NEWS: Wildfire threat likely to get worse, experts say

Posted April 9th, 2021

With Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak as a backdrop, the Silverado Fire continues to burn in the canyons east of the city of Irvine before dawn on Oct. 27, 2020. A panel of experts said the threat of wildfires is likely to grow in coming years during a discussion Thursday, April 8, sponsored by to the SoCal Policy Forum. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
With Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak as a backdrop, the Silverado Fire continues to burn in the canyons east of the city of Irvine before dawn on Oct. 27, 2020. A panel of experts said the threat of wildfires is likely to grow in coming years during a discussion Thursday, April 8, sponsored by to the SoCal Policy Forum. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

By MARTIN WISCKOL | mwisckol@scng.com | Orange County RegisterPUBLISHED: April 8, 2021 at 4:41 p.m. | UPDATED: April 9, 2021 at 8:01 a.m.

The plan includes neighborhood resilience projects, such as putting screens on chimneys, clearing vegetation from around homes and ensuring evacuation plans are in place. There would also be managed burns and other forest management efforts, and an increase in the number of emergency fire breaks.

“If there are fires around communities, those fires will stop or at least slow down to give firefighters more time” thanks to fire breaks, Crowfoot said.

Homes vs. fires

While most of the world saw air quality improve last year, as the pandemic reduced motor vehicle traffic, California’s record-setting wildfires resulted in the state having far worse air pollution.  September’s West Coast fires resulted in the U.S. accounting for 77 of the world’s 100 most polluted cities and towns for the month, with California’s locales topping the list, according to the annual report issued by IQAir.

And the prognosis for future wildfires isn’t hopeful.

“In the coming years, we don’t see things getting better,” Gollner said. “They may be getting worse.”

Another panelist, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, cited a study that said the state needed to spend $100 billion annually to address the growing threat of wildfires. He’s co-author of SB 45, which would ask voters to approve $5.5 billion in bonds for wildfires and other consequences of climate change.

“If we don’t start chipping away at it, it’s going to get worse,” he said.

In response to a question of whether the state should stop building in wildfire areas, Tracy Hernandez, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, noted California’s dire housing shortage and said that new construction is taking the threat into account both in terms of fire-resistant building materials and community layout.

Gollner agreed with Hernandez that it was impractical to add new geographical restrictions to building.

“There’s going to be unmet need if we don’t build,” he said. “We need to build safely and defensibly. We can’t only build in urban areas.”