With climate change and sprawling property development, wildfires are here to stay

Destruction continued in Ventura County, Calif., about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles, this week, burning about 55,000 acres in less than a day and 150 structures. More than 27,000 residents have had to evacuate, with many more leaving their homes before the fires potentially reach them.

The fires are worsened by winds of up to 80 miles per hour, the strongest the county has seen since October 2007. “The prospects for containment are not good,” Mark Lorenzen, Ventura County Fire Chief, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Last October, California suffered another uncontrollable wildfire in wine country, which killed at least 10 people and burned at least 1,500 buildings, including well-known vineyards such as Signorello Estate Winery and Paradise Ridge. Those wildfires cost more than $9 billion, according to the Sacramento Bee.

So far this year, fires have burned more than twice as many acres in California than the same period last year, according to CAL FIRE, the state’s fire agency. In fact, it’s the most at-risk state for wildfires by number of households with more than 2 million homes at high or extremely high risk from wildfires, according to Verisk, a data analytics provider in the insurance industry.

As temperatures continue to increase, so too will the cost of fire management, according to a 2015 U.S. Forest Service report.

Risks are rising along with global warming and as more development occurs near forests. In 2017, the federal government has spent more than $2.4 billion on fire suppression for almost 50,000 fires, many of which are in California and the West Coast, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That is still an understatement as that figure is solely based on federal figures, said Michele Steinberg, wildfire division manager at the National Fire Protection Association.

What are the costs of wildfires, and who pays for them?

Costs include firefighting efforts shouldered by federal, state and local agencies, and in California’s case, a fire tax residents pay.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimated it spent $209 million on fire suppression between 2014 and 2015, up from about $12 million between 1979 and 1980. Indirect costs, according to the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition, include sales and county taxes, business revenue and property losses and land management. Money is also set aside for families of firefighters who have died in the line of duty, and spent on medical and mental health expenses for civilians who were affected, which are rarely quantified, the report said.

Haven’t there been any other wildfires in California recently?

California has been suffering for months from devastating wildfires. Los Angeles had the largest wildfire in history last month, as the West Coast experienced a record-beating heat wave with temperatures in San Francisco at 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and more inland at 115 degrees Fahrenheit. California Gov.

Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County. Tens of thousands of acres have been burned as a result of wildfires, which have not been easily containable, such as three — two in Santa Barbara and one north of Sacramento — in July. Thousands of California residents have been displaced as a result.

What will happen in California’s Wine Country?

Though famed as a destination for weddings, romantic getaways, and spa weekends, Sonoma and Napa counties are also home to the workers who support the vineyards and related tourism. Wine Country will suffer from these wildfires for years to come, as Napa and Sonoma counties — two damaged by the fires — produce much of the United States’ premium wines. Some 85% of U.S. wine comes from California, with California wine sales around $34.1 billion last year.

These fires hit vineyards during the grape harvesting season. About three-quarters of the grapes were already picked, except for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot crops, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Replacing one acre of grape vines can cost between $15,000 and $25,000, the Napa Valley Register reported.

What can residents do?

Businesses, such as those in wine country, need a business continuity plan to plan potential disasters, Alexander said, especially “mom and pop” facilities. They need to know how to evacuate employees and guests. They should also review their insurance policies if they were not affected, especially if they are under-insured (only 14% of the 3 million households hit by Irma were prepared with flood insurance, for example.) Lastly, residents can educate themselves about disaster risks by attending public meetings with local officials.“It just falls off the radar for the average person,” Alexander said.

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