June 30th, 2006 by Jeb Foster
As the East Coast gets deluged with rain, the West remains dry–dangerously so. Here in Colorado, our governor has requested disaster-area status for a few particularly parched agricultural counties. Highway signs remind motorists not toss their cigarette butts from their cars.
The prospect of catastrophic forest fire is scarily real–especially with the Fourth of July on the way and a long summer ahead.
So, I’ve got fire on the brain.
Fires have been part of the natural order in the West for thousands of years. What’s relatively new is the presence of human structures in this fire-prone landscape. Despite the hazards, migration to wild areas has continued unabated for our country’s 200-plus year history.
Proximity to natural beauty has its drawbacks of course, and this summer those drawbacks are in stark relief. Or are they?
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the threat of fire ought to be taken more seriously than it currently is. Instead, we have more and more people flocking to the outer edges of wild areas, often building large homes next to forests that are essentially stands of extra-large match sticks. Why?
This excerpt from the U.S. Forest Service’s “Federal Wildland Fire Policy” offers an explanation:
In general, the public does not perceive a risk from fire in the wildland/urban interface. Further, property owners believe that insurance companies or disaster assistance will always be there to cover losses. When people believe the government will protect them from natural hazards, the damage potential of a catastrophic event increases … Unless a catastrophic event occurs, wildland/urban interface protection issues generate little interest.
The Forest Service wants insurance companies to do more to educate homeowners about the risks of wildland/urban interface living and also to school them in ways to mitigate the danger of wildland fire. As it is, though, “the insurance industry does not fully understand wildland/urban interface problems, and the public and the fire service do not understand the role of the insurance industry in the interface.”
Worse still, this lack of awareness forces the Forest Service into the home protection business–putting more fire personnel at risk and neglecting wild areas that are often of more social value than threatened homes. Meantime, homeowners and insurance companies have been lulled into a complacent dependency.
According to the Forest Service, they key is to engage stakeholders on every level–particularly those on the local level–and identify the risks and responsibilities of wildland living. “To be successful, the emphasis must be at the local level, supported by the States and coordinated with the Federal agencies,” says the service.
If you live near a wooded area and you want to learn about how to lessen the risk of fire, check out these resources.
Also, mosey over to InsureMe’s ever-helpful Insurance Resource Center for tips on Wildfires and Your Homeowner’s Insurance.