Under-Reporting of Wildland Fires in NFIRS: California
David T. Butry, Douglas S. Thomas
The absence of a comprehensive database on fire occurrence along with the possibility of inaccurate data entry in current datasets means that some proportion of wildfires is not reported and the damage they cause is to some extent unknown. Without this information, decision makers must allocate firefighting and fire prevention resources without knowing the risk that fire poses to the community. This paper examines wildfires reported in the NFIRS database and compares it to two other databases to understand the extent of underreporting of wildland fires in the NFIRS system. The paper then discusses a series of large wildland fires to examine reporting. Additionally, the paper uses a Generalized Linear Model to identify the conditions where large wildfires go unreported. This paper shows that the NFIRS database, which is the primary fire database in the US, significantly underreports wildland fires. Evidence from California suggests that only 32 % of fires within local jurisdiction detected via MODIS satellite were identified in the NFIRS database; thus, there is, potentially, a significant number of fires going unreported. Examining eight large fires in California, only 16 % of the structures damaged or destroyed, as reported in CALFIRE, were reported in NFIRS. Areas with underreporting tend to have a higher level of poverty, higher population density, higher level of people without vehicles, lower income, a higher level of single parents with children under 18, as well as a higher level of people under the age of 18.