Thousands of homes have burned and dozens of lives have been lost in the latest pattern of disastrous California wildfires.
“The forests will grow back, frankly. It’s the community. I don’t know if you can ever put that community back together again,” said Dan Turner, retired CAL FIRE Chief and Executive Director of San Luis Obispo County’s Fire Safe Council.
Turner says the lack of rain and warmer summers play a role.
“We’re definitely seeing a climate change issue. We’re dealing with that,” Turner added.
Drought conditions have stressed trees and killed vegetation. CAL FIRE has an interactive map that shows high hazard zones for dead trees throughout California.
“It’s more dead than it is alive out on our hillsides,” said Chris Elms, CAL FIRE Public Information Officer.
High-density housing is nestled up right next to the volatile fuels.
“Literally millions of structures that were built before fire was considered to be a part of it with the fire code,” said Chris Dicus, Cal Poly Professor and President of the Association for Fire Ecology. “Even the road infrastructure for allowing people to be able to evacuate is really sub-standard in a lot of places in California. It’s all coming together and causing some of the disasters that we’re seeing.”
Dicus says every property in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties is at risk for destruction similar to the Woolsey and Camp fires. The further inland you live, the higher the risk.
“We could see massive devastation in that area and in other places around the county,” Dicus said.
Dicus rejects the notion that this is the “new normal.” With the political will to do so, he says different decisions on where and how homes are built could make all the difference.
“The million-dollar question that comes up is, what do we do with the literal millions of houses that we already have built that are at risk right now?” Dicus added.