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Reveal: More People Living In Areas At Risk For Wildfires

A firefighter puts water on a house fence during a wildfire in Carlsbad, May 14, 2014.
Associated Press
A firefighter puts water on a house fence during a wildfire in Carlsbad, May 14, 2014.

Reveal: More People Living In Areas At Risk For Wildfires
Reveal: More People Living In Areas At Risk For Wildfires GUEST:Eric Sagara, senior data reporter, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diegans no October is a dangerous month. Wildfires are so much a part of the California experience, we might be forgiven and thinking it's something that mostly happens in the West. The new report finds that a combination of climate change is making wildfire part of the landscape across the country. Joining me is Eric Serra -- Eric Sagara. Where are wildfires becoming a problem now? Traditionally, we think of them as a Western issue. There are more wildfires that occur outside Western states and is climate stage ramps up we start to see more drought conditions in less rain. We will start seeing wildfires getting larger throughout the country. Talk to us about wildland urban interface. Is this land that's never been built on before? In many cases, yes it is. It's land that is overgrown with vegetation that provides a high risk for fire and once you start adding houses, you put in buildings that could become you will and people will lose things if those buildings burned. You introduce people and that increases the likelihood of actually starting fires, most fires are human caused, 95% are human caused. When people are moving into these areas, do they realize, they are in an area where there's an increased chance of wildfire? That is not clear. One researchers I've spoken with pointed out realtors are required to tell prospective homebuyers, there is a flood risk. They aren't required to do that for fire risk. If people want to check, if they live in a urban interface area or in an area and they are interested in moving into one of these areas, where can they check? I would say the easiest thing to do is to call their local fire department. There are resources available. The service lab at the University of Wisconsin has done work mapping out these areas. It comes down to talking to your local fire district. Finding out the threats and what they need to do to prepare and protect. What did you find out about what local governments are doing to prevent wildfire in these new developments? It runs the gamut. It's hard for local governments to tell people where they can and cannot build. Property rights come into play, a lot. Most governments try to look at building codes, make sure people are using fire resistant materials from construction. A lot of places Institute brush clearing laws. That's a huge fire threat. There are governments pushing the idea of a fire ways community, a national certification. It has to do with making sure your guards are cleans and that there is plenty of access through the neighborhood and fire hydrants, as well as making sure homes are not built with wooden shingles or anything combustible. Your report looked into places outside of the West that face an increased risk of wildfire. What is California's prolonged drought doing to our potential for wildfire? We are seeing a couple of things having to do with the prolonged drought. The vegetation here is distressed. It's very susceptible to disease. It's very overgrown as well. Wildfire risk is higher than it has been in a while. We saw that in 2015 and we see that now with the Soberanes fire. The wildfire risk is climbing throughout the state. Knowing this, what actions are being taken? A lot of people are looking at the whole tree mortality issue. The last estimate that I saw was 60 million dead trees throughout the Sierra Nevada range, a lot of that has to do with pine beetle infestation. There is debate as to whether or not that actually is creating conditions for fires or if it's helping the fires. I do know, they want that area cleaned. They are doing thinning projects and we are starting to see communities look at different ways of rebuilding. A lot of your report focused on wildland, urban interface areas in the new developments going in there. San Diego has housing crisis and because of that one idea is to build in areas that are in wildland urban in for -- interface areas. Can we do that safely? I think we do. Stephen Clyne is a wildfire historian. He pointed out we know how to keep buildings from burnings. We have to treat it as an urban fire problem, manage the landscape in a way that we can live safely. He does not mean wiping out all vegetation, cleaning up the landscape enough and protecting the homes, making sure there are access points. I've been speaking with Eric Sagara. Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition at 5 PM and again at 6:30 on KPBS television. Join us tomorrow for KPBS Midday Edition at noon. If you ever miss a show you can check out the midday edition pod test at tran 29/podcast. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh , thank you for listening.

More Americans are living in areas that are at risk for wildfire.

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That's one of the findings of an investigative report from Reveal, a program of the Center for Investigative Reporting, which found that a combination of climate change and land-use decisions is causing wildfires to be a threat in many areas of the country.

Reveal's senior data reporter, Eric Sagara, found that since 1990, 8.5 million more homes are in so-called wildland-urban interface areas, areas where homes and wildland meet and where the potential for wildfires are higher.

In California, 30 percent of residents live in these wildland-urban interface areas.

STORY: When spark meets sprawl: Building in wildlands increases fire risk

PODCAST: America's ring of fire

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Sagara joins Midday Edition on Monday to talk about the increased risk of wildfire in the U.S.

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