The West is on fire. Blame the housing crisis

California is on fire again. CalFire, one of the agencies charged with putting those fires out, is tracking upward of two dozen conflagrations up and down the state at the moment—Detwiller, Grade, Bridge, Wall, Alamo, Garza, on and on—ranging in size from a couple hundred acres to nearly 50,000.

And it’s not just the Golden State. Across the North American West, from Wanblee, South Dakota, to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon; from the Coronado National Forest near the Mexican border in Arizona to Fort Fraser in British Columbia and even farther north, grasses, chaparral, and forest are all ablaze. The continent is deep into the seasonal cycle of wet-winter-grows-plants/dry-summer-turns-them-to-fuel/they burn.

It’s tempting to see each fire season as worse than the last, and to further see that as evidence of the kind of apocalypse that a changing climate will visit on civilization. If it ain’t rising water at the coasts it’s a “firenado” in the hills. But researchers have identified an even more pernicious problem: us. Specifically, where we build houses.


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