Sunday, October 28, 2007

Southland Fires

Good background on living in fire prone semi-wild areas.

The Fires Next Time
Welcome to the Wildland Urban Interface.
Saturday, October 27, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Cooler temperatures and weaker Santa Ana winds have enabled firefighters to gain a measure of control over the blazes in Southern California. And state officials are optimistic that the worst is behind them. But estimated property damage exceeds $1 billion--a result in part of too many people living in fire-prone areas.

As of Friday, some 700 square miles had burned, 1,600 homes had been destroyed and more than 500,000 people in San Diego County had been displaced. The national media have focused on the federal response, eager to compare it to the Hurricane Katrina fiasco of two years ago. However, local officials also deserve scrutiny. Fires in Southern California are a natural phenomenon, like tornadoes in Kansas and flooding in the Mississippi Delta. But public policy makers can and should put in place incentives to minimize the potential havoc.

A good first step would be to require state and local governments to foot more of the costs of fighting these fires. The U.S. Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, is tasked with combating fires in national forests. But most of the agency's time and resources are spent protecting adjacent private property in what is known as the "wildland urban interface," or WUI for the fire cognoscenti.