Wildland Urban Interface
Wildfires in the western United States (US) are increasingly expensive, destructive, and deadly. Reducing wildfire losses is particularly challenging when fires frequently start on one land tenure and damage natural or developed assets on other ownerships. Managing wildfire risk in multijurisdictional landscapes has recently become a centerpiece of wildfire strategic planning, legislation, and risk research. However, important empirical knowledge gaps remain regarding cross-boundary fire activity in the western US. Here, we use lands administered by the US Forest Service as a study system to assess the causes, ignition locations, structure loss, and social and biophysical factors associated with cross-boundary fire activity over the past three decades. Results show that cross-boundary fires were primarily caused by humans on private lands. Cross-boundary ignitions, area burned, and structure losses were concentrated in California. Public lands managed by the US Forest Service were not the primary source of fires that destroyed the most structures. Cross-boundary fire activity peaked in moderately populated landscapes with dense road and jurisdictional boundary networks. Fire transmission is increasing, and evidence suggests it will continue to do so in the future. Effective cross-boundary fire risk management will require cross-scale risk co-governance. Focusing on minimizing damages to high-value assets may be more effective than excluding fire from multijurisdictional landscapes.