The U.S. Forestry Service reports that one in three California homes were at risk for wildfires. I haven't done the research necessary to do the math, but I think we can stipulate that one third of all California homes is a significant enough number of families at risk to warrant action.
California and Texas lead the nation in the number of homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). I'd never heard of the WUI until I joined a volunteer fire department when I moved to Texas, but apparently it's a big deal to fire safety professionals and forest managers. According to the article linked above,
"the number of homes at risk vary, depending on drought, efforts to eliminate dead brush, as well as community and homeowner actions that can reduce risk, according to the Forest Service."
Before you dismiss the plight of California homeowners due to their negligence, it's important to remember that those "efforts to eliminate brush" and "community and homeowner actions that can reduce risk" are often curtailed by environmental regulations aimed at protecting wildland habitat. Many homeowners and communities (along with the insurance companies who write policies on homes, cars and other buildings in those areas) would love to cut back the brush that poses a fire risk, but such efforts are often blocked due to either governmental regulations or homeowners' association (HOA) covenants.
Given the lingering drought situation in Texas and the increased risk of wildfire that comes with that, some policymakers are taking action. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature considered HB 1442 which would allow homeowners the right to remove trees and vegetation which the owner believes poses a fire risk.*
In Pivot Points, I talk about what a culture of preparedness might look like, citing a number of examples from around the country. For example:
"Families in Central Texas are not so lucky. Drought conditions continue to plague the area, causing massive wildfires throughout rural areas and green belted suburban areas. Residents learned their lessons from previous wildfires. Ordinances prohibiting the cutting of dried brush – originally enacted to preserve habitat for wildlife – have been revised to balance the need for disaster mitigation. Families have their important documents in fireproof boxes which they purchased from their local hardware stores. Homeowners and their insurance agents annually review their insurance coverages and discuss what’s covered, how their deductibles are calculated, and whether the homeowner has enough coverage on their house. As fires go through neighborhoods, the impact is mitigated by the fact that brush was cleared, while gutters and roofs were kept free of leaves which might catch fire from flying hot embers. Some residents suffer minor injuries as they rushed their preparations to completion; other neighbors, who participated in a first aid class sponsored by their homeowner’s association, provide initial medical treatment."
In a state that values preparedness, policymakers have a role to play - to ensure that individuals and communities have the ability to take appropriate steps to make their communities more resilient.
*In full disclosure, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies - for whom I lobby - registered support for this bill during the hearing on it at the Texas Capitol.
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