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13.11.03

If You Can't Take The Heat, Stay Out Of The Woods

Experts Say California Wildfires Could Worsen With Global Warming

... State lawmakers are requiring the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to begin charging rural homeowners for the cost of fire protection, as the state battles its massive budget deficit.

Nichols suggested the state should consider additional "user fees" on development in fire-prone areas. As it is, taxpayers across the nation pay to fight California's wildfires and to reimburse homeowners for their losses.

"If the true cost of fire protection were built into the cost of construction, it would not be as easy or as cheap as it has been to build in the foothills," Nichols said. "I think that would be a good thing."


The quoted bit doesn't match the headline because it came from the very end of the article, but it's the part that interested me more. The impact of a natural hazard is the result of the intersection of two elements: the event and the exposure. We could have the biggest wildfire in history and it would be no big deal if there was nobody there to get burned by it. In dealing with fire our society has a tendency to fixate on the event. Most of our strategies for reducing the fire hazard center on reducing fire events -- thinning forests, controlled burns, fire suppression, etc. This bias is more pronounced with regard to fire than is the case for some other natural hazards. For example, though we may dream about ways to reduce the occurrence of earthquakes, we mostly look to solutions like earthquake-proof buildings and not moving to California that reduce exposure. It's the percieved controllability of fire that's at issue here. For thousands of years people have built fires, so we're conditioned to think of them as things that are done, not things that just happen. This is reinforced by the fact that there are many things that we can do to affect the incidence of fire. Another component is that exposure reduction seems to involve lifestyle changes. We want the freedom to live however we want, and we hope that we can neutralize the exposure risk by eliminating the event. There's a strong tendency to take our lifestyle as given.

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