What Goes Together? Sprawl and Destructive Wildfires

Wildfires tend to start at the Wildland-Urban Interface: those border zones between cities and the open land surrounding them. Keeping the lid on sprawl, it can be argued, would tame the inferno.
August 3, 2017, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Donny Ash

As another summer of wildfires blazes on, it's hard not to notice the types of neighborhoods they regularly threaten. Adam Rogers writes, "The key to how we think about fire's severity [...] is not the number of fires, or even their magnitude, but where they are—and what's near them."

In fire-prone states like California, Texas, and Colorado, suburban sprawl often occupies the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) where wildfires often start. "Humans set most wildfires—95 percent of them, according to CalFire. That's a real problem when, as of 2004 in the continental US, the WUI was almost 278,000 square miles and contained 44.8 million housing units."

In a sense, the urban housing crisis exacerbates our risk from fire, and those affected are those priced out. "At a time when cities all over the country are experiencing housing crisesunable or unwilling to build enough units to accommodate growing populations, the greatest expansion of houses is on previously unbuilt spaces at the edges of cities."

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Published on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in Wired
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