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Op/Ed: To Avoid Wildfire Tragedies, Start Building Smarter

Poorly Planned, Unmanaged Growth Plays Role in Disasters’ Human, Infrastructure Losses

By Marccus D. Hendricks and William Mobley

Camp wildfire in California

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

A home burns during the Camp fire in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8.

While the devastating wildfires raging in California show the dangers of a changing climate, they also illustrate how poorly planned and managed development place homes and people at risk.

That’s the argument put forth by Marccus D. Hendricks, assistant professor of urban studies and planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and a research affiliate with the Center for Disaster Resilience, in a Wednesday op-ed in The Huffington Post.

Better management of the intersection between undeveloped land and the human-built environment, Hendricks wrote, will be critical in fostering resilience to such catastrophes:

The recent Camp fire in California has been declared the deadliest in the state’s history. The devastation is yet another example of the collision of climate-related risks and the human-built environment. Climate change isn’t the singular cause of the Camp, Hill and Woosley fires; however, it has amplified environmental factors (including warmer and dried-out soils) in creating a longer fire season that sets the stage for increased risk. Growth and development have met these environmental factors at what experts call the “wildland-urban interface.”

The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is defined as the intersection of undeveloped natural land and human-built environment. Here, homes, developments and public infrastructure meet or intermingle with undeveloped, environmentally sensitive areas. It’s created when people migrate farther and farther into “natural” areas in pursuit of privacy, natural aesthetics, recreational opportunities and more affordable housing. Where there are people, housing follows. And where there is housing, other critical infrastructures and development are needed.

Read more in The Huffington Post.



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