebuild after a wildfire disaster.

Why is this important to Latino communities?

Access & Health

  • Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including: coughing, trouble breathing normally, stinging eyes, a scratchy throat, runny nose, irritated sinuses, wheezing and shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, an asthma attack, tiredness, and a fast heartbeat. Extended or over exposure to fire smoke can lead to aggravated chronic heart, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • In 2015, 19.5% of the Latino population was not covered by health insurance, as compared to 6.3% of the white population that is uninsured, which means Latinos are less likely to have access to healthcare services to prevent and treat these health threats caused by wildfires and resulting air pollution.
  • The socioeconomic vulnerability to wildfires and potential for land to burn correlate with places with high Latino populations. Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans experience a 50% greater vulnerability to wildfire than other census tracts. These socioeconomic vulnerabilities and lack of resources turn hazards into disasters and drastically reduce the ability for these communities to prepare and recover from wildfires.
  • A Duke University report outlines the barriers and challenges experienced by Latino and immigrant communities dealing with disasters:
    • Lack of inclusion of all community members in disaster planning Linguistic barriers in disaster preparedness and response
    • Lack of readily available translated and understandable preparedness materials
    • Lack of easily accessible translated emergency alerts
    • Lack of translated signage and culturally sensitive bilingual/multilingual service providers
    • Lack of cultural competence by service providers
    • Failure to inform immigrants of their right to disaster aid
    • Failure to address fears of deportation and public charge and distrust of government
    • Discrimination and racial profiling leading to exclusion of individuals from shelters and aid and inquiries about immigration status
    • Lack of transportation assistance (especially for migrant workers) Unclear process for responding to loss of documents (by USCIS)
    • Failure to acknowledge structural inequities and different social structures in diverse, rural communities Lack of coordination between different government agencies and tiers in disaster response.

Jobs & Economy

  • In 2017, 63% of the nationwide acreage burned by wildfires was on federal lands (6.3 million acres). The other 37% of the acreage burned occurred on state, local, or privately owned lands. Wildfires on public and private lands have direct consequences for recreation and tourism, tax revenue, and communities across the country, including Latinos.
    • The outdoor recreation economy generates $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.
    • 94% of Latinos see public lands, such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas as an “essential part” of the economies in these states.
  • In 2017 alone, the federal fire fighting suppression costs totaled $2,918,165,000.59 Federal suppression costs accounts for approximately 8% of total wildfire costs. Overall, short-term expenses such as relief aid, evacuation services, and home and property loss comprise around 35% of total wildfire costs.
    • Related costs from long-term damages, which can take years to fully manifest, account for approximately 65% of total wildfire costs, which states, local entities, individuals and businesses primarily bear in damages and costs due to ecosystem degradation, loss of recreation and tourism economies, depreciated property values, lost taxes and business, and landscape rehabilitation.
    • 12 million Americans are socially vulnerable to wildfires. In other words, a wildfire event could be devastating. Wildfire vulnerability is spread disproportionately across race and ethnicity, with census tracts that were majority African-American, Latino or Native American experiencing 50% greater vulnerability to wildfire compared to other census tracts.
    • Wildfires since 1984 have affected nearly 6 million people, directly caused over 1,900 deaths, and generated more than $52 billion in economic costs.
    • Communities in lower-income brackets and communities of color tend to live in the most vulnerable housing and lack adequate resources to take loss-reduction and evacuation measures.
    • Many low-income families are uninsured, and low-income families that rent their homes are reliant on landlords or public housing agencies to enact structural loss prevention measures.
    • In California, for example, many individuals in rural areas, low-income neighborhoods, and immigrant communities do not have access to the resources necessary to pay for insurance, rebuilding, or continual investment in fire safety, thereby increasing their vulnerability to wildfire. These disparities became very clear after the 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County, California, where price gouging on rentals worsened an already dire housing shortage.

Public Opinion

  • 67% of Latino voters in the West think wildfires are more of a problem now than 10 years ago, 41% of whom attribute this to climate change, 33% to drought, and 28% to more people living in fire prone areas.
  • 41% of Latino voters in the West think uncontrollable wildfires that threaten homes and property is either an extremely or very serious problem in their state.
  • 87% of Latino voters, compared to 84% of total voters, think it is either extremely or very important to fund forest management to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

About Us

HAF improves the lives of Hispanics in the United States and promotes civic engagement by educating, motivating and helping them access trustworthy support systems.

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