Study: Wildfire risk to homes will double in 40 years


Publisher’s note: Getting rid of shake roofs is one way to protect homes. Lake Valley and Meeks Bay fire departments have grant funds to help homeowners put on a new roof. South Lake Tahoe Fire Department was asked to help write the grant and then get some of the money, but didn’t do so according to Fire Chief Brian Uhler,” … because we don’t have a dedicated bureau for fire prevention  — a limitation relative to requirements to be eligible for applying for the grant.”

By Merced Sun-Star

Climate change, population growth in rural areas and other factors could double the risk wildfires pose to homes within the next 40 years, according to a UC Merced study.

The information is part of a report by UC Merced Professor Anthony Westerling, prepared for the California Energy Commission.

In the paper, released Wednesday, Westerling and co-author Ben Bryant looked at the impacts of climate change, the state’s projected population growth, urban and rural development, and land-use decisions on wildfires around the state in the coming century.

“Climate change is going to alter wildfire in our state,” Westerling said, in a press release from UC Merced. “How and where we build our homes, and how we manage the landscape around them, will shape our vulnerability to wildfire.”

Although policies to deal with climate change could help, Westerling said some level of additional warming is going to occur regardless.

As a result, smart-growth strategies for land use, such as concentrating growth in existing urban areas, educating people about implementing fire-proofing practices, such as creating defensible space around their homes, will help lessen the threat.

Fire-resistant home construction would help, especially in areas likely to be particularly threatened as the climate gets warmer.

“Fire suppression, fuels management and development policies, such as zoning and building codes, are the primary means we have to manage wildfire risks,” he said.

In addition, more people are building homes in forested areas. More developed rural land means a greater the chance for wildfires, the data shows, which increases the threat to the homes.

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Comments (5)
  1. headroom says - Posted: August 5, 2012

    Thank you for your timely comments regarding FEMA’s shake shingle roof replacement funding grant and also the article explaining the long term consequences of climate change.

    As you point out, this funding opportunity was offered to our city but declined by Chief Ulher because we have no fire prevention bureau; we also have no fire division chiefs and no fire marshal. We have no plan to distribute grant funding should another opportunity come along.

    This is unacceptable since the health and safety of residents is the first and most fundamental duty of city government and catastrophic fire is the most obvious threat to residents and visitors. The city’s inability to participate in the roof replacement grant points to the thinness of what a “downsized” or “right-sized” government really means for us–the absence of staffing that could help make us much safer. In contrast, the County’s Lake Valley Fire Protection District can use the FEMA grant and is presently considering the qualifications of its many county applicants.

    Roof replacement work does not begin until May 2013. Is there yet some chance of working with Lake Valley Fire District so that we can be included in the program? If so, our city council and city staff should search for that way. If not, we must as soon as possible create the staffing structure that would make us eligible for future funding grants

    In addition, we need to begin an ongoing dialogue between fire staff and residents so that a groundwork of trust based upon information can begin. This would help to create confidence between residents, police and fire personnel in case we need to evacuate all or some part of the town.

    There is no such thing as defendable space so long as roofs are made of kindling wood. And shake shingles, once ablaze and flying as far as a mile by fire driven wind make the idea of a defendable neighborhood or defendable town not credible.

    Long term, the survival of our town is on the line. And while lately we have worked mightily and spent hugely to make it a more attractive place for visitors, we have lost some perspective. We must build it back for ourselves and the increasing number of visitors we strive to attract. The health and safely of residents and visitors is the city’s responsibility–first and foremost.

  2. fireman says - Posted: August 5, 2012

    Is this going to repay the people who were responsible and took the money out of thier own pockets in the past few years and replaced thier own roofs. Why do the tax payers pay for some people to recieve new roofs. I know when i did the roof on my house it was close to eight thousand dollars. So not only do i get to pay for mine but also get to pay for some others who were not responsible. Guess i should have waited and let someone else pay for it.

  3. Skier says - Posted: August 6, 2012

    A grant to pay for my wood shake roof? Oh, I don’t qualify because I live in the City. South Tahoe Fire department…What a joke. You just cost your tax payer thousands. Hand over the keys to Lake Valley Fire Department.

  4. headroom says - Posted: August 6, 2012

    A roof replacement grant would pay for only a portion of the total cost. The home owner picks up the balance. Some home owners own old cabins and cannot afford to replace the roofs themselves. These are the folks FEMA may help.

  5. Steve says - Posted: August 6, 2012

    Another reason to dissolve the city and turn it over to county control. Unless you like higher taxes, separate and higher fees, the same or fewer benefits and services, unnecessary overlapping and redundancy, and more bureaucrats getting in each others way.