In our Wildfire Resilience Initiative, we support work to test and de-risk innovative solutions and technological breakthroughs that will improve our ability to manage fire, and increase the pace and scale of mitigation and stewardship.

What are the key factors that will influence the future of invention and investment in wildfire risk management? In partnership with WonderLabs, we are pleased to release an updated State of FireTech report (December 2023), which highlights three trends:

  • Changing fire regimes in the wildland-urban interface will need better methods to detect and track fires that matter.
  • Increasing impacts of fires in the built environment highlight the need to prioritize mitigations that matter for community resilience.
  • As we work to increase good fire and decrease ecosystem and community vulnerability to extreme wildfire, smoke exposure and toxicity — especially from high-intensity, severe wildfire — will require better smoke management to save lives.

Executive summary

Wildfire disasters worldwide, and especially from Canada’s long burning wildfires, contributed to skyrocketing emissions of over 400 megatons in 2023. This trend is likely to continue. Changing climate conditions and land use are projected to make wildfires more frequent and intense, with a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030, 30% by the end of 2050, and 50% by 2100.

The August 2023 Maui fires in Hawaii reiterate a trend that was observed in the 2017 Thomas fire in California and the 2021 Marshall Fire in Colorado: wildfire pathways are leading into the built environment. This trend is likely to worsen. In the United States alone, increased development in the wildland-urban interface and an estimated 87.6 million people living in cities by 2050 will lend more fuel for larger structure-to-structure conflagrations, and risk to human populations.

In addition to growing economic, fiscal, and environmental costs, wildfires cause chronic public health impacts due to smoke exposure. 27 times more people now experience heavy smoke exposure than a decade ago. Wildfire smoke impacts are inequitable and disproportionately affect outdoor workers, unhoused people, children, older adults, and people with pre-existing medical conditions. Smoke research in the United States links wildfire smoke with stalled or reversed air quality improvements for 30 states since 2016, with the worst effects in the west.

Research and policy analysis now underline the importance of mitigation efforts in and around the built environment to achieve wildfire resilience, including through the implementation of appropriate mechanical fuel treatments, increase in beneficial fire, and improvement in land use planning and home hardening at the community and county scales. While mitigation is increasingly a funding priority, mitigation and risk reduction innovations are currently among the least developed and hence, least funded in FireTech.

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