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Wildfire Evacuation Timing in Southern California's Wildland-Urban Interface: Using Survival Analysis to Identify Differences in Resident Evacuation Behavior During the 2016 Blue Cut Fire


When wildfires threaten human populations, untimely or late evacuation can mean the difference between life and death. In the fire prone regions of the world, last minute evacuations have been responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. In Southern California, where fire season persists for the majority of the year and where human populations continue to expand into lands conducive to wildfire, emergency management officials commonly issue evacuation orders to initiate protective action behavior for those threatened. While early evacuation generally provides the safest course of action for people in the path of wildfire, past research has shown that for a variety of environmental hazards, humans do not always immediately heed official warnings, and delay evacuating. This cross-sectional study uses a mixed-mode survey design and survival analysis to investigate the evacuation timing behavior of residents drawn from a simple random sample of Southern California households (n=221) during the 2016 Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino County, California. Findings from these analyses indicate that only half of those receiving a mandatory evacuation order evacuated because of the Blue Cut fire. Residents with past evacuation experience were almost twice as likely to evacuate compared to residents without prior experience. Gender and length of residence were found to be associated with shorter evacuation times and higher evacuation rates, with women and short-term residents more likely to evacuate compared to men and longer-term residents. The findings from this study suggest that if emergency managers and local public agencies can get wildland residents to evacuate when an evacuation order is issued, they may have future success getting them to evacuate during subsequent wildfire evacuation events. However, this study also identifies a significant number of residents who are resistant to evacuation. Addressing the concerns of this group may help increase the speed and rate of future evacuation events.

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