Public Perspectives of Fire Management
Wildland fire and associated management efforts are dominant topics in natural resource fields. Smoke from fires can be a nuisance and pose serious health risks and aggravate pre-existing health conditions. When it results in reduced visibility near roadways, smoke can also pose hazardous driving conditions and reduce the scenic value of vistas. Communicating about smoke, whether in the preparation phases before a planned burn or during a wildfire event, can enable those at risk to make informed decisions to minimize their exposure to smoke or choose alternate activities that mitigate smoke completely. To date, very little research has been completed on the social aspects of smoke, such as communication or public perceptions. Here, we present findings from an exploratory study that examined challenges and opportunities related to communication (within agencies or to the public) for management of smoke from wildland fires. Interviews were conducted in California, Oregon, Montana, and South Carolina among a purposive sample of individuals, who are involved in fire or smoke management. Findings indicate that smoke poses several challenges to management agencies. Findings also provide insight into potential strategies to address such challenges by improving communication in both inter- and intra-agency situations as well as with members of the public. In particular, prioritizing fire and smoke-related communication within agencies, allocating agency resources specifically for training in communication and outreach endeavors, taking advantage of existing resources including informal social networks among the public, and building long-term relationships both between agencies and with the public were viewed as effective.