Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Social (Inequality and Social Justice Option)

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Environmental Sociology

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Mark Heirigs

Commitee Members

Jacobs Hammond, Rayna Sage


catastrophic wildfires, developmental disability, capabilities framework, social trust, social capital, environmental justice


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Disability Studies | Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Public Health | Environmental Studies | Inequality and Stratification | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Place and Environment | Social Justice


The Thomas Fire for a time was the largest wildfire in California history, burning 281,893 acres and destroying 1,063 structures. Within three years, the August Complex Fire, at 1,032,649 acres, almost quadrupled that record. Climate related disasters such as these have impelled social science researchers to heed calls for a paradigm shift in understanding the risks climate change poses to the social world, in particular, disaster risks for vulnerable groups. Existing research tends to focus on disasters such as hurricanes, featuring risks for vulnerable populations by race, class, and/or individuals with disabilities in general, but not for individuals with developmental disabilities. This study attempts to fill this gap in the research by examining the impact of disastrous wildfires on individuals with developmental disabilities, using survey data obtained by asking individuals with developmental disabilities to answer questions about their experiences with the recent Thomas and/or Woolsey wildfires that occurred within the same or surrounding counties in California less than a year apart. Results suggest that those who experienced anxiety and depression before the wildfire(s) indicate an increase in symptoms after the wildfire(s) and showed signs of needing counseling or mental health services but did not seek them. Similarly, respondents indicated financial impacts after experiencing the wildfire(s) which was correlated with anxiety and depression prior to their experiences with the wildfire(s). Additionally, this research shows that the capabilities framework combined with social capital theory can provide a better analytical perspective for understanding the ways individuals with developmental disabilities experience environmental justice.



© Copyright 2022 Mary Madison McKenzie