When spark meets sprawl: Building in wildlands increases fire risk

Fire is as common to Western states as the drought-dried shrubs that feed the flames.

 This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Oakland Hills Firestorm in the San Francisco Bay Area that destroyed about 3,000 homes and killed 25 people. At an estimated $1.5 billion in losses – $2.7 billion in today’s dollars – it remains the country’s most costly wildfire to date.

Wildfires, long considered a problem exclusive to the West, now threaten many other parts of the country as extreme weather becomes more commonplace and more people live in areas at risk for wildfire.

Jodi Aldridge never thought her Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, home was vulnerable. But on the evening of March 16, 2013, one of her co-workers at a Chili’s restaurant pointed to smoke in the distance, near where she lived.

Aldridge, 39, rushed from work to her condo complex, hoping to rescue Puck, her pug puppy.

“It was insane,” she recalled. “You could literally watch the fire jump from bush to bush and building to building.”

Aldridge said she “ran up the steps of what I thought was my building, not realizing my building was completely gone.”

What began as a grass fire eventually destroyed more than 100 condos.

Aldridge never found Puck. All she managed to retrieve was a beach towel and part of a plate her son had made for her for Mother’s Day.

In South Carolina, where Aldridge lives, nearly 2 out of every 3 people live in regions classified by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as wildland-urban interface, or WUI – areas where homes and wildland meet and where the stakes and potential for wildfires are higher. From 1992 to 2013, the state saw more than 78,000 wildfires.

 

Read the entire article at RevealNews.org