Abstract for: A dynamic perspective on the evolution of firefighting policy for the US urban sprawl

This study investigates the relationship between housing units in the US urban sprawl on the supply of and demand for firefighting services in the wildlands. Growing numbers of housing units in those areas means higher numbers of human-caused ignitions and brings the need for full fire suppression when a fire occurs, leading to accumulation of fire fuel and more frequent fire events. Housing units in the wildlands quickly decrease the public services’ firefighting capacity during a wildfire, as staff and equipment need to be concentrated where there are people and properties. Climate change effects and past fire suppression policies also contribute to higher fuel loads, raising fire risk. The combination of these factors has increased demand for firefighting services in the urban sprawl, creating a gap in the market for private firefighters. The latter have proliferated, and currently make up circa 40% of total capacity. The possibility to contract private firefighters reduces actual and perceived risk of wildfires in the urban sprawl and enables growth of the sprawl, further increasing fire risk in the long run. We map these interconnections using Causal Loop Diagrams and track their evolution over time with the help of a small system dynamics model.