Rising home prices in California are raising the risk of more wildfires — and there could be catastrophic consequences


Massive wildfires have wreaked havoc across California in recent years – and 2020 was no exception.

Five of the six largest wildfires in California history occurred last year, including the largest on record, the Complex Fires, which are now ranked as the largest. Current estimates From the economic losses of the 2020 wildfires suggest they may have cost the state $10 billion, but that number could increase. Forest fire season 2018 It is said cost The US economy is $148.5 billion, which is 0.7% of the country’s annual gross domestic product.

As communities continue to rebuild, a new report indicates that the risk of wildfires – and massive economic losses – is increasing. And a new report says the California housing market is largely to blame.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation and the nonprofit think tank Next 10 examined three communities across the state affected by recent wildfires: Santa Rosa, Ventura and Paradise. Their findings show that the state continues to allow development at the so-called “wild urban frontage,” where nature meets human development.

The state’s housing shortage is cited as a justification for continuing to allow homes and businesses to be built in high-risk areas.

By building close to natural areas prone to wildfires, those structures are at high risk of damage in such a disaster. The researchers noted that the state’s housing shortage is cited as a justification for continuing to allow homes and businesses to be built in these high-risk areas in order to meet massive demand.

“After a fire has broken out, many municipalities are choosing to ‘adapt in place’ rather than trying to move people out of high-risk areas for fires, citing a statewide housing shortage and lack of public support for any kind of climate migration strategies,” the researchers wrote. .

In cases where the destruction is more widespread, some communities have chosen to rebuild as usual while others have struggled to do so. The researchers found that Santa Rosa rebuilds quickly, while Ventura saw that the majority of homeowners choose not to. Paradise, whose residents were on low incomes, also struggled to rebuild.

More than half a million homes may be built in the coming decades on California land that is particularly vulnerable to wildfires.

In Santa Rosa, city officials have waived regulations to encourage a rapid pace of rebuilding, where the homes were originally. In Ventura, on the other hand, the city has limited development in WUI with more multi-family construction encouraged in other areas to take into account the high demand for housing in the area.

And things could go wrong. The report states that over 500,000 homes may be built on this land in the coming decades. Currently, about one in 12 homes in the states are in an area that is at high risk of burning in wildfires, but that number will increase. Rising home insurance rates in the state can leave families unprotected in the event of catastrophic strikes, compounding the losses families will incur as a result.

“If we continue to rebuild as usual, it is almost inevitable that a major insurance crisis awaits us, making the report’s recommendation to change course even more vital,” said Robert Olshansky, one of the report’s lead authors and professor emeritus of the university. Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Researchers have proposed alternative approaches to ‘rebuild as usual’, including so-called ‘managed retreat’ where bushfire survivors are given incentives to move to less dangerous areas or develop ‘resilience nodes’ where rebuilding in vulnerable areas is combined. Mitigating forest fires. They find that these two approaches reduce fire risk and cost to households, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

do not miss: With wildfires raging on the West Coast, residents face another challenge: Rising prices are pushing people to leave urban centers

More to track …
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