[MCN] Let's get real about protecting homes from fires

Lance Olsen lance at wildrockies.org
Fri Aug 17 10:20:51 EDT 2018

Bloomberg Climate Changed 
( a sister publication to Business Week)

To understand what makes America’s climate change-driven wildfire problem even worse, watch what happens after a blaze—and what doesn’t. In the wake of last year’s widespread fires in California, the state found $300 million to pay for helicopters and established a task force on forest management. What it didn’t do is push through the sort of change that matters most: reducing the number of ill-protected homes at the edge of the fores <http://link.mail.bloombergbusiness.com/click/14184747.14964/aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuYmxvb21iZXJnLmNvbS9uZXdzL2FydGljbGVzLzIwMTgtMDgtMTUvd2h5LXR3by15ZWFycy1vZi1oaXN0b3JpYy13aWxkZmlyZXMtaGF2ZW4tdC1tYWRlLXNvdXRoZXJuLWNhbGlmb3JuaWEtc2FmZXI_dXRtX21lZGl1bT1lbWFpbCZ1dG1fc291cmNlPW5ld3NsZXR0ZXImdXRtX3Rlcm09MTgwODE2JnV0bV9jYW1wYWlnbj1jbGltYXRlY2hhbmdlZA/58ffbaf7dd4c29967b8b4646C605661f6>t.

MarketWatch Published: Aug 15, 2018
( a sister publication to The Wall Street Journal)

Wildfires are only going to get worse, so we need to alter our strategies now
Reduce incentives to live near forests, rather than focusing on Zinke and Trump advice


But both governments and people tend to adopt only short-term responses that don’t necessarily reduce risk effectively <https://theconversation.com/california-needs-to-rethink-urban-fire-risk-starting-with-where-it-builds-houses-88825>. For example, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, after visiting fires in California, said the solution <https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/08/08/active-forest-management-prevent-wildfires-column/913801002/> to wildfire prevention is more active management to remove fuel from forests. <https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ryan-zinke-tells-california-how-to-stop-wildfires-cut-down-trees_us_5b712e75e4b0ae32af996079>In a tweet, President Trump criticized California’s handling of the wildfires <https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1026587142989008897>, blaming its environmental policies and saying that tree clearing is needed to contain fires.

However, focusing on traditional approaches like fighting fires and fuels management alone can’t solve the wildfire problem. 

Fuel management such as controlled burns, vegetation clearing, forest thinning and fire breaks can sometimes reduce fire severity <https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/62/6/549/249143> and limit the size of fires <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112705000411>. However, like taking vitamin C and exercising, which cannot completely prevent colds, fuel management cannot eliminate fires. 

And fuel management need to be maintained over time, or vegetation regrows and reduces the effectiveness of such actions — often within five to 10 years.

Addressing the wildfire problem will require policy solutions that reflect a shift in perspective from fighting to coexisting with wildfire <https://www.americanscientist.org/article/coexisting-with-wildfire>. Here are some specific ways to achieve that goal:

• Reducing incentives to locate in the wildland-urban interface: Local decision-makers need incentives to support safer and more sustainable development, recognizing that fire is inevitable in their communities. The relative lack of disincentives to develop in risky areas — for example, expecting state and federal payments for suppression and losses — ensures that local decisions will continue to promote disasters for which we all pay. 

And people must begin to pay the costs for living in fire-prone landscapes. Rather than encouraging development by guaranteed fire insurance <https://www.cfpnet.com/> and publicly funded fire suppression, we need to ensure that prospective homeowners can make informed decisions about the risks they face in the WUI.

• Retrofitting existing housing stock: Homes often ignite and burn due to flying embers from a burning landscape far from the structure itself. There is a crucial need for retrofits of existing structures <http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Hardening-Your-Home/>, such as replacing wood roofing and screening attic vents, which are cost-effective ways to reduce home losses.

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