2017 wildfires highlight gaps in California’s approach to fire safety in urbanized areas

Better hazard mapping and retrofit programs could help.

December 06, 2017 |

Devastating wildfires in California earlier this year show that the state’s policy regarding fire safety has flaws.

According to an article by a fire researcher, fire hazard maps do not take extreme weather patterns such as Santa Ana winds into account. The maps could also better address the vulnerabilities of what is actually exposed.

The wildland-urban interface where developed lands are exposed to natural, flammable areas is often assumed to be where the exposure ends. Actually, vulnerable zones can extend well beyond those areas.

One strategy to mitigate fire risk—creating defensible space around homes or larger scale fuel breaks by thinning vegetation around communities—could be used more frequently. In addition, grant programs that pay for building retrofits such as replacing wood shake shingle roofs or upgrading attic and crawlspace vents to block embers for entering a structure, could also make a difference. There are very few examples of these types of grants, though.

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