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Honey, I Shrunk the City! Comparing Measures of Urban Change Against Proximity to Wildfires

Since the 1950s, California wildfires have become increasingly frequent and more severe threats, fueled by climate change and warming temperatures. Collectively, drier summers, extended droughts, stronger winds, decreasing snowpack, and rising greenhouse gas emissions have led to longer fire seasons with devastating effects that include the loss of wildlife and human life, destruction of homes and infrastructure, and worsening air quality. Large wildfires often lead to billions of dollars in damages each, and in the U.S., more than 80% are caused by human activity.

Our research assesses the impacts of wildfires on urban change and development over time. Following a fire, do communities choose to relocate or rebuild? How do post-fire land uses and community demographics compare to pre-fire? Ultimately, what are the possible implications for planning, development and policy decisions in wildfire-prone areas? Our research focuses on Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and the effects of a significant increase in wildfires from 2000 through 2020 on the county’s (re) development.

Research Questions
How have increases in wildfire events between 2000-2010 and 2010-2020 influenced trends in urban change in Santa Rosa, California?
How do three distinct geospatial methodologies compare in analyzing these patterns?