SoCal homeowners love to build in fire-prone areas: report

Despite the persistent risks, thousands of homes keep rising in those locations

A wildfire burns in California (credit: Getty Images)
A wildfire burns in California (credit: Getty Images)

If there’s any lesson to be learned from the latest wildfires, it’s that Mother Nature does not care what stands in her way. Evidently, homebuilders haven’t gotten the message.

New homes are increasingly being built on some of the most high-risk areas, such as the tops of hills and canyons where flammable vegetation can add fuel to a fire, according to a new report in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

In Southern California, there were twice as many homes built on the outskirts of developed land than in the region as a whole, SCPR reported. Approximately 85,400 homes were built in those fire-prone areas from 1990 to 2010 in Los Angeles County, beating Ventura and Santa Barbara counties by a wide margin. Riverside County built the most amount of homes in those vulnerable locations, with almost 191,000 new homes constructed in the two decades.

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The number of new houses going up where wildfires tore through jumped 62 percent during that 20-year period, the study found. For comparison, the average U.S. housing growth rate in that period was 29 percent.

Those who choose to live atop the mountains are also the most likely to accidentally start the fires, studies have shown. As a way to police the problem, counties such as Ventura and San Diego will fine homeowners who do not clear the vegetation.

In December, the Thomas Fire burned 274,000 acres and 1,000 structures, leading to $2 billion in losses and more than 13,000 claims filed by homeowners and businesses. Other fires like the Skirball blaze burned 475 acres, placing nearly $6.3 billion worth of residential real estate in Bel Air at risk. Statewide, the December fires led to nearly $12 billion in damages, according to the California Department of Insurance.  And it’s not just fires. In early January, devastating mudslides in Montecito killed 20 people and destroyed 115 homes. [SCPR] — Natalie Hoberman