Post-wildfire rebuilding and new development in California indicates minimal adaptation to fire risk
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Land Use Policy
Every year, wildfires destroy thousands of buildings in the United States, especially in the rapidly growing wildland-urban interface, where homes and wildland vegetation meet or intermingle. After a wildfire there is a window of opportunity for residents and public agencies to re-shape patterns of development, and avoid development in locations that are inherently at higher risk of wildfire destruction. We examined 28 of the most destructive wildfires in California, the state where most buildings are destroyed by wildfires, to evaluate whether locations of rebuilt and newly constructed buildings were adaptive (i.e., if building occurred in lower risk areas). In total, these fires burned 7,075 buildings from 1970 to 2009. We found minimal evidence for adaptation both in the number and placement of buildings post-fire. Rebuilding was common: 58% of the destroyed buildings were rebuilt within three to six years, and 94% within thirteen to twenty-five years after the fire. Similarly, we found minimal trends toward lower risk areas in the placement of 2,793 rebuilt and 23,404 newly constructed buildings over the course of 13–25 yr. In fact, long-term data revealed that relative risk of new construction either did not change significantly over time or increased. A destructive wildfire could provide an opportunity to assess and change building practices, yet our results show that such change is largely not occurring. As wildfires increasingly threaten communities, this lack of change could result in growing rates of destruction and loss of life.
KeywordsWildfire; Housing growth; Wildland urban interface; Policy; Planning
Kramer, H. Anu; Butsic, Van; Mockrin, Miranda H.; Ramirez-Reyes, Carlos; Alexandre, Patricia M.; Radeloff, Volker C. 2021. Post-wildfire rebuilding and new development in California indicates minimal adaptation to fire risk. Land Use Policy. 107: 105502. 8 p. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2021.105502.