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Americans Flocking to Fire-Prone Regions, Study Finds

Americans are moving away from parts of the Midwest that are prone to heat waves, but are moving into regions in the West that are increasingly vulnerable to wildfires, according to a 10-year study.

“These findings are concerning, because people are moving into harm’s way — into regions with wildfires and rising temperatures, which are expected to become more extreme due to climate change,” Mahalia Clark, a graduate research fellow at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Researchers mapped U.S. migration from 2010 to 2020, finding that Americans tended to move away from areas characterized by higher unemployment, greater economic inequality, more humidity, and more heat waves. These areas include much of the Great Plains, Midwest, and the Mississippi River region. Americans generally moved into areas with warmer winters, modest tree cover, and greater wildfire risks, including large parts of Texas, Florida, and much of the West. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Dynamics.

“Most people think of wildfire as just a problem in the West, but wildfire now impacts large swaths of the country, the Northwest down to the Southwest, but also parts of the Midwest and the Southeast, like Appalachia and Florida,” Clark said.

“When you’re looking for a place to live on Zillow or through real-estate agents, many don’t highlight that you’re looking at a fire-prone region,” she added. “You have to do your research.”

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