Wildfire Prevention Plan Includes Repurposing Homes

Stumps from recently logged trees in the footprint of the Camp Fire. Some 40,000 trees have now been removed around Paradise.

Paradise, California faced the deadly and destructive 2018 Camp Fire, and officials want to make sure history never repeats itself. To that end, officials are buying up properties that are most at risk for wildfires to protect future homeowners and the town by turning these purchased properties into fire-resistant green spaces, NPR reports.

The 2018 Camp Fire wiped out a large section of Paradise, marking one of the deadliest and destructive wildfires in California’s history. The fire killed 85 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes.

The remnants of that wildfire are still evident throughout the town. About 40,000 trees have been removed to prevent future wildfires from spreading. Town officials hope removing the most vulnerable homes will help too.

The town will purchase the high-risk properties from homeowners. Many of the properties are in more difficult-to-reach areas of town along winding dirt roads that firefighters struggle to reach safely.

This is not eminent domain. The parks program is voluntary. So far they have acquired about 300 acres of new land, with about 500 more acres in the pipeline, mostly paid for with non profit grant money and donations. But it is estimated they may need $20 million or more to have a serious impact from a wildfire prevention standpoint.

Paradise officials plan to connect all the purchased properties to existing park land and create more park areas to help better control future wildfire spread.

Paradise has purchased about 300 acres of land, so far. They have about 500 acres additionally under contract. The properties have been paid for with nonprofit grant money and donations.

“Every single one of these properties we’re looking at from the standpoint of, what can we do to limit the spread of fire; is this a staging area,” says Dan Efseaff, director of Paradise Recreation and District. “I think it’s going to make the community safer.”

Michael Wara, a climate resilience expert at Stanford, says that what Paradise is doing in buying up properties in high-risk areas could serve as a model to other wildfire vulnerable communities across the country. But “the housing crisis in California really complicates any response to the wildfire crisis,” he said. Towns like Paradise are known as being more affordable and people are drawn to the real estate, regardless of the risk. Removing more properties from the pipeline in such an in-demand location may prove challenging, he said.

Town officials are hoping more might take part in the program once more PG&E settlement money starts coming in for fire survivors, and if or when the federal government gets serious about funding prevention work like this.

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