The Carr Fire that’s destroyed dozens of homes in Redding is the second major wildfire in less than a year to move into a city.
The Tubbs Fire also had a devastating effect inside the city limits of Santa Rosa last October.
Keith Gilless, a UC Berkeley professor of forest economics, said extreme fires such as these will become more common in California’s populated areas.
But it’s not that fires are somehow drawn to urban spots.
“I think the trend is really that we moved into the wildlands, more than that the fires from the wildlands moved into our space,” Gilless explained.
“California has had fairly explosive movement of people into spaces that just decades ago were wildlands,” he added. “We just have a lot of infrastructure there now. That’s the change.”
There’s no single reason blazes such as the Carr and Tubbs fires are so destructive, said Malcolm North, a U.S. Forest Service research scientist.
Instead, they’re the result of extreme temperatures, bone-dry conditions and high winds. Climate change also plays a role, North said, by creating more extreme weather events, driving up temperatures and wind speed.
Experts say California can’t prevent these fires entirely.
But it can lessen their severity, Gilless said, by thinning forests, strengthening building codes for new and existing homes and making roadways and utility corridors safer.
“We need a lot more vegetation management,” he said. “We need to be very rigorous in defining what sorts of building codes in high-fire hazard zones are acceptable. … It’s going to affect everything we do.”