Knowledge Exchange and Disaster Recovery After Frequent Wildfires in Northern California

Exploring the Experiences of Organizations Responding to the 2018 Camp Fire

Catrin Edgeley
Northern Arizona University

Publication Date: 2020


Wildfire events that impact the same region in consecutive fire seasons are increasingly common in the United States. The extent of these impacts often leads affected populations to seek assistance from recovery organizations immediately after these events. Much of the existing scientific literature, emergency management protocols, and disaster policies currently in place for wildfire, however, consider each event in isolation from recent or ongoing disasters in a geographic region. They also rarely explore recovery efforts from the perspectives of organizations that must navigate these complex social contexts. The 2018 Camp Fire burned in Butte County, California, impacting a patchwork of communities that had already been directly and indirectly affected by recent wildfire disasters. This report explores how ongoing recovery from other impactful fires influenced recovery efforts for the Camp Fire, with a specific focus on organizations involved in recovery and the ways they interacted to share knowledge.


Numerous impactful wildfire events have burned in California in recent years: seven of the ten most destructive wildfires in state history have occurred during or after 2015 (CalFire, 2019). The state is now characterized by a “year-round” fire season due to climate change and complex social-ecological conditions. Larger and more impactful fires resulting from these conditions can require extensive recovery efforts such as rebuilding homes and supporting psychological wellbeing that often span multiple years or decades (Alexandre et al., 20151; Uscher-Pines, 20092). Residents, governments and organizations in fire-prone areas in the U.S. and beyond must therefore increasingly navigate the social impacts of multiple wildfires simultaneously as recovery efforts from different fires begin to overlap temporally. Efforts to place wildfire disasters within their broader temporal contexts can offer insights into the factors that influence post-fire recovery, such as access to resources and skills, social consequences of other recent disasters, and local capacity to respond to recovery needs (Paveglio & Edgeley, 20173; Kulig et al., 20134). Overlapping recovery efforts within the same region also can place pressure on organizations involved in disaster recovery as the needs of those affected become both heightened and diversified. Existing research rarely examines wildfire events from the perspectives of disaster recovery organizations, focusing instead on resident experiences (Carroll et al., 20065; Edgeley & Paveglio, 20176). This report seeks to explore some of the potential consequences of frequent fire disasters in the same region, and the effects it is having on knowledge exchange among organizations involved in implementing or supporting post-fire recovery efforts after the 2018 Camp Fire.

Understanding how recovery organizations respond to and interact with each other over successive fire events in the same area can provide numerous benefits for disaster recovery and emergency management, including: (1) improving pathways for communication among recovery organizations at different scales to avoid duplication of efforts and to streamline citizen requests for assistance; (2) better understanding of the impacts of previous wildfire events on recovery organizations’ ability to respond to large disasters like the Camp Fire; and (3) better facilitation of discussions about local needs, experiences, and preferences in the aftermath of fire between local, state, and federal aid organizations. There is an increasing need to look beyond individual disaster events to understand the broader social and environmental contexts in which hazards take place (Ismail-Zadeh et al., 20177). This research enhances understandings of the broader social ecological contexts in which fire events take place by exploring the social legacies of prior fire events on current recovery efforts,.

The temporal evolution of social responses to fire is frequently reported at the community level, where the success of actions or efforts taken by residents after previous fire events have been found to inform actions towards subsequent fires (Paveglio & Edgeley, 2017; McCool et al., 20068). Less is known about whether this is the case for organizations involved in post-fire recovery. Factors influencing institutional memory around successive fire events may include: turnover in employees or availability of volunteers, the size of the hazard event, time passed between hazard events in a locale, ability of an organization to adapt to diverse social and environmental circumstances, and the amount of time an organization is present in a community after a hazard event. It is not known whether successive fire events would strengthen an organization’s ability to respond to specific needs, or if ongoing recovery from other fires might complicate response. Additionally, the degree to which recovery organizations are interacting after fire may play a role in their ability to respond or affect positive change within affected communities (Majchrzak et al., 2007; Kapucu, 20059).

Recent Wildfires in Northern California

Recent increases in the frequency of large-scale, destructive wildfires in Northern California have created a complex regional context for post-fire recovery. Notable large and damaging wildfires in the last five years, including the 2015 Valley Fire, the 2017 Tubbs Fire, and the 2018 Carr Fire, have contributed to a post-fire patchwork of social conditions. Recovery following these disasters was ongoing in affected areas when the 2018 Camp Fire occurred in Butte County. Several fires had burned locally in the years preceding this disaster, including two in 2008. One of these fires destroyed several homes towards the northern end of Paradise, a town of approximately 27,000 people 14 miles north-east of Chico, prompting local reviews of evacuation plans and providing the impetus for increased local interest in fire mitigation activities in the years leading up to the Camp Fire.

The Camp Fire began near Pulga, CA at approximately 6:30am on November 8th, 2018. Evacuation was challenging due to the early ignition time and extreme fire behavior, forcing some residents to shelter in place as egress from the area became increasingly limited. A total of 153,336 acres had burned in Butte County by the time the fire was fully contained on November 25th (Inciweb, 201810). The most extensive damage was reported in Paradise and neighboring communities Magalia and Concow. Almost 19,000 structures were destroyed by the Camp Fire, overtaking the 2017 Tubbs Fire to become the most destructive in state history (CalFire, 2019). The Camp Fire also resulted in 85 fatalities—the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century. In the aftermath of the fire, some estimates placed the number of displaced residents at more than 50,000. The Camp Fire received a presidential disaster declaration on November 12, culminating in both individual and public federal assistance (FEMA, 201811). The cause of the fire was formally identified as a powerline failure on Pacific Gas and Electric property several months after data collection for this report was complete.

Extensive and diverse social impacts resulting from the Camp Fire presented a unique opportunity to explore large-scale recovery in the aftermath of a wildfire disaster. The extreme nature and historic significance of recent fire events in northern California have created a high-pressure environment for organizations involved in disaster recovery who work to support community needs under these conditions. Communities often may depend on these organizations to provide guidance, resources, or support in the aftermath of wildfire, particularly during larger impactful events where communities are unable to support themselves without external assistance. It is critical to understand organizational perspectives as fire impacts become more severe, as such insights can streamline recovery and better support these organizations as they continue to respond. This study sought to explore the following research questions in response to these needs:

  1. How have recent impactful wildfires across northern California influenced organizational recovery efforts following the Camp Fire?

  2. To what extent is knowledge gained during previous fires being exchanged and operationalized by organizations during recovery from the Camp Fire?



The author conducted 43 semi-structured interviews with a total of 45 individuals, predominantly during February and March of 2019. Participants in this study were identified through a combination of theoretical and snowball sampling. First, a list of organizations actively involved in recovery efforts following the Camp Fire were compiled using comprehensive internet searches, news reports, and social media. Care was taken to identify organizations that operated at a range of different scales, ranging from local to international, in order to provide a comprehensive range of perspectives on recovery and to understand how recovery groups are interacting across different jurisdictions with diverse levels of access to resources. Organizations included non-profit groups and charities, volunteer organizations active in disaster (VOADs), locally established community groups and organizations, and governments, agencies, and emergency response professionals at the town, county, state, and federal levels. Whenever possible, focus was placed on identifying specific employees, volunteers, or representatives from each organization who could be contacted and directly invited to participate. This process is known as theoretical sampling, where individuals with specific knowledge, experience or expertise are identified (Glaser & Strauss, 201712). Upon completion of each interview, the participant was asked to recommend other individuals both internal and external to their organization that had insights into post-fire recovery efforts in the area, a recruitment technique known as snowball sampling (Biernacki & Waldorf, 198113). Finally, the author visited recovery centers and shelters, as well as offices and community buildings in the affected area to ensure that opportunities had been created for participation by organization employees and volunteers at every level. Some interviews were conducted by phone in the weeks following fieldwork to accommodate the interviewee’s schedules as a result.

Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with three key informants—in this case, individuals with a specific expertise related to disaster recovery—before field work began. Informants were asked to provide insights into ongoing recovery, discuss broad challenges during initial recovery efforts, and identify core organizations and individuals involved in supporting those affected by the Camp Fire during these initial interviews. Findings from these initial interviews informed small modifications to the interview protocol and confirmed that initial theoretical sampling efforts were comprehensive.

The author travelled to Butte County, California, for two weeks in February 2019, approximately three months after the Camp Fire began. This timeframe was identified as a period of transition from short-term to longer-term recovery by key informants. Collecting data soon after the fire event ensured that immediate short-term recovery efforts were nearing completion, while still being recent enough for participants to recall events and interactions in adequate detail. It also offered an opportunity to understand how these short-term recovery efforts might inform long-term efforts during the transition between phases, and provided a window for proactively identify any organization needs moving forward. A small number of interviews were conducted by phone where interviewees were not based in Butte County or the surrounding area given the broad geographic distribution of organizations. Interviews lasted between 20 minutes and three hours, with a median length of 45 minutes.

The author utilized a semi-structured interview protocol to explore the influence of past fire events on recovery organizations’ response to the Camp Fire. Semi-structured interviews allowed for opportunities to explore emergent themes within discussion (Bryman, 201214). Protocol questions focused on: (1) organizational response to the Camp Fire; (2) interactions between organizations involved in recovery; (3) experience with previous fires and their relevance to the Camp Fire; and (4) ongoing recovery efforts. Probing questions sought to understand how lessons learned were implemented, and how local social contexts influenced organizational approaches to support recovery. Interviews are a powerful tool of examining nascent research topics because they allow for in-depth discussion and isolated recall of recent events that would not necessarily be possible using other data collection techniques (Bryman, 2012). Data collection ended only when the author felt that theoretical saturation – the point at which no new findings were being produced – had been reached.

The author was also able to attend and observe six community meetings in addition to interviews during fieldwork. Each of these meetings focused on a different aspect of post-fire recovery, ranging from a small local planning committee meeting to a long-term community planning meeting attended by more than 500 residents. The author took detailed notes at each meeting and used these events as an opportunity to identify other potential interviewees. Meetings also allowed for confirmation that emerging themes from interviews were representative of widespread recovery issues after the Camp Fire.

Data Analysis

Interviews were recorded with permission from each participant. In three instances where participants declined to be recorded, the author took handwritten notes and summarized the interview in a memo recording after the interview was completed. Recordings were transcribed verbatim and anonymized before being analyzed using Nvivo 12 (QSR International, 201815), a qualitative analysis software. Analysis is ongoing, but initial themes from key interviews are shared in this report. These themes were identified by the author through several iterative rounds of increasingly restrictive coding that built on emergent themes noted during fieldwork (Saldaña, 201516). The first round involved identifying descriptive themes. This was followed by a combination of analytic induction and thematic analysis to develop overarching themes (Boyatzis, 199817). Representative quotes were identified for each theme, some of which are shared in the preliminary findings section below.

Graffiti created by artist Shane Grammer can be seen on numerous destroyed structures across Paradise. Some portraits depict residents who were affected by or died in the fire. Image Credit: Catrin Edgeley, 2019.

Preliminary Findings

This study aimed to understand how earlier wildfire events in northern California influenced different organizations’ recovery efforts in response to the 2018 Camp Fire. Data presented in the following sections are preliminary; additional coding is still being conducted to identify additional themes and sub-themes. One central theme emerging from interviews was that knowledge learned during previous fires became essential for navigating the initial months after the fire. This finding is explored in depth below through the following sub-themes: (1) lessons learned from other disasters; (2) how this knowledge is exchanged within and across organizations; and (3) the transferability of these lessons to the Camp Fire and beyond.

Connecting the Camp Fire with Recent Disasters

Interviewees frequently referenced their experiences with other recent wildfires in Northern California unprompted and described how these experiences determined how they or their organization responded in the aftermath of the Camp Fire. This transferability was not limited to wildfires; the Oroville Dam Spillway incident that resulted in the evacuation of more than 180,000 Butte County residents in 2017 was described by numerous participants as a “dress rehearsal” for organizing immediate response to the Camp Fire. Many interviewees used their experiences with previous disasters to gauge the impacts of the Camp Fire on affected communities:

“The magnitude of this, and the social implications of this, seem of a completely different magnitude than what was experienced with the Tubbs Fire or with the Mendo[cino] Fires… the social impacts on these communities and frankly the level of poverty in our communities it [the Camp Fire] hit… you don’t have the level of poverty that we had in Paradise. They’re incommensurate in some respects.”

Interviewees felt the Camp Fire exceeded other known fires in terms of the severity of its social outcomes. This was further exacerbated by the fact that many of these comparisons between the Camp Fire and other fire disasters were broad-ranging both spatially and temporally. The diversity of comparisons offers an early insight into how social legacies surrounding wildfire events become established in local contexts, as well as how much of a geographic social “footprint” impactful disaster events can have.

Several interviewees explained that the high frequency and overlapping recovery efforts emerging from other recent wildfires raised concerns about low public interest in providing support after the Camp Fire. However, they observed relatively few signs of donor fatigue as a result of requests associated with other disasters. Instead, many organizations experienced difficulties with donations that are well documented in the disaster literature: donations were often inappropriate or did not meet the current needs of those affected by the Camp Fire, resulting in time and effort lost to locating places to store, sort through, and document these donations.

Signs outside the Starbucks in Paradise to welcome residents affected by the Camp Fire. Starbucks was one of the first businesses to reopen after the fire and became a social hub for community members as recovery began. Image Credit: Catrin Edgeley, 2019.

Knowledge Exchange After the Camp Fire: Successes and Challenges

“Several things emerged right away. One of them is: we have no idea what we’re doing.”

Participants consistently identified knowledge exchange with those who had addressed wildfire before as a crucial benefit that had emerged as a result of frequent fires in northern California. Knowledge exchange typically occurred in one of two ways: (1) through existing communication channels within large or established organizations; and/or (2) between “like-kind” individuals and organizations who provided position-specific advice and support.

Knowledge exchange through pre-existing communication channels was most frequently described by larger NGOs or federal- and state-level government organizations. These organizations were typically well established and operated using long-standing internal hierarchies or structures that lay the groundwork for streamlined interaction between teams or individuals across locations. In these situations, individuals actively sought out information from others, and were deemed most successful by interviewees in instances when their organization routinely operationalized lessons learned from previous disasters. Some interviewees described disparities between recovery organizations that stemmed from varying degrees of success in establishing a larger network:

I just put out a phone call and had trucks rolling from Reno, Eureka, Santa Rosa and Sacramento within 24 hours with supplies. So you have to have that outside connection to get things in. If you're counting on the standard supply lines of Salvation Army, Red Cross, that almost becomes a third-world nation, dealing with getting the supplies out of there. So have within your own private group, your market niche that you're working in, if you want to get those evacuees supplied with the basic fundamentals, have connections with organizations outside that can get it in to you.

The ability to integrate internally and externally as a large, established organization was more attainable for some organizations in comparison to others, highlighting the unique Californian context that the Camp Fire occurred within. At the state and federal government level, interviewees attributed this opportunity for knowledge exchange and integration as a function of California’s state-level emergency response efforts, honed over years of responding to impactful and diverse disasters. One federal employee explained how this existing structure facilitated knowledge exchange and collaboration:

“That’s the thing about California that is fantastic, is that they actually have capacity. They have people to work with. I’ve talked with other people who’ve done this position, and a lot of times the locals, they don’t even want you there, or they just don’t have the capacity. Some guy I talked to in North Carolina, he wasn’t even allowed, as a Fed, to talk to the State folks. They completely separated them. So basically, they didn’t have a purpose, they didn’t have a point to being there, but you know we are completely integrated here.”

The second form of knowledge exchange came through interactions between like-kind individuals and organizations—for example, one Butte County community health organization engaged in conversation with a Sonoma County community health organization to share knowledge and experiences. Many local organizations that became involved in recovery after the Camp Fire had little to no prior knowledge or experience regarding post-fire response and described struggling to identify readily available sources for understanding the complexity and minutia of disaster recovery. These conversations often emerged when interviewees expressed frustration about not knowing where to turn to in order to identify available grants, resources or support in the immediate aftermath of the Camp Fire, or to understanding procedures associated with federal assistance. These smaller-scale or localized organizations consistently identified peer-to-peer knowledge exchange as crucial to navigating post-fire efforts. Interviewees described how much of their information came from other local-level organizations that had responded to other fires in other parts of northern California and were willing or able to share the lessons they learned. In these instances, it was the organizations from outside of Butte County who initiated contact, often by identifying their “counterpart” with the same job as them in the area affected by the Camp Fire and extending their assistance. One interviewee explained the lengths that their counterpart in another area of California went to support knowledge exchange:

"… The [position title] of Santa Rosa shot me a text and he said “hey, hey [name], how you doing? And do you need some help?” And I said “fine, yes.” and so he said okay I'm on my way... So he’s heading up, obviously there’s no place for him to stay, all the hotels are filled, all the, you know, everything’s full, so my family and I have a new roommate. It was fantastic though, because the experience that he had with the fire a little over a year before this one hit in Santa Rosa proved to help us, be benefitted to knowing: what do we really need to do to hopefully mitigate the impacts of what we were going to be experiencing…?"

Communication between groups of “like-kind” individuals and groups with a “pre-existing structure” was rare among interviewees, and became a central source of concern for smaller and more localized organizations that were not as familiar with the pre-existing processes for addressing disaster. Many expressed their frustration at feeling that they were unable to orient themselves within the larger landscape of ongoing recovery efforts. Some described only learning about valuable grants to boost recovery efforts when the deadline had passed, or by pure chance through word of mouth. These opportunities were often offered by organizations that already operated using their own pre-existing structures. Knowledge exchange between local like-kind positions and organizations included navigating applications for funding and the structure of federal government support. The focus on these topics emerged because of a perceived gap in knowledge exchange from FEMA and other government agencies, requiring those at the local level to “share notes” in order to minimize the likelihood of difficulties experienced by others following previous wildfire events.

Residents from communities impacted by the Camp Fire contribute ideas for rebuilding Paradise at a public meeting. Image Credit: Catrin Edgeley, 2019.

A perceived lack of communication between local and state or federal organizations prompted many local-level interviewees to suggest the need for an organization or group whose purpose was to bridge this communication gap, in order to maximize knowledge exchange about what was available to those affected by the Camp Fire. Interviewees acknowledged that there were some efforts to try and bridge this gap—for example, FEMA disaster centers that aimed to centralize recovery support by housing local, state and federal representatives. However, some interviewees felt that the rapid turnover of federal and state employees deployed to the Camp Fire prevented trust-building and long-term connectivity which unintentionally restricted the flow of knowledge to smaller organizations. Larger local organizations began to play an intermediary role several weeks after the fire, but some interviewees were concerned that this welcome addition came too late.

One unanticipated consequence that interviewees often attributed to the disconnect between local and extra-local organizations was resident perceptions of large-scale, extra-local organizations as untrustworthy or unconcerned with tailoring their approach to address the needs of local populations. Divides emerged between organizations with varying levels of familiarity with Butte County and the degree to which they sought local knowledge to inform their efforts as a result. In instances where extra-local organizations offered support without considering the existing local context, this disconnect was further compounded. As one interviewee explained:

“Literally, the [organization A] representatives and the [organization B] representatives got in such a huge argument that they had to call the police in Butte County. And that stems from long-term resentments in that area down there. So you really have to look at [the Carr Fire], FEMA did not have to take the driver’s seat up there as much... [For the Camp Fire], they started to almost have to jump in the driver's seat down there and start driving the bus is what it seems like to me... You kind of have to have an understanding of the community that you’re moving into in that regard.”

Interviewees often indicated that residents were more likely to turn to or trust local organizations because they were run by neighbors, friends or family who they felt truly understood and respected the nature of the communities that existed before the Camp Fire. However, one consequence of this was that in the absence of knowledge exchange or connectivity with larger organizations, local organizations had to tend to a far greater diversity of resident needs while simultaneously possessing a lower capacity to adapt to support these needs. This capacity was further compounded by the fact that many local-level employees and volunteers had also lost their homes or experienced direct impact from the Camp Fire in their personal lives. Wearing multiple “hats” in the recovery effort, both as a survivor and as a supporter, placed a greater emotional toll on these individuals. Meanwhile, larger organizations had already identified a niche in recovery response over the course of previous disasters and were able to focus on honing their ability to address that small subsection of needs, despite often having more resources and capacity to diversify their response in comparison. Locally-based interviewees also were concerned that as recovery progressed, these larger-level organizations would withdraw from the area given that their niche responses were often focused on short-term needs. This would leave local organizations both isolated from important opportunities for knowledge exchange and bearing the brunt of responsibility for long-term recovery efforts.

Limits to the Value of Knowledge Exchange for Disaster Recovery

Interviewees were quick to clarify that despite the high value of knowledge exchange between organizations and fire events, no two disasters are the same – both in terms of the area and population(s) affected and the scale and scope of the impacts. Many felt that the level of destruction resulting from the Camp Fire was unprecedented, leading to uncertainty about how to proceed with recovery efforts in unchartered territory. This also meant that the knowledge exchanged by others about experiences with other fires were not always pertinent or needed to be adapted to the context of the Camp Fire in order to be of value. One interviewee summarized:

“No matter what we learn from each one of these fires, we’re finding out that there’s a portion of the wheel that we have to reinvent every time because of the uniqueness of the communities these [fires] are happening in.”

Interviewees who worked or volunteered for locally operating organizations described the importance of assessing knowledge shared from other disasters with a critical eye towards its transferability across local social contexts. Challenges to the transferal of knowledge were most commonly discussed during comparisons to the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, with many explaining that although the pattern of destruction was the same, it only damaged a segment of Santa Rosa while most of the town of Paradise was destroyed in the Camp Fire.

Navigating unprecedented wildfire recovery inspired organizations involved in recovery to seek knowledge from novel sources. One facet of this involved looking beyond California for opportunities to network. At one meeting the author attended, members from long-term recovery organizations operating in different states after a variety of disasters visited to offer insights and support. Another approach involved looking at other kinds of disasters that had resulted in similar consequences—most commonly the destruction of entire towns or cities. The most fruitful discussions were held between organizations outside of California that had recovered from floods or hurricanes, where damage was extensive and the footprint of the area impacted was large like the Camp Fire.

Limits to the value of knowledge exchange with other organizations involved in post-fire recovery efforts had imbued a sense of responsibility for creating and sharing new knowledge among interviewees, regardless of the organization they worked or volunteered for. Many interviewees described how their organization planned to incorporate lessons learned into future approaches, or review and modify existing policies. Organizations that had benefited from “like-kind” knowledge exchange indicated a desire to return the favor by fostering opportunities to share their knowledge with others during future fires. Furthermore, there was high interest across almost all interviewees in seeing knowledge gained on the ground during recent fires translated into state and national level policy change—for example, changes to building regulations in order to improve structural resilience to fire. The biggest challenge seemed to be the high frequency of fires in California and the rigidity of the state policy-making process; as one interviewee explained, by the time they had identified lessons learned from one fire, the next wildfire disaster had already begun somewhere else and it was too late to act on that new knowledge.

The remains of burned homes stand in a neighborhood in northern Paradise three months after the fire. Image Credit: Catrin Edgeley, 2019.

Preliminary Recommendations and Future Directions

The themes identified in this report have important implications for preparing for and responding to recovery needs during future wildfires in California and beyond. There is a clear need for strengthened support to facilitate knowledge exchange not only between wildfires, but between different kinds of organizations responding to the same fire event based on experiences among interviewees in this study. Some potential opportunities or approaches to address these needs might include:

  • A stronger local focus on proactively building a network of connections for organizations that may be involved in post-fire recovery efforts in the future. This includes like-kind and multi-level connections with both smaller and larger organizations. Becoming familiar with the potential roles of other organizations during disaster also can help identify gaps in resources and skills ahead of time. This foresight offers opportunities to help organizations identify what their niche in disaster recovery might be and to begin tailoring trainings or relationship-building to strengthen their capacity for that niche.

  • Individuals or organizations that have experienced or responded to wildfire might consider reaching out to those who hold “like-kind” position equivalents in areas affected by wildfire to promote knowledge exchange. All participants in this study welcomed opportunities for interaction with someone who understood their position on a personal level and described how it provided them with a sense of emotional (as well as professional) support. Being able to discuss the impacts and challenges faced with someone who understands their “language” and intimate knowledge of a community from the same perspectives is rare and much needed in the aftermath of disaster. Importantly, participants in this study rarely had the time or ability to take the initiative to build like-kind connections themselves given the number of other tasks or responsibilities they were balancing after the fire.

  • For larger organizations who may be less familiar with the area that they are responding to, fostering partnerships with local organizations can strengthen response and provide tailored support. Local organizations often have an in-depth knowledge of the people and areas affected, allowing them to provide insight on specific needs and the best way to provide assistance. This also can help build greater trust between residents and larger organizations while improving opportunities for knowledge exchange across scales.

  • A protocol for rapid identification of a specific organization or the creation of a group of individuals or representatives who will act as a central ‘node’ for sharing and receiving information about recovery efforts in the immediate aftermath of a wildfire. Interviewees indicated that the “boundary spanning” individual, organization, or group should be an independent and funded unit designed to be deployed to disasters and take responsibility for coordinating recovery efforts and knowledge exchange, although it remains unclear how feasible this would be or who might fill this role. However, a shift towards developing a more centralized effort to collect and share information in the aftermath of a fire could streamline initial recovery activities and avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts.

Future research efforts should seek to explore effective ways for supporting knowledge exchange about recovery across organizations and disasters. Understanding how knowledge exchange is instigated after wildfires of different scales also may yield additional insight. Finally, there is a state-level need to identify ways to rapidly incorporated lessons learned from large wildfires before the next disaster occurs. It is unclear whether this would require new or evolved approaches to policy making and implementation, or whether instead it requires the creation of more opportunities for those involved in wildfire recovery to reflect and share their experiences on larger platforms.

Post-fire recovery remains under-researched. More knowledge about the social dimensions of wildfire recovery will likely garner better understanding of how to prepare for subsequent events. Participants in this research frequently described how lessons learned and experiences with other wildfires informed the way that they responded after the Camp Fire, but that adaptation of these insights to local contexts was critical in order for implementation of that knowledge to be effective. Harnessing existing knowledge effectively and identifying which piece of the wheel is being “reinvented” early on remains a central need for post-fire recovery. Wildfire impacts are projected to continue to increase under ongoing climate change (Abatzoglou et al. 201618), meaning that identifying opportunities to improve wildfire recovery is paramount as disastrous fires continue to burn in quick succession in the same region.

Edgeley, C. M. (2021). Exploring the social legacy of frequent wildfires: Organizational responses for community recovery following the 2018 Camp Fire. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 70. DOI:


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Suggested Citation:

Edgeley, C. (2020). Knowledge Exchange and Disaster Recovery After Frequent Wildfires in Northern California: Exploring the Experiences of Organizations Responding to the 2018 Camp Fire (Natural Hazards Center Quick Response Research Report Series, Report 299). Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder.

Edgeley, C. (2020). Knowledge Exchange and Disaster Recovery After Frequent Wildfires in Northern California: Exploring the Experiences of Organizations Responding to the 2018 Camp Fire (Natural Hazards Center Quick Response Research Report Series, Report 299). Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder.