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Water safety attitudes, risk perception, experiences, and education for households impacted by the 2018 Camp Fire, California

Abstract

The 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, California, was the state’s most destructive wildfire in history, destroying more than 14,600 homes. The wildfire caused widespread drinking water system chemical contamination resulting in acute and chronic health risks, requiring water use restrictions. Six months after the fire, the research team conducted a rapid community survey of attitudes and experiences that were specific to building water safety. The validated surveys represented 233 households. Amid the disaster response, 54% of the respondents self-reported that at least one member in their household had anxiety, stress, or depression directly related to the water contamination issues. Uncertainty about water and plumbing safety prompted respondents to alter water use in the home (83%), install in-home water treatment technologies (47%), and/or seek alternate water sources (85%). To provide affected households with answers to plumbing testing and safety questions, the research team designed and conducted a community education event. Many community members had technical questions about how to conduct water testing to determine whether their plumbing was safe. The research team identified several significant public health information gaps and a need for clear recommendations. This work illustrates the advantages of community involvement for resolving ambiguities in how households can respond to water safety issues following a natural disaster. Further, the authors posit that strong community engagement in this context can reduce both psychological distress and exposure risks.

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Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by each institution to support each author’s participation. Funding was also provided by the Paradise Rotary Foundation, Lillian Gilbreth Fellowship and Ross Fellowship Programs at Purdue University, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant R836890. Thanks are extended to those organizations who distributed the survey announcements to include ABC KRCR News Channel 7 and CBS and Action News Now for advertising the survey, Camp Fire Zone Project, and the DOWC. Data provided by third parties were presented as is. All authors participated in the Camp Fire response, and AW and CS also participated in the 2017 Tubbs Fire response. It is assumed that additional information may exist in ongoing legal proceedings that may or may not be made public. The authors do not represent any legal position in litigation related to this incident.

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This manuscript includes multiple authors, and each contributed to this manuscript and its content. AW, CP, TO, and EW contributed to all aspects of the survey and education parts of the study. AS, KP, DY, JL, and AS contributed to the survey design, conduct, analysis, and development of lessons learned. CL, YN, CS, JS, JW, KM, ML, and JJ contributed to the education session design, advertisement, participated in its conduct, and development of lessons learned. All authors participated in drafting or review and editing of the manuscript. AW attests that this author list is appropriate for the size/scope of the work. All authors participated in drafting or review and editing of the manuscript. All authors approve of the submitted files.

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Correspondence to Andrew J. Whelton.

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Odimayomi, T.O., Proctor, C.R., Wang, Q.E. et al. Water safety attitudes, risk perception, experiences, and education for households impacted by the 2018 Camp Fire, California. Nat Hazards 108, 947–975 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-021-04714-9

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Keywords

  • Wildfire
  • Drinking water
  • Infrastructure
  • Natech
  • Health
  • Chemical
  • Contamination