Smoke on the Hill: A Comparative Study of Wildfire and Two Communities

Document Type


Journal/Book Title

Western Journal of Applied Forestry

Publication Date



Society of American Foresters





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Wildfire represents a serious challenge to communities in the rural West. After decades of fire suppression, land managers now perceive a greater role for wildfire in the ecosystem. In the meantime, migration patterns from urban to rural settings have increased the number of people living in forested areas throughout the West, therefore; wildfires are a threat to more homes than ever in the region. This study focuses on two communities' response to wildfires during the intense fire season of 1994. Through qualitative research methods, the study analyzes these diverse responses in the context of local social history. Residents of the two communities in north central Washington differed markedly in their perceptions of the wildfires and the followup recovery efforts. We argue that these differences are in large part due to differences in the communities' historical development patterns, geographical location, and the resulting differences in social composition and world views of members. The historical trajectory and everyday life in each of the two communities serve to frame differing attitudes and positions regarding forest and fire management, which can be explained further by using three distinct perspectives on community. Lessons are drawn for forest/fire managers that center on the critical role of trust in successful fire management.


Originally published by the Society of American Foresters. Publisher's PDF available through remote link.