USA TODAY US Edition
One in three California homes prone to wildfires
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.