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Psychological Impacts of Experiencing a Wildfire

Photo of Trees burned along a hillside at the edge of the 2011 Wallow Fire. Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest Service.Trees burned along a hillside at the edge of the 2011 Wallow Fire. Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest Service.Snapshot : New research by Forest Service scientists is examining how wildfire impacts to the landscape affect the post-fire psychological health of people living nearby. The findings suggest that landscapes that are dramatically changed by a wildfire may lose their value as a source of stress relief or solace for residents.

Principal Investigators(s) :
McCaffrey, Sarah M. 
Research Location : Apache County, Arizona
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 863

Summary

Being threatened by wildfires is an obvious source of stress, yet there has been surprisingly little research about whether there are longer term psychological impacts of experiencing a wildfire. One year after the 2011 Wallow Fire (which burned 733 square miles in eastern Arizona), a Forest Service scientist and researchers from the UCLA School of Medicine examined the health impacts of experiencing the fire on households in the immediate area. The study included a range of physical and mental health measures and a series of questions to assess distress caused by wildfire related changes to the surrounding natural environment. The research found that two variables, a greater sense of loss of a valued landscape and experiencing negative financial effects from the fire, predicted clinically significant psychological distress. Although one might expect that loss of a beloved landscape would be more important for full-time than part-time residents, no such distinction was found. In addition, people with strong financial and familial resources were more likely to have better psychological recovery outcomes over the long-term. These results highlight the need for post-wildfire programs that help rebuild not just homes, but the community’s connection with a transformed local landscape.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • David Eisenman, Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research, Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Center for Public Health and Disasters, UCLA-Fielding School of Public Health
  • Grant Marshal, RAND Corporation
  • Ian Donatello, Center for Public Health and Disasters, UCLA-Fielding School of Public Health

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