Study: Housing developments near drying forests a deadly combination in the West
By Darryl Fears
(Washington Post) – As the climate warms, forest fires in the West increasingly will feast on acres of dry brush, growing into giants. In a cycle that will become routine, homeowners will flee, while firefighters will rush toward their houses — and away from areas where they could be putting out wildfires.
Bigger, unwieldy burns — megafires — are becoming the new normal, according to a new report, which points to several reasons: States such as California are getting parched more frequently by drought; housing developments are pushing more deeply into forests; and the U.S. Forest Service is generally suppressing fires rather than letting them burn naturally, which would reduce the brush that fuels future fires.
“That’s one of our biggest conundrums,” said Scott L. Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California at Berkeley. “We continue building. We make fire management so much more difficult. The first thing you’re going to do is run and protect people’s homes.”
In 1993, the average cost of fighting wildfires was $350 million a season. Now, it’s $2 billion, said Stephens, the lead author of “Temperate and boreal forest mega-fires: characteristics and challenges,” published recently in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
“The cost is going up, and one reason is the extreme amount of resources that has to be put into putting out fires near an urban interface,” Stephens said. “Having those houses there . . . man, that gets expensive. A fire engine every four, five or six houses, and there are hundreds of houses out there.”
The review’s conclusions underscore what the agencies responsible for fighting wildfires — the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service — have said for years, (Read More)