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Wildfires, responsibility and trust: public understanding of Sweden's largest wildfire


Wildfires present a growing risk to many countries, and climate change is likely to exacerbate this risk. This study analyzes how people directly affected by a wildfire understand its causes and consequences, as well as the future risk of wildfires. The point of departure is that social understanding of wildfires has an important influence on the consequences that emerge in the wake of a wildfire. The empirical case analyzed here is the largest forest fire in modern Swedish history, and the material basis of the study is a postal survey to all individuals directly affected by the fire. The results revealed a complex picture of the respondents’ understanding of the wildfire. Even if the fire was human caused, there was little blame toward forest companies and fire departments. Many positive consequences, such as a long-term increase in biodiversity, were attached to the disaster, and there was a belief that organizations will learn from it and take action to limit wildfires in the future. Simultaneously, the majority of the respondents believed that climate change may lead to an increased risk of forest fires in the future. These findings illustrate the complexity of people's perceptions of the fire and its aftermath.