New program seeks to help backcountry homeowners prevent wildfire damage
Speaker 1: (00:00)
California has seen wildfire destroy more and more communities in recent years. Many of those heart hit towns have been in what's called high risk fire areas, adjacent to brush and grasslands. The irony is as wildfire experts know, making several changes to the structures of backcountry homes, some of those changes relative minor could save not only the homes, but the community from destruction. That's the idea behind a new state effort to retrofit thousands of houses in high risk areas offering up to $40,000 to cover the cost of the changes. And San Diego is the first county in the state to launch the program with 500 country residences from Delora to Campo. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune, reporter Joshua Emerson Smith, and welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: (00:50)
Good to be here as always Mor. So
Speaker 1: (00:52)
What's been discovered about the way wildfire travels that sold lawmakers on this $100 million statewide effort.
Speaker 2: (01:01)
We've in Southern California for a long time. That wildfires don't need to start in forests, but around 2007, 2008 Northern California started to see these firestorms where the embers travel far ahead of the flame front torching, suburban sub divisions. I mean, think Santa Rosa, even paradise where we saw the campfire, the state's most destructive fire, and that really caught the attention of lawmakers. And they realized in these areas where the fire's moving through brush and Chapparal, grasslands, and Chaparral brush lands. That there's really not a lot that we can do in terms of trying to chop back the vegetation. It just grows back so quickly and there's only so much chainsaws can do. And so we really started looking to the homes and what we could do to harden the homes against wildfire
Speaker 1: (01:59)
And what changes can we make to homes to harden them, to make them more fire resistant to
Speaker 2: (02:05)
Wildfire? Some of the things that we can do are pretty inexpensive, pretty easy things like putting Ember resistant screens on home vents and just tightening up homes where fire brands can get into little gaps and work their way you into addicts and inside the home to explode the house from the inside out. We know from, for example, the tubs fire in Santa Rosa, that a fire can spread from home to home, basically leveling an entire subdivision when this happens. So things like screens on vents, boxing off Eves, replacing windows with double painted windows. These are probably the first things that could be done and, and the least expensive.
Speaker 1: (02:54)
And are we talking about older homes here?
Speaker 2: (02:57)
Of course. Yeah, because California, over the last about 25 years now, right. Uh, has put in place a bunch of building codes that require that anything that gets built today in high fire areas has all of these features already in place.
Speaker 1: (03:16)
Why is the state offering to pay for these upgrades though? Couldn't they just require it.
Speaker 2: (03:21)
They could pass a law requiring it, although it would face tremendous pushback. People can't afford the upgrades that would be required. A lot of times these can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It, it should be noted that building a home up to the latest codes is not more expensive, but going back and doing the retrofits to the older homes can be very costly.
Speaker 1: (03:49)
And the program is voluntary. People who live in high risk areas, don't have to do this. How is it being received?
Speaker 2: (03:57)
We don't really know yet. I, I hesitate to make any predictions on how this will be received. I did go out to doer, which is the first community that to receive this money. And I talked to a number of people there and they did have some concerns, concerns, mostly centered around the idea that this could a reassessment of their home and potentially increased property taxes. A lot of these folks out in these communities, doze Petre Campo or older folks on fixed income, and they really can't handle an increase to their property tax. Another issue could be that this would be taxed as income at the end of the year, and they could be stuck with a big, a big tax bill. These are real issues that people have, cuz it's being sold as free money. But the question is, you know, how free is that free money?
Speaker 1: (04:52)
Are officials doing anything to maybe help ease those concerns? We
Speaker 2: (04:56)
Talked to Cal fire here in San Diego and the county. They confirmed that no, this will not trigger a reassessment of properties. That's what they've said so far. They've also said that the state legislature is looking at addressing the issue of whether or not this will be taxed as income. So it's not as if this is being ignored. People are working hard on these issues cuz they realize this could be a major disincentive for adoption to the program.
Speaker 1: (05:26)
You talked about the fire safety requirements, the state now mandates for newer homes. Do we have evidence that those requirements really make homes safer from wildfire?
Speaker 2: (05:38)
You know, we do have a significant body of, of some scientific research that has suggested this the most recent of which coming out of UC San Diego, where they looked at thousands of homes across California and even, even other parts of the west. And they found that those building codes really do seem to have an impact and reduce the likelihood that a structure, a single family home will be lost in a wildfire. So yeah, it does seem like the, the research is pointing toward a pretty strong signal in terms of the value of those building codes
Speaker 1: (06:14)
And will $40,000. The state is spending cover all the retrofitting needed in an older home.
Speaker 2: (06:22)
We should really talk about that, that number, that 40,000 number that's huge. I mean that that's a real big amount of money per home. Right? We could do a lot with that. You could replace a roof. Definitely. You could install the be resistant vents. You can redo siding, potentially try to box off Eves and replace windows. This could go a long way for a lot of people in terms of making their homes more resistant. So yeah, $40,000 is a big chunk of money.
Speaker 1: (06:54)
And how do homeowners find out if their home is a included in San Diego county? And if it is, how do they apply for the program?
Speaker 2: (07:02)
So right now it's being rolled out in Del zero Pitero and Campo. So if you live along the 94 between Delara and Campo, you will almost certainly qualify folks that make a little bit more money may have to pay a percentage of that on a sliding scale, but you can find out the details by going to wildfire, mitigation.cal oes.ca.gov.
Speaker 1: (07:29)
Okay. And I think we'll probably have that address on our website too. K P s.org. I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter Joshua Emerson Smith, Joshua.
Speaker 2: (07:39)
Thank you. Pleasure as always.
As California wildfires continue to grow larger and more destructive, efforts to combat them have also grown. A new state program to retrofit older houses in high-risk areas is offering up to $40,000 to cover the cost of the upgrades.
San Diego is the first county in the state to launch the program for hundreds of backcountry residences in Dulzura, Potrero and Campo.
RELATED: San Diego homes to get $24 million from state for wildfire retrofits after county nixed similar program
Joshua Emerson Smith, reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, joined Midday Edition Tuesday to talk about the pilot wildfire mitigation program.
Recent studies, such as a recent one from UC San Diego, have highlighted how building upgrades save homes from wildfire.
"Some of the things that we can do are pretty inexpensive, pretty easy," Smith said. "Things like putting ember resistant screens on home vents and just tightening up homes where fire brands can get into little gaps and work their way into attics inside the home to explode the house from the inside out."
For more information on the program, click here.