The West is on Fire and We Keep Building Homes in Harm’s Way


We all know that wildfire has grown into a serious danger for states all over the West. California — for example — has much of its territory on fire nine or more months of the year. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Forest Service did a study on what’s built in the way of those fires and what’s being placed in their path today.

Study spokesman Volker Radeloff said 16 million homes were in wildfire danger in 2020. The number is up from 10 million homes in 1990. Thats the perfect storm,” Radeloff said. Millions of houses have been built in places that will sooner or later burn.”

Eight of the largest fires seen in the last five years are in California. Yet, the state has 5.1 million homes in the danger zone called the wildland-urban interface and more continue to be built. The interface is defined as where homes and neighborhoods are built areas bordering on wilderness and packed with flammable trees and vegetation.

University of California, Berkeley planning expert, Karen Chapple said urban growth is pushing development in the wildland-urban interface.

By and large, most new development housing construction in California has been going on in the periphery of existing urban areas,” Chapple said.Its happening because thats where the land is cheap. So we end up putting housing in these very vulnerable areas.”

All this development — as you know — has stretched firefighting service to the limit. And when more people are living in the wilderness-urban interface, there is more chance that fire will break out.

Study consultant, Miranda Mockrin of the U.S. Forest Service said humans have been the cause most of the destructive wildfires we’ve seen in the last couple of decades.

The more homes we have in the wildlands, the more people we have to protect, more people that need to be evacuated,” Mockrin said. It becomes more of a challenge.”

It’s true. In the 1990s there were about 31,000. Today it’s millions. Yet, even with the fire danger, the push continues to build homes in these areas. And it’s unlikely to stop anytime soon.

So if it isn’t going to stop, Molly Mowery — the executive director of the Community Wildfire Planning Center — we need to look at things differently.

So much of the West is wildfire-prone that its a non-starter to say you shouldnt live anywhere theres a risk,” Mowery said. Its much more productive to focus on what we can do to protect our homes and neighborhoods when fire does arrive.”

Kimiko Barrett is a wildfire expert at at the non-profit, Headwaters Economics. She agrees. Barrett says we’re going to have to find a way to live with wildfire.

Too many places are still operating under the mind-set that they can keep building in high-risk areas and if theres a wildfire, the firefighters will come and save their homes,” Barrett said. Once we realize that were not going to stop every last fire, we can start thinking about how to live with wildfire.”

 Source link: The New York Times —

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