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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Is it time to rethink California fire policy?

Professor Minnich, a professor of earth science at the University of California, wonders when California will admit a policy failure when faced with the fact that 1.4 million acres have burned within the last four years. The idea is that when comparing San Diego County and Baja California in Mexico we see that Mexico's fires are smaller and burn out by themselves and that this occurrence clears out the brush and overgrowth that perpetuate the super-fires that plague California. Fire policy north of the border emphasises fire suppression and, in turn, keeps fires from their natural cycle for clearing out the overgrowth.
Furthermore, the rapid growth of the San Diego area endangers more people and developments. If the recent fires had occurred in 1980 only 61,000 homes would have been within close proximity to the fires. Today the number is around 125,000 according to analysis by the University of Wisconsin.

California State Fire Marshall Kate Dargan claims that discussions have begun at the highest levels of Californian government on how to address the issue but action is between 5 to 10 years away due to the size of the endeavor. There are currently some actions in effect to prevent these problems. In 2004 laws were made to enforce strict building code in fire prone areas. These new rules mandate that new homes locate attic vents away from the forest and decks with overhangs are regulated as well. Voluntary standards include fire-resistant building materials, sprinkler systems, and fire-resistant vegetation controls. These voluntary standards seem to be working as housing projects built under voluntary standards have all survived the fires.

Even with these new laws the fact remains that California experiences these fires because of its unwillingness to follow the effective methods of Mexico in it's Californian Baja. Building codes do little to clear the hillsides of the large amount of brush that the natural fire cycle would consume. Californian cities will continue to sprawl/grow and the threat of these super-fires will not subside without changing fire policy.

From the perspective of efficiency and market failure, how would you look at the policy issues?
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