california wildfires

UC Berkeley Researchers Say Rebuilding After Wildfires Can Be Dangerous

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University of California, Berkeley researchers are urging state officials to avoid rebuilding homes in areas destroyed by wildfires, saying it will keep homeowners out of harm's way. But some people say it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The Fountain Grove neighborhood of Santa Rosa was devastated by the Tubbs Fire in 2017 and homes are still under construction. But researcher Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley said rebuilding there is not a good idea. 

“These fires have been coming over the Mountain Range from Napa for 100 years,” she said. “It’s not going to stop, it’s only going to get worse.”

She said it’s time to rethink how the state rebuilds after wildfires.

She helped author a new study which mentions areas, such as Santa Rosa, that continue to rebuild in areas likely to burn again.

“They really need to rethink land use planning on the wildland urban interface on the easter side of Santa Rosa,” she said. 

So, CHapple is calling for a new strategy that would involve incentivizing homeowners through buyouts to relocate from the east to the west in Santa Rosa where there’s low wildfire risk or to areas of town that she refers to as “resilience nodes.”

“Essentially mini villages on the periphery, not in the downtown, Surrounded by a green buffer which would make them safe,” she said. 

Residents in the area don’t know what to do.

“It’s hard. I thought about that a lot,” said resident Gayle Brown. “Do I rebuild? Do I not rebuild? Where do I move?”

Brown is a Santa rosa homeowner who lost her home in the Tubbs Fire and as she spoke to NBC Bay Area in her rebuilt home, she says getting people to relocate won’t be an easy task.

“The Tubbs Fire jumped the freeway and burnt a neighborhood in Coffey Park that wasn’t anywhere near hills or trees,” she said. 

Researchers say it would cost the state more than $600 billion to rebuild homes in those high-risk fire areas.

It’s why they plan to urge state lawmakers to consider these housing strategies in upcoming legislative sessions.

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