Editorial: Living with fire in California

October 12, 2017 Updated: October 12, 2017 4:56pm

With smoke still billowing, ridge lines aglow and evacuation orders arriving daily, Californians are struggling to cope with the emergencies created by 22 wildfires burning across the state. It’s not too early, though, to think about how we will rebuild, and more important, how we will rebuild to live with fire.

Fire is as much part of the Golden State as our Mediterranean climate and oak-studded hills. But where we live and how we live doesn’t respect that fire is a perennial hazard — just as blizzards are part of living in Minnesota and hurricanes come with Florida’s beaches and swaying palms. That is why it came as such a shock to Santa Rosa residents this week — and to Oakland hills residents 26 years ago — that an October wildland fire could sweep through their urban neighborhoods and incinerate their homes.

We pay little attention when wildfires scorch remote forests. As the state’s population has grown, however, more and more people have moved to the urban fringe or farther out to less expensive rural lands. The results are revealed in the grim statistics reported this week from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Solano counties: 29 dead, and more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed in the most deadly wildfire in the state’s recent history.

Stephen Strader, a geographer at Villanova University who has written on natural disasters and society, calls it the expanding bull’s eye effect. “The fires have always occurred, but we notice them more now because there are more human contacts.”

Few residents of what scientists call the wildland-urban interface understand the risks inherent with choosing to live there. Education is the first step.

The second is to ensure

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