Date of Award

5-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Natural Resources

Major Professor

J. Mark Fly

Committee Members

David S. Buckley, Joanne Logan, David M. Ostermeier

Abstract

The growing Wildland Urban Interface community in the Chilhowee Mountain area of Blount County, Tennessee, like many other forested areas in the mountains and hills of East Tennessee, was identified by officials of the Tennessee Division of Forestry as being a high risk area for wildfire. The purpose of this research was to help wildfire managers better understand how to facilitate wildfire protection and mitigation in the Chilhowee Mountain area. A mail survey was sent to the 474 property owners in the communities of Campers Paradise, Happy Valley, and Top of the World. The survey contained 33 questions related to wildfire risk, property characteristics, residential status, experience with wildfire, fire risk perception, and preferences for wildfire reduction strategies. A total of 159 property owners participated in the survey with an overall response rate of 35%. The data were weighted to represent the residential status of the property owners (resident, absentee, and lot owners).

Homeowners were more likely to perceive higher risk severity and feel more vulnerable than lot owners and they do not see a wildfire affecting them personally as much as their property or possessions. Perceived risk severity and risk vulnerability was positively correlated with fire risk reduction behaviors for all property owners. The reasons given for not implementing protective measures were (in rank order) vacation home/not living there, cost, age/physical ability, lack of fire fighting equipment/water, time, only so much one can do, and neighbors/others pose risks. Two-thirds of the property owners believe there should be no restriction on construction in areas highly susceptible to wildfire, however, almost three out of four indicated it should be required that home buyers be informed when a house they are considering for purchase is in a fire risk zone.

There is a considerable need for agencies to work collaboratively in order to develop effective wildfire protection programs in communities. With a multi-agency team, a strong, coordinated message can be delivered to WUI communities. For wildfire risk mitigation to be effective over the long run, a community must be able to sustain involvement in wildfire risk reduction strategies into the future.

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