(1) Background: Federal land managers in the US are charged with risk-based decision-making which requires them to know the risk and to direct resources accordingly. Without understanding the specific factors that produce risk, it is difficult to identify strategies to reduce it.
(2) Methods: Risk characterized by U.S. land managers during wildfires was evaluated from 2010-2017 to identify factors driving risk perceptions. Annotation from 282 wildfires in two regions with distinctive risk profiles, the Northwest and Southwest Geographic Areas, were qualitatively coded using the risk assessment framework of hazards, values, and probability from the Relative Risk Assessment in the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS).
(3) Results: The effects of climate on seasonal severity, fuel condition, and fire behavior emerged as the most influential factors driving risk perceptions and characterizations of risk in both regions. Monsoonal precipitation extended the longevity of landscape barriers, especially in the Southwest. The results suggest that a scarcity of values at risk and a mild fire environment produce low risk fires regardless of location, while high risk fires reflect specific local values and geography, under the umbrella of dry climate.
(4) Conclusions: the climatic contrasts between the two regions highlight how influential climate change will be on future characterizations of wildfire risk.