Experts Say Many Bay Area Communities Are Vulnerable To Wildfires

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — People who study wildfires closely say that many parts of the Bay Area are vulnerable to the same type of catastrophe that struck the North Bay.

UC Berkeley Professor Scott Stephens studies wildfires.

“We live in a fire environment,” Stephens said. “California is called the Golden State – I call it the Pyro state.”

Stevens says that the potential for fires the size of the wine country fires have been a fact of life in California for thousands of years.

“In some ways it was inevitable. I hate to say it but it’s really, really sad. We can do things that make it better,” Stevens said.

And while it was the high winds that made the fires so deadly, many of the same conditions exist all around the Bay Area as well.

Stevens said, “The Diablo winds have been around a long time, but we are just more in harm’s way now. Just the way we’ve built. The way we’ve built and we continue to build in Lafayette, Orinda, El Cerrito, down to the south.”

Contra Costa County Fire Marshal Robert Marshall, agrees.

Marshall said, “We could certainly have an event like that in several areas within, not only our county, but the other nine Bay Area counties.”

Stevens said, “We keep building in these areas and that continues this to put us at risk.”

This, however, was the first time a fire jumped and drove right into the heart of a city, as it did in Santa Rosa.

Marshall said, “This is going to change things in a lot of ways.”

One issue is that many urban subdivisions aren’t built under the same rules as homes in wildland areas, which have stricter provisions about wildfires.

But high winds can send incendiary sparks flying over a mile away.

Stevens said, “We can take some actions which reduce the risks, we’re never going to take it to zero.”

And part of the reason we can’t reduce the risk to zero is because we keep coming to California and we keep building.

More from Phil Matier
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