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Californians should rebuild in fire zones, says survey

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Only 22 percent of people in the state support barring reconstruction after wildfires

A building with charred stone walls, surrounded by burnt rubble.
The remains of the 150-year old Soda Rock Winery building, destroyed by the Kincade Fire.
Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

California is burning again, with major wildfires in both the north and the south. Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West surveyed 1,046 California residents to ask how the blazes have affected them and what should be done about it.

Note that although the university released survey results last week, it conducted the survey between August 25 and September 6—before the start of the most recent (and most devastating) wildfires so far this year.

A quarter of the Californians surveyed said that they or someone they knew had been affected by a wildfire within the last 13 months, with 52 percent saying they’d been exposed to wildfire smoke.

Only 35 percent of people who responded bothered to wear any kind of mask or protective covering for fear of smoke inhalation, and only 28 percent wore an N95 respirator or similar device.

Asked about concrete measures for homeowners to guard against future fires, opinions varied:

  • More than 60 percent of respondents favor restricting zoning of new construction “in areas that could potentially be affected by wildfires.” The survey did not specify how extensive restrictions should be or what degree of fire risk should be present.
  • Another 55 percent said homeowners should have to conduct preventative burns on their own property.
  • Only 36 percent said that the law should require buying fire insurance.
  • Only 28 percent supported the idea of forcing people to move out of high-risk fire areas, and only 22 percent agreed with the suggestion that homeowners shouldn’t be allowed to rebuild in the same place after a fire.

As of Monday, Cal Fire reported that the Kincade Fire, the largest fire in Northern California in 2019, was approximately 80 percent contained, after growing to more than 77,000 acres in size and destroying 374 buildings (including 174 homes) since starting October 23.

So far in 2019, Cal Fire recorded 126,069 acres burned by fire in the state, and the combined Cal Fire and Forest Service count is 250,349.

The five-year average for the same period is 373,576, and in 2018 it was 632,701. The actual number of wildfires in 2019 has been almost exactly the average—5,244 this year, compared to 5,282 other years—but most of them have been smaller in size.