My Honors Thesis Research Findings

Click here for a link to my published honors thesis, titled California’s Wildfire Problem: The Neglected Role of Class and Housing. Below is the abstract for a quick read on my work.

Abstract: Wildfires are one type of natural disaster increasing in size and severity, especially in the state of California. While climate change is more studied as a contributing factor, one under-researched area is the construction of housing in wildlands (known in the literature as the wildland-urban interface, or WUI). Housing construction in the WUI makes good fire practices, like performing controlled burns in ecosystems prone to regular burning, more difficult. This thesis examines the class dynamics of housing construction in the WUI through a political ecological framework that exposes the ecological distribution conflicts that arise from unequal distributions of wildfire-related costs, responsibilities, and risks. In order to better understand why people are moving to ecologically fragile areas in California that are prone to wildfire, I perform a first of its kind income analysis on all WUI areas in California to determine the class breakdown of those living in these areas, using income as a proxy for socioeconomic class. I find that lower and middle class households make up the majority of those residing in the WUI, constituting 72 percent of WUI population, 75 percent of WUI housing units, and 84 percent of WUI acres. I also use the Camp Fire in Paradise, California as a case study to illustrate the relationships between wildfire, class, and the WUI. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is used to map the fire perimeter, median household income, and the WUI as a means for visualizing these relationships. Paradise was both almost entirely WUI, and inhabited by low- and lower-middle income residents. This one case study is part of a much wider problem in California since 1 in 13 houses is in a WUI area, where fires are more likely. These findings together show that addressing the wildfire problem in California will require tackling not only the climate crisis, but also the affordable housing crisis that is pushing low and middle class households to the more affordable, yet ecologically vulnerable WUI.

I participated in Drew University’s annual Day of Scholars event in which I presented work from my honors thesis and answered questions from the audience during the live event. Below is the video of my pre-recorded presentation.