Last year Australia set a new record for wildfires: 16 million acres burned. 8 times the area of Amazon and California fires respectively. A land mass equal to West Virginia. Pointing the finger at changing climate may be justified, but does not provide a plan for protecting homes and communities from future mega-fires. Plus, many should admit we’re already at a global warming ‘no-return’ point. So how do we defend our homes and communities from fire?
While the environmental damage was enormous, the impact on Australian communities was relatively small. About 2,500 homes were lost, compared to 25,000 just in California. Of course, Australia is less densely populated. But is it also more fire-resilient?
Fires are the oldest hazard communities faced. Recall the great fires of Rome, London and Chicago. Over time, cities learned and became fire-resilient. Today, while we have many urban fire sources, we’re not, like before, burning down cities. Not so with suburban and rural communities. Maybe its time they adopt some of the lessons learned from cities.
There are two dimensions to wildfire community resilience:
- Manage the spread of wildfires
- Limit the destruction of communities.
Wildfires are a fact of nature. What humans can do to control their spreading is:
- Conduct controlled seasonal burning of dried vegetation
- Create and maintain wide bands of wildlife fire-isolation zones
While some environmentalists oppose such time-proven measures, they should weigh them again the billions of animals that were lost during the Australian fires. Such fire isolation zones should be even greater near settled areas.
Finally, the following time-proven measures can limit the destruction of communities:
- Create wide urban-wildlife buffer zones
- Reject any development that does not provide buffer zones
- Adapt building standards that only permit non-combustible construction
- Educate consumers of how to manage combustibles in proximity to homes
Sounds simple? It actually is. Who benefits? Residents.
Yet, most communities lack the knowledge or the political will to adopt such measures. Or, they are railroaded by development and construction interests, who profit from vulnerable development. In fact, in past 25 years about a third of new US homes have been built in locations considered Wildlife-Urban Interface areas, and most to standards that will not survive a fire.
So before you vote to fund that electric car recharge station, vote on making your community more fire-resilient. Because without Resilience, there is no Sustainability. And if we need to build a neighborhood twice, it is neither Green or Sustainable.
Consumers can do better in choosing the location and type of home to live in, as well as properly maintaining it. Homes should be our shelter from hazards, not the places we run from. A home will be the largest investment most of us make, the core of our wealth and where we safekeep our lifetime irreplaceable possessions.
Your family, like every family, has the right to be in a lasting home.