I wrote this letter to the editor in response to a one year investigation by the Oregonian into the 2015 Canyon Creek fire. The letter was published on August 25th, 2016.
Canyon Creek fire: improving the way households and communities live with wildfires needs to be included as a way to manage wildfire risk. The 43 homes and 100 other structures that burned in the Canyon Creek fire were all located in the “urban wildland interface”, the transition zone between unoccupied land and urban development. Although wildfires occur regularly in this zone as a natural component of a forest’s ecosystem, local, state, and federal governments are expected to treat wildfires as an ‘unnatural’ occurrence and suppress them quickly, providing minimal disruption to daily life.
Insurance, improved building and vegetation management, and restrictions on living in certain areas can help reduce wildfire risk, yet structures are repeatedly built in these areas with little regard for wildfires. The number of structures in this zone has furthermore grown dramatically over the past few decades.
Given the growing number of buildings coupled with the growing severity of wildfires — expected only to increase as the climate changes — we need to seriously reconsider how to live with fires and work to make urban planning a component of all wildfire management plan.