The Woolsey Fire. The Thomas Fire. The Camp Fire. The entire town of Paradise, California was consumed by flames last fall, with almost 14,000 homes destroyed and 85 people killed, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in the last 100 years.
Over the last few years, California has seen some increasingly deadly wildfires, and they have spurred lawmakers to consider regulations that would tighten local governments’ requirements for new housing developments in high-risk areas. With the state Senate committee voting 8-3 last week, they advanced a measure requiring developers to increase fire protections, plan for evacuations, or make preparations for residents who may need to wait out the fires in safety. Most importantly, local governments would also be required to enhance existing structures to ensure they are less likely to burn.
Not surprisingly, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara introduced Senate Bill 182. Santa Barbara saw several destructive wildfires over the past 24 months, with the added devastation of the mudflow through Montecito that killed 22 people.
While Jackson admitted it wasn’t the most exciting legislation, she noted that “it is critically important if we are going to be prepared for the next set of wildfires that run through our state, causing property damage and most importantly the loss of life.”
It seems that new homes are not necessarily the problem, because of California’s already strict requirements for home building in high-fire-risk areas. This was the objection of Nick Cammarota, the California Building Industry Association’s overseer of government and regulatory affairs.
“There’s no perfect place to build in California,” he said. “We don’t want to have seismic risks, we don’t want to have sea level rise, or wetlands, or ag land preservation, or floods, or toxics, or you name it. … The entire state is covered with having imperfect places to build.”
No surprise that he and his organization oppose the regulations, arguing that that the bill would make housing production more expensive, resulting in fewer new homes when California is struggling with problems such as a lack of affordable housing and increasing homelessness.
While only about 7 percent of Californians live in high-risk wildfire areas, that’s more than 3 million people. Proponents of the bill point out that the risk will only increase with climate change.
How do you feel about the new requirements set out by this bill? Do you live in a high-risk fire area? Have you been affected by the fires over the past few years? If so, what do you feel needs to be done? Feel free to leave your answer in the comments.
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