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latest news California properties threatened by wildfires set to expand

The number of California properties facing serious wildfire risk will increase six-fold over the next 30 years when just the impact of climate change is considered, according to projections released Monday by a research group at non-profit.

Just over 100,000 properties in the state currently have a 1% or greater annual chance of being affected by a wildfire. The number is expected to reach around 600,000 by 2052, according to data from the First Street Foundation.

The modeling, which marks the first effort to calculate the fire risk of every property in the United States, assumes that development will remain constant and only takes into account climatic inputs, according to Jeremy Porter, director of research for the foundation. .

The research is peer reviewed.

“When in 30 years you have six times as many in the most severe category, with 600,000 homes at that level, it’s just amazing to think when you see how quickly impacts change from relatively small changes in heat,” said Matthew Eby, Founder and Executive Director of the First Street Foundation. “And just the impact of heat on fuels, humidity and drought are causing these huge swings in the likelihood of these events occurring. .”

Overall, more than half of all properties in the lower 48 states – nearly 80 million – are at risk of being affected by a wildfire, with about 1.9% of properties facing a 1% annual risk. or more, according to First Street Foundation. This number is also expected to increase.

“On average, the likelihood of scorch — the likelihood of wildfire danger — is about to double over the next 30 years, and that’s across the country,” Porter said. “So on average, any property that has a risk is likely to see that risk double. And then that also takes into account many places that don’t have risk today and will see risk shift in the future.

The climate signal on fire appears to be much stronger than what researchers saw when they modeled the increasing risk of flooding several years ago, he added.

In California, more than 4.6 million properties — about 41% — have a 0.03% or greater chance of being involved in a wildfire this year. This figure is expected to increase by 7.6% in 30 years to include more than 5.5 million properties, according to projections by the First Street Foundation.

The California county with the highest growth in this level of risk over the next 30 years is projected to be Sonoma, with a 41.6% increase, followed by Napa, Marin, Yolo and Santa Barbara. The 2017 wine country fires, which scorched parts of Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties, were among the most destructive in the state, with some 8,400 buildings destroyed.

The analysis used the 0.03% threshold as a benchmark for significant risk, as it translates to a 1% probability of a property being affected by fire over 30 years, the average lifespan of a mortgage. The nonprofit’s goal is to make sure people have the information they need to understand the climate risk of a specific property when buying or renting it, Eby said.

In terms of the number of properties facing a fire risk this year of at least 0.03%, Southern California counties held three of the top five spots in the United States: Riverside County is ranked first, with 684,400, or 77.2% of its properties. ; Los Angeles was third, with 514,500, or 24.5%; and San Bernardino County was fifth, with 471,700, or 57.4%. But when it comes to counties with the highest proportion of properties with an annual fire risk of 0.03% or higher, none in California ranks in the top 20; the top-ranked counties were in New Mexico and Texas.

The researchers created the simulations using the Forest Service’s 2016 Landfire dataset, which they updated with additional sources to account for more recent prescribed burns and disturbances, to assess the state of combustibles, Eby said. They used a weather dataset from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which provided a 10-year time series and updated it with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a-t -he declares.

Researchers used this information to run hundreds of millions of simulations to understand the likelihood of fires for each 30-by-30 meter pixel across the country this year and in 2052, he said.

The results differ from existing risk mapping from the federal government and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection because they project risk over time and take into account specific information at the property level, down to building materials, vent exposure and the amount of defensible space surrounding a home, which can be gleaned from tax assessor records and satellite imagery, Eby said.

Federal employees are prohibited from endorsing or disapproving private companies, the Forest Service said. But Greg Dillon, director of the Fire Modeling Institute at the agency’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, said the methodology seemed solid.

“I think the more we can get landlords and communities to think about their risks and what they can do to act on them, the better,” he said.

Dillon led the modeling efforts used in the Forest Service’s Community Fire Risk Mapping, which models fire risk at the community level. He said the agency does not explore the plot level in its modeling because there are potential uncertainties and because it believes the community is an appropriate scale for risk mitigation action.

“If a home in a neighborhood is working to mitigate its wildfire risk, but its neighbors aren’t doing anything, then they’re not reducing their risk much,” he said. “It requires community action.”

Forest Service researchers are working to determine how best to incorporate climate change projections into wildfire risk modeling, but it’s a complex process, Dillon said.

“There are Forest Service researchers who are doing very similar work, and they’ve also seen an increase in fire risk over time,” he said. “But again, I think we’re still really trying to get the science right before we move forward.”

The data from the First Street Foundation was startling both in terms of the overall increase in wildfire risk and the locations facing the most dramatic increase in risk, Eby and Porter said. For example, for counties facing the largest 30-year percentage increase in properties with a fire risk of at least 0.03%, Georgia held three of the top five spots. (The other two counties were in Oklahoma and Montana.) At the same time, Porter added, southern regions tend to see a higher incidence of moderate and minor wildfire danger, while western regions have a higher incidence of properties at higher levels. risk levels.

“It’s not that it’s not growing in the West,” he said. “It’s just going to become a more widespread problem in the United States. It’s not really going to be a western problem going forward.”

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