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Wildfires Harm Communities of Color and Low Income Communities the Worst

California is being devastated by two of the deadliest wildfires in state history, the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire, which are ravaging the towns of Paradise, Malibu, and Thousand Oaks. New research show the wildfires’ disproportionate impact on low income communities and communities of color. 

A University of Washington study found that communities that are majority Black, Hispanic, or Native American experience 50 percent greater vulnerability to wildfires when compared to non-hispanic white communities. This is because low-income communities and communities of color have less access to cars for evacuation, lack access to bilingual emergency information, and face shortages of affordable housing after impact.

Percentage of population by census tract compared to wildfire vulnerability

These fires have destroyed over 6,500 homes in Paradise and 350 in Malibu. Although both communities are over 80% white, displaced citizens of Paradise are particularly vulnerable to the destruction. Their median income in 2016 was $47,533 compared to $116,904 in Malibu. People in Paradise will have less money to rebuild, and have a more difficult time finding jobs after relocation. The Camp and Woolsey fires are a heartbreaking tragedy for all, but we have to think about those that are least able to recover from the destruction.

The City Project works to stop environmental degradation that disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. The destruction from wildfire is just as much a social issue as it is ecological. The City Project implores emergency organizations to take racial and socio-economic factors into account when helping communities prepare for and recover from wildfires.

Alex RuppertUCLA Intern