USA: After California's most destructive fire season, a debate over where to rebuild homes

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Los Angeles Times

[...] With the frequency and cost of catastrophic wildfires climbing in California, the idea of compensating property owners to not rebuild — or using economic pressure to discourage them from building in the first place — is gaining supporters among those searching for ways to cut wildfire losses. The state has seen its most destructive year of wildfires in its history, with more than 15,000 structures damaged or destroyed and more than 45 people killed. Researchers warn that 2017 is a sign of what’s to come as the effects of a warming climate and unchecked wildlands development converge.

‘Incredibly insensitive and impractical’

“I think what’s next is that every mayor, every town council and city planning board has to take this really seriously,” said Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College. “I would tell a zoning commission in Claremont or wherever, ‘Buy up the land before it gets built. And if a fire comes through, buy up the land so it won’t burn again.’ ”

The question of rebuilding is emotionally and politically fraught. Proximity to nature, beautiful views and remoteness draw people to the wildlands where builders have obtained permits to place houses in areas with high susceptibility to fire. Some of the neighborhoods that burned this year had experienced fire before when there was less development. Houses rebuilt there will soon be at risk again from a fire cycle that experts say is shortening from decades to only years.

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