Socioeconomic vulnerability to wildfires: A case study in Galicia, NW Spain
Wildfires constitute a recurring natural risk, with greater consequences on the population of areas with human settlements in contact with the vegetation, the Wildland Urban-Interface (WUI). The number of people living in these areas has increased dramatically in recent years (e.g., Radeloff et al. 2018), raising wildfire risk and a growing concern, both for the environmental damages caused by fires, as well as for endangering properties and human lives. Scientific research indicates that the actions taken by the population for their protection reduces firefighting expenditures. It is essential, therefore, to have greater knowledge of the affected population and the factors that influence the potential impacts on it (Calkin et al. 2014). These aspects have been examined by many authors, in relation to forest fires under the term "vulnerability" (Paton and Tedim 2012). Previous studies on social vulnerability to forest fires indicate that the socially more vulnerable population has a lower capacity to apply mitigation measures against forest fires and recovery in the event of occurrence (Gaither et al. 2011; Paveglio et al. 2016; Wigtil et al. 2016). In this sense, knowledge is still lacking regarding how social vulnerability is affected by wildland fuels management decisions and building materials used in wildfire hazard areas. In addition, after a disaster, the resilience of societies depends not only on the income of individuals, but also on age and health status, which leads to the concept of environmental justice. The overall objective of this work is to spatially identify the vulnerability of the population to forest fires. As a case study, we select the autonomous region of Galicia because it registers the highest occurrence of fires in Spain (40% of the total) and where the consequences can be very important for the population. We use socioeconomic and demographic variables at the municipal level to construct a spatial social vulnerability index (Cutter et al. 2003), which can pinpoint the most vulnerable areas to wildfire impacts. The resulting map can be used to identify specific locations where it improvements in preparedness and suppression capacity may yield the largest gains in social resilience to natural risks.