Climate change is increasing the occurrence of natural disasters worldwide, and more frequent and intense fires represent one of the most destructive expressions of this trend. Chile is highly vulnerable to climate change, and fires are a recurrent phenomenon affecting many people each year. To reduce fire risk, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests reducing both exposure and vulnerability through multiple initiatives, which demand increased community engagement. In such a context, this study explores local perceptions of fire in a sample of inhabitants in a wildland-urban interface (WUI) in Valparaiso, a city that is affected by numerous fires each year. The ultimate goal was to identify psychological and community factors that should be taken into consideration to develop prevention plans and safer environments for people living in a context of poverty and social inequity. Using a qualitative approach, 28 interviews were conducted and analyzed following grounded theory principles. Results identified multiple causes, impacts, and characteristics of the problem perceived by people who permanently cohabit with fire risk, showing that for many of them, fire risk is not about the probability of occurrence of a disaster, but a question about when and how the next fire will happen. However, in such a complex scenario, psychological, community, and structural barriers deter people from implementing more effective actions. Conversely, in emergency situations, such barriers are irrelevant and cooperative actions prevail, suggesting the existence of resources and capacities within the community that could lessen exposure and vulnerability if activated on a day-to-day basis. Overall, reducing fire risk cannot be achieved by local communities alone nor without their support. To build, maintain, and consolidate fire prevention actions, it is critical to activate community strengths and cooperation and engage the resources and management capacity of local governments.
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