NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Homeowners Build Despite Wildfire Hazards

March 3, 2004

In spite of the devastation that western wildfires have wreaked on private homes and land, the population in western states continues to grow. The aesthetics of mountain views, wildlife and less congestion draw homeowners to the edge of wilderness areas, leaving many vulnerable to wildfires:

  • Last year's fires in San Diego and four surrounding counties killed 25 people and damaged 3,600 homes, resulting in property damage of over $3.5 billion.
  • California's forestry department estimates that about 7.2 million homes are at risk from wildfires.
  • Nationwide, about 32 million people live in areas that are at risk for wildfire devastation.

Despite the risks, the population in eight Rocky Mountain states is expected to grow 10 percent by 2008. Few western states have implemented building requirements due to residents' resistance, leaving fire protection mainly up to homeowners. San Diego county now requires homes to have a tile or metal roof, 100 feet of clearance around homes, and a 10,000 gallon water-storage tank or interior sprinklers. Nonetheless, California's requirements are inconsistent, varying from county to county.

Adding to the problem is decades of government suppression of wildfires, leaving many areas overgrown and vulnerable to fire.

Source: John Ritter, "Risk Doesn't Deter Growth In Fire-Prone Areas," USA Today, February 4, 2004.

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