Built to Burn: New Report on Development in Fire Zones
A very important report (directly relevant to the local proposal Harvest Hills) has been issued by the Center for Biological Diversity last week. Built to Burn, California’s Wildlands Developments are Playing with Fire, Bold Land-use Reforms Needed Now to Ensure Safer, Sustainable Future.
The authors report on the science around the relationship between land use, location of development, and fire prone areas. It documents the increasing trends of fire risks to lives and property and makes recommendations to reverse the trends. Not surprisingly, the report’s major recommendation is for legislation to stop building new homes in highly fire-prone wildlands.
This is highly relevant to Escondido since the proposed Harvest Hills is just such a project that will endanger the lives of current and future residents, radically increase fire risks, and degrade human and environmental health in the region. The report outlines many factors and studies that should raise concern among our local fire personnel, decision-makers, and the general public in Escondido.
Some key points:
- Most destruction to human communities from fire has been caused by human-ignited fires in mixed shrubland habitats.
- The problem is getting worse. 15 of the 20 most destructive California wildfires have occurred in the past five years.
- Reckless land-use planning is causing fires to be more destructive. Development in highly fire-prone areas increase unintentional ignitions, places more people at risk, and destroys habitats that support high levels of biodiversity.
- Placing developments in highly fire-prone habitat s ultimately increases fire threat over time. Continued sprawl is causing more frequent fires, which convert shrublands to non-native grasses that ignite more easily throughout the year.
- Placing more homes in highly-fire-prone areas increases the chances of causing larger and more destructive wildfires.
- In the 2017 Camp Fire, about half of the home built to fire-safety codes were destroyed in the blaze.
- Health impacts from wildfires, particularly increased air pollution from fine particulates (PM2.5) in smoke, disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, including low-income communities, people of color, children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions.
- When local officials approve more development in fire-prone areas instead of focusing on increasing affordable housing near city centers, we all pay the price. Californians suffer from unsustainable firefighting and recovery costs, degraded ecosystems and smoky air. And firefighters literally put their bodies on the line when these developments are threatened by wildfire.
- The science is clear. Placing more homes and people in highly fire-prone areas leads to more human caused ignitions and puts more people in danger.
State Sen. Stern recently introduced Senate Bill 55 to help keep Californians safer from wildfire. The bill would prohibit new development that would increase ignition risks in very high fire-hazard severity zones and state responsibility areas.
SB 55 Fire Safe Growth proposed