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California needs to its reduce wildfire risk by restricting building as they do with flood zones
healdsburg fire
Firefighter Joe Zurilgen passes a burning home as the Kincade Fire rages in Healdsburg on Oct. 27, 2019. California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced plans on Sept. 21 aimed at keeping home insurers in California amid increasing risks from climate change.

California is burning.

Nothing unusual about that.

What is, in recent years anyway, is the lack of teeth gnashing by talking heads on TV or on social media by the climate change cartel.

It’s quiet despite the fact there were five active wildfires in California as of Monday afternoon that have burned more than 90,000 acres. That’s three timed the size of the City of San Francisco.

What gives?
It’s because the leading cause of the fires are lightning strikes.

As such, the burning of forests per se doesn’t raise the hackles of environmental warriors.

That’s because they can’t blame it on Chervon, PG&E or anyone driving an internal combustion powered vehicle.

But more important, all five wildfires are in remote areas.

They aren’t in places where people have built fire traps.

We’re not talking about the actual construction of a house but urban development.

*Multiple housing built on dead-end roads tucked in rugged hills and mountain areas.

*Isolated tract developments in heavily wooded rolling terrain with one or two ways out — think the 3,000 residents in Pine Mountain Lake near Groveland in Tuolumne County.

*Housing built on the base and ridges of vegetation heavy hillsides.

California officials indicate about a quarter of the state’s residents reside in high risk wildfire areas.

The areas are dubbed “wildland urban interface.”

It is essentially the zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development.

It’s where structures and other development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels.

And its not restricted to places like Paradise.

Topping the list are areas in the Los Angeles Basin, San Diego, and Bay Area.

The most prolific areas are along hillsides where growth abruptly stops and wildland begins. Think the Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 fed by the dry Diablo Winds.

That firestorm destroyed 2,280 housing units and killed 25 people. It wasn’t climate change that was the biggest contributing factor. It was development patterns.

The same is true for most destructive wildfires from Malibu to San Diego.

 As for the Paradise disaster, the state after the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed 18,000 structures identified several areas in California ripe for a similar fire including Nevada City in Nevada County and Arnold in Calaveras County.

It is against that background that it is little wonder than seven of the 12 largest insurance providers in California have dropped or paused issuing property coverage in the state.

The reason is simple.

Proposition 103 — approved by voters in 1988 — required firms to get permission from the state Department of Insurance before they could increase rates.

The state, in its infinite  wisdom, prohibited insurance firms from considering current or future risks to property when they set their rates. They are only allowed to use historical data.

And that data is weighted over a 20-year window.

The insurance crisis, of course, is the result of climate change.

In reality, the big losses suffered by insurance firms has less to do with climate change and more to do with man’s arrogance.

California has one of the nation’s highest exposures to natural disasters — floods, earthquakes, and wildfires.

Each category can be minimized by where we build.

Build in a known floodplain, and you have a higher risk of flooding.

All of the media hype about the surge of water from a melting glacier taking out two homes along a river in Alaska last month blamed it on climate change. Yet both houses were built not just on the river’s edge but had decks extending over the water,

That isn’t climate change. It’s asking for it.

As for flooding becoming more and more frequent and flood zones expanding, what else do you expect when you keep covering run-off basins with impervious surfaces such as rooftops, parking lots, sidewalks and such?

The same bad decisions apply to wildfires.

They have become more deadly and more prevalent in recent years because we are building more and more in wildfire zones.

Sixty years ago, evacuating people from wildfire areas was a minuscule part of the initial response of crews.

Today, it can often require 100 percent of the initial responding firefighters’ efforts to wildfires instead of devoting resources to taking on the fire itself.

There are more than 500 active faults and 15,700 known faults in California. Most Californians live within 30 miles of an active fault in a state that has had 7,479 earthquakes in the past 365 days.

Granted, most of the quakes can’t be felt by humans. But the fact they are so prevalent is why Sacramento imposed strict codes in regards to earthquakes statewide.

The state is in the process of doing the same for more muscular flood zones as defined by 200-year events.

Keep in mind a 200-year event refers not to the frequency but the chances of a flood event on such a scale happening in any given year.

If flood protection in such 200-year zones are not in place — or physically in the process of being constructed — by 2030, the state is prohibiting all new construction including additions to existing buildings unless new structures are elevated out of the floodplain by an earthen mound or in some other fashion.

Such state codes and rules reduce the potential for damage.

The same should be done for wildfires.

Government planning policy — not PG&E’s downed lines or Chevron’s greenhouse gas emissions — is what has upped the ante in California’s wildfires.

It is a priority for the state to use the uniform building code and zoning laws to reduce the risk in earthquakes and flooding.

Why not for wildfires?


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at