Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sprawl in the US Sierras fanning fire dangers

The Union of Grass Valley: The population of the vast Sierra Nevada region continues to surge, increasing the risk of wildfire, unwieldy public expenditures and loss of life, according to a new report released by the Sierra Nevada Alliance. As much as 94 percent of the land slated for rural residential development is classified as very high or extreme fire hazard by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, according to a new report.

“The combination of population growth and climate change in our fire-prone region is creating a perfect fire storm where increasing numbers of people and homes will be at greater risk of catastrophic wildfire,” the 42-page study says. The Sierra Nevada is the third-fastest growing region in the state and is expected to triple by 2040, said the report, titled “Dangerous Development: Wildfire and Rural Sprawl in the Sierra Nevada.”

It describes the region as a “400-mile region (that) includes portions of 22 California counties and is home to about 600,000 people.” …

Urban interface fires are dangerous. Beyond combating a rapidly moving blaze, firefighters must lead evacuations and avoid fallen power lines, exploding propane tanks and toxic smoke caused by a burning assortment of unknown household chemicals. “Imagine what’s in every garage in the world,” Fike said.

…Despite the danger, retiring Baby Boomers and “equity refugees” are drawn to the region, said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch.…But cities and counties can limit the threat of wildfire with careful planning, according to the Sierra Nevada Alliance’s report. The Alliance report calls on cities, counties and developers to consider “fire smart growth” at the planning stage to minimize fire danger to mountain neighborhoods.

…A suburban subdivision designed for the flatlands of the valley isn’t going to work in a rural and rugged wildfire-prone landscape, said County Supervisor Hank Weston, who said planners have shifted their views of fire and development in the 45 years he’s been in the business.

….Weston agreed. “You can educate for so long. At some point, it will end. Enforcement will probably get stronger as people ignore compliance regulations,” he said.

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