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NWFSC Research Brief #20 - Covering Wildfires: Media Emphasis and Silence

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In this study, researchers examined print media coverage, data of burned homes, and demographic data of towns impacted by two major wildfires in Washington State. The Carlton Complex burned over 250,000 acres and hundreds of homes in the Methow Valley in 2014, becoming the largest wildfire in Washington’s history. In 2015, the fires that made up the Okanogan Complex burned over 300,000 acres in the same part of northcentral Washington, destroying hundreds more structures and resulting in three firefighter fatalities. Researchers investigated the topics that were prominent and that were ignored in the media coverage of these two wildfires. In particular, they examined media coverage related to wildfire risk and firefighter safety, and compared the locations focused on in the media coverage of the fires in relation to the locations with the greatest damage from the fires.