Friday, October 14, 2016

More homes being built in potential wildfire areas, but few fire departments prepared to fight blazes

Results of a fire in Yarnell, Ariz. (AP photo)
More than one-third of new homes built since 2000 are in areas where the potential for wildfires is greater, Eric Sagara, Emmanuel Martinez and Ike Sriskandarajah report for Reveal, part of The Center for Investigative Reporting. While more people are living in these areas, often called wildland-urban interface (WUI), few fire departments are trained, or prepared, to fight the growing number of wildfires.

Since 1990, 8.5 million more homes are in WUI areas, reports Reveal. "The major reason is that the border between nature and urban development is constantly shifting as new homes push out into the wilderness." In South Carolina, for example, 63 percent of residents live in WUI areas. The state had more than 78,000 wildfires from 1992-2003.

"More than half the wildfires between 1992 and 2013 occurred in Southern states, including Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina," reports Reveal. "Fires there typically are smaller, with an average size of 27.6 acres. Fires in Western states are roughly six times larger. In California, the Sand Fire tore through more than 41,000 acres of land in a matter of days in late July, destroying 18 buildings and killing one man."

"As climate change continues to bring warmer, drier conditions to most of the country, many experts agree that wildfires will be both larger and more frequent," reports Reveal. At the same time, "only about a third of fire departments that cover WUI areas have the specialized training and 30 percent have the necessary equipment, according to a 2011 study from the National Fire Protection Association. Most of these departments must rely on help from other state, local and federal agencies during a wildfire." (Read more)

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