Burn. Build. Repeat: Why Our Wildfire Policy Is So Deadly
46 days ago
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Today’s monster fires result largely from three human forces: taxpayer-funded fire suppression that has made the forest a tinderbox; policies that encourage construction in places that are clearly prone to burning; and climate change, which has worsened everything. In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in July by the American Geophysical Union concluded that climate change is “very likely” the main reason that, between 1972 and 2018, the acreage burned annually in California jumped fivefold and the acreage burned in summertime forest fires surged eightfold. A warming climate has dried the ground and the vegetation on it, the study found, leaving them readier to burn.
Behind these three forces is a massive economic perversity: Society masks the costs of building on the edges of the forest, a zone that planners call the “wildland-urban interface,” or the WUI. With its vast forests and penchant for sprawl, California is the epicenter of WUI wildfire damage. Between 2000 and 2013, fire destroyed more buildings in California’s WUI than in all similar areas in the United States combined, and more than 75 percent of all buildings destroyed by fire in California were in the WUI, according to a University of Wisconsin–Madison study.