Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Sociology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


As the number of people living in forested areas continues to grow, so does the likelihood that an individual will suffer from a wildland fire. There has been little research produced strictly looking at the human dimensions of wildland fire, especially in southern rural communities (Machlis, Kaplan, Tuler, Bagby, and McKendry 2002). Using two of Kumagai, Carrol, and Cohan's (2004) propositions on the social impact of disaster and the theoretical framework of Emile Durkheim's (1933) view of community and collective consciousness, the primary purpose of this research was to aid in understanding the effects of wildland fire on the social and economic well-being of a community. This research examined a specific location in Kentucky, Bell County. Bell County has suffered many wildland fires, especially with wildland-fire arson. In June of 2006 questionnaires exploring residents' perception of wildland fire on the social and economic well-being of the local community were sent to a random sample of area residents. Two aspects of community and wildland fire were examined, the impact of wildland fire on community and blame for damage caused by inadequate efforts to control wildland fires. Partial correlations were used to measure the relationship between variables. The findings suggest that there is no consistent positive or negative impact of wildland fire on all individuals in a community. No consistent relationship exists between wildland fires' impacts and aspects of community in a negative way. Respondents themselves were less likely to report gain or loss and more likely to report that others had gained or lost in income. The longer respondents have lived in Bell County, the more likely they will discuss wildland fire. Respondents did not blame any local, state, or federal agency for wildland fire. In fact, the more one is tied to community (in terms of quality of life, trust in government, and strong neighbor relations), the more supportive one is of local government. The implications of this study could include policy changes with regards to wildland fire, information gathered would help aid in the understanding of the effects of wildland fire within a rural community. Due to the small sample (n = 140) and weak response rate (18.8%), the information gathered may only be generlizable to Bell County or the respondents themselves. Future research would be suggested, research at a qualitative level, through participant observation and in-depth interviews of residents of Bell County, Kentucky.


Place and Environment | Sociology