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Wildfires Threaten Over a Million California Structures in High-Risk Areas

With limited action at the state level, communities in vulnerable areas have launched their own local preparedness programs and plans.
December 31, 2018, 9am PST | Camille Fink
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Jeff Turner

Doug Smith and Ben Welsh report on a Los Angeles Times analysis of buildings located in hazardous wildfire areas in California. "More than 1.1 million structures, or roughly 1 in 10 buildings in California, lie within the highest-risk fire zones in maps drawn by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the analysis showed."

The highest concentration of these structures is in Los Angeles, where 114,000 homes, industrial buildings, and other buildings are located in high-risk areas. San Diego follows with 88,000 buildings. Areas where cities butt up against rocky terrain are the most vulnerable, note Smith and Welsh.

"Although they identify areas where stricter building standards and brush clearance are required, the maps do not directly trigger land-use restrictions or funds to make communities less vulnerable," say Smith and Welsh. The state mandates building codes, but retrofitting existing buildings and disaster preparedness remain largely the responsibility of local jurisdictions and fire departments. 

Some communities in Southern California have taken the initiative to prepare for wildfires, where residents and local governments have organized volunteer arson watch and emergency response teams, conducted fire risk assessments, and held public meetings about safety and evacuation plans. However, many of these efforts still remain largely untested, since these are areas that were minimally affected by recent wildfires.

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Published on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 in The Los Angeles Times
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