The apocalyptic fires that hit California last month have left observers scratching their heads and wondering how destruction on that scale could be possible – and how much it will cost in the future if the causes aren’t addressed immediately.
This morning’s Wall Street Journal concludes that 1) the problems aren’t being addressed and 2) this failure is going to cost a fortune that no government is prepared to cover (emphasis added below).
Building codes, state grants and low insurance rates have encouraged people to flee expensive cities for their dangerously fire-prone fringes.
A Nov. 15 view in Paradise, Calif., above, shows charred remains of houses among the trees after the Camp Fire burned down more than 11,000 homes. PHOTO: CAROLYN COLE/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES
The historically deadly wildfires that have roared through California this fall, and a string of similarly destructive ones over the past two years, are boosting calls to do more to slow climate change. But another underlying problem has contributed to the fires’ tragic damage: For decades, California, supposedly the greenest of states, has artificially lowered the cost of encroaching on nature by living in the woods.
Permissive building codes, low insurance rates and soaring taxpayer spending on firefighting and other services have provided an economic framework that has encouraged people to flee the state’s increasingly expensive cities for their leafy fringes. The forested exurbs, including places once thought too hilly or too dry to develop safely, have offered comparatively affordable living with jaw-dropping views.
The upshot: More houses have been packed into the fire-prone border between civilization and forest—known among planners as the “wildland-urban interface,” or WUI—in California than in any other state.
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