PORTLAND, Ore. August 29, 2005. Do wildfires
influence the housing market? Is it a consideration when people
buy or build?
Geoffrey Donovan, an economist at the USDA Forest
Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland, Ore., and his colleagues
collaborated with the Colorado Springs Fire Department in Colorado
to answer these questions.
The fire department developed a computer
model to rate the wildfire risk of 35,000 parcels in the city’s
wildland-urban interface. Each parcel was given a fire risk rating:
low, medium, high, very
high, or extreme. The information was posted in 2002 on a fire
department Web site accessible to homeowners who wanted to determine
the risk rating of their home and learn how to reduce fire risk.
“We found that before the wildfire risk ratings were made available,” says
Donovan, “houses at higher risk from wildfire had higher sales prices than
similar houses with a lower wildfire risk. This result seemed counterintuitive,
until we considered that factors that increase a home’s wildfire risk,
such as being located on a ridge, can also have desirable effects such as better
“However,” he continues, “after the wildfire risk ratings were
released, we no longer observed a relationship between wildfire risk and housing
prices. This was largely due to a change in tastes for flammable building materials.
“For example, before wildfire risk ratings were released,
a wood roof added nearly $12,000 to the home price, whereas after
wildfire risk ratings were made
available, houses with wood roofs sold for $5,000 less than houses with
less flammable roofs. It appears that the Fire Department’s
program successfully changed homeowner’s attitudes concerning
Wildfires continue to destroy homes as more
and more people live closer to wildland areas. Nationally, wildfires
destroyed an average of 2,500
up from an average of 900 burned between 1985 and 1994.
the study with Donovan are Captain Bill Mills and his team at
the Colorado Springs Fire Department; Patricia Champ, Rocky Mountain
Research Station/USDA Forest Service; and David Butry, Southern Research
For more information about the Colorado survey visit
http://csfd.springsgov.com/, and to learn more about the USDA
Forest Service Research and Development