While these hazards begin with fire, they are ultimately about human risks”
AZ Central has an incredible story about how the conditions that caused the deaths of 85 people in the Camp Fire are prevalent throughout the West. They analyzed nearly 5,000 towns and found 526 have a risk potential higher than Paradise, CA. These risks are:
- Evacuation Constraint: the number of roads leading out of town. Eleven people died while evacuating Paradise.
- Resident Age: 10% of Paradise residents were over 75 years old. Of the 85 that died, 62 were over 65 years old and 36 were over 75.
- Disabled Residents: 25% of Paradise residents were disabled, twice the national average.
- Alert System: in what seems like the biggest mistake, no emergency alert was broadcast to Paradise residents. Despite the fact the county has the ability to send mobile alerts (many counties do not), they did not do so.
- Mobile Homes. 12.5% of homes in Paradise are mobile homes. Mobile homes tend to be less fire resistant and closer to each other and thus more susceptible to fire. 37 of the 85 people who died lived in mobile homes.
We are bad at evaluating risk. Hundreds of thousands of people live in wildfire zones. Many millions are on the opposite side of the environmental spectrum, coastal populations will be under water within a decade or two.
The best answer is the obvious one – don’t live in wildfire zones. But we struggle, and mostly fail, to provide for adequate housing, driving people farther into the wilderness. Ultimately it may be insurance companies that save us. They may simply stop insuring homes where the risk is too high.