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Public Response to Wildfire: Is the Australian “Stay and Defend or Leave Early” Approach an Option for Wildfire Management in the United States?

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In the United States, the increasing costs and negative impacts of wildfires are causing fire managers and policymakers to reexamine traditional approaches to fire management including whether mass evacuation of populations threatened by wildfire is always the most appropriate option. This article examines the Australian “stay and defend or leave early” (SDLE) approach (which is not inherently the same as shelter in place) and the contextual factors that may make it more or less appropriate in the United States. We first discuss what SDLE actually entails and then examine four contextual areas that could influence how appropriate the approach might be in the United States: nature of fire risk, agency roles and responsibilities, education and shared responsibility, and human dimensions and decisionmaking. Although some contextual differences may mean that there are US locations where the approach would be inappropriate, they are not systematic enough to mean that the approach would not be viable in many localities. However, significant groundwork would need to be laid to ensure success.

Keywords: evacuation; fire management; public response; wildfire

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.

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