How should California deal with the threat of wildfires? – Independent Marine Journal


Physicist Albert Einstein is widely, albeit mistakenly, thought to have said that “madness always does the same thing and expects different results”, but whatever its source, the aphorism faithfully reflects the attitude of the California on forest fires.

Year after year, destructive fires ravage communities at the “interface between wild and urban”, often killing those who cannot or will not leave their homes and causing billions of dollars in property losses.

The frequency and severity of forest fires appear to be increasing as our climate changes, droughts persist, and greenery dries up and becomes explosive fuel. What was once a relatively brief fire season in late summer and early fall has turned into a year-round peril.

And yet, more often than not, the burnt lands soon sprout new homes, the owners and tenants of which again put themselves in danger.

A new study from the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation, commissioned by think tank Next 10, attributes the seemingly insane practice to flawed state and local policies that spur reconstruction in fire-prone areas .

“Wildfires threaten the lives and homes of more than a quarter of California’s population,” F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10, said in a statement accompanying the report. “We need to revise local and national planning policies and procedures to ensure that we are not pushing for actions that increase the risk of forest fires.”

The study found that replacing existing homes in high-risk areas would cost at least $ 610 billion and that huge number is scaring insurers. As they pay out huge sums to exhausted policyholders and the risk of future catastrophic losses increases, insurers either avoid coverage altogether or impose steep premium hikes.

“With climate-fueled wildfires burning hundreds of thousands of acres, causing loss of life and property, the availability of forest fire insurance has declined while premiums charged have increased. Recently declared a committee appointed by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.

Insurance is required by mortgage lenders and many homeowners, unable to purchase coverage in the private market, have turned to a statewide last resort insurance pool with high premiums and limited coverage.

The Next 10 study recommends that the risk of forest fires be approached by overhauling land use policies that lack “incentives to avoid building in fire-prone areas” and thus “contribute to persistent risk and increasing economic and human costs associated with forest fires. “

Land use in California is largely controlled by state and county governments through zoning and building permits. The housing crisis in the state has demonstrated that these governments are often reluctant to approve high density housing, especially those for low and moderate income tenants, in urban areas.

However, as the Next 10 study points out, they tend to be more housing-friendly, especially single-family homes, in the urban outskirts, which also tend to be the areas most at risk for forest fires.

The report proposes to “relocate houses from the forest-urban interface, incorporating green belts and forest fire buffers, increasing density in existing commercial cores, adding soft density in the form from ‘missing’ dwellings and ancillary housing units to areas not in the interface area., and adopting manufactured homes as an affordable approach by design. ”

Lara’s commission, meanwhile, suggests insurance premiums based on predictions of future peril, rather than past experience, comprehensive policies that spread risk, rewards for making homes more resistant to damage, and other measures that can mitigate not only the impacts of forest fires, but the less obvious risk of destructive flooding.

Both studies highlight a fact that we ignore at our existential peril: Despite its many attributes, living in California means living with the constant threat of disaster.

CalMatters is a public service journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters, visit

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