One in three California homes prone to wildfires

- Doyle Rice

A third of homes in California are in areas prone to wildfires, according to data from the U.S. Forest Service, a statistic that helps explain the destructio­n of hundreds of homes over the weekend.

More devastatio­n is likely as people continue to build houses close together in vulnerable areas and fires become more common as a result of prolonged droughts and higher temperatur­es partly blamed on global warming, For- est Service and climate data show.

The federal agency estimated in its latest report that 4.5 million homes in California were built in areas designated as the “Wildland-Urban Interface” (WUI), where developmen­ts are built very close to forests.

California wildfires destroyed more than 750 houses and hundreds of other buildings in the past week, according to CalFire, the state firefighti­ng agency. The Valley Fire near Sacramento has been one of the most destructiv­e this year, CalFire said.

“The large majority of homes destroyed by the Valley Fire so far have been WUI homes,” Susan Stewart, a Forest Service scientist, said in an e-mail.

Nationwide, less than 10% of land is a wildland-urban area, but 100 million Americans live there, the Forest Service said.

That’s a record 44 million homes built close together in these fire-prone forests as of 2010, a 16% increase from 2000, the Forest Service said in its report, using the latest national data available for analysis.

These expanding wildland-urban regions are a critical issue for firefighti­ng and conserving forests, said Robert Bonnie, an undersecre­tary at the U.S. Agricultur­e Department, which oversees the Forest Service.

“Our firefighte­rs must commit greater resources to protect homes and property, which dramatical­ly increases the cost of fire suppressio­n,” Bonnie said.

Almost 9 million acres has burned in the USA this year — a total surpassed in only three other years, most recently in 2012, the National Interagenc­y Fire Center said. The Forest Service has spent $1.4 billion this year to fight fires.

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