Fire is a challenge in the wildland-urban interface. Although resource managers encourage residents to create defensible space, many do not. This study illustrates the value of using a needs assessment to better understand perceptions of an audience in order to develop meaningful messages and materials. In this case, our audience is residents of forested areas of Florida and Minnesota at risk of wildland fire. By using in-depth interviews, we explore their perceptions of their landscape, their perception of risk, and their willingness to reduce that risk. Their perceptions can be used to evaluate current wildfire communication tools and suggest ways to modify them to inform and change the behavior of residents. Printed materials emphasis the threat of fire and what to do. Interview data suggest that emphasizing relevant values: privacy, wildlife, and recreation opportunities, as well as acknowledging neighborhood norms, could be helpful to motivate residents when the threat of fire is not sufficient.