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September 23, 2020  

Fragile Policies are Making California More Vulnerable to Megafires

September 23, 2020

California is experiencing its worst fire season since 1910. So far (the fire season typically runs into December), more than 3.4 million acres have burned. Among the state’s six biggest fires of the last 90 years, five are from August or September 2020. The Creek Fire alone has destroyed nearly 287,000 acres in two counties, making it the largest single fire in California history.

Superlatives like these—superlatives we seem to update every year or two—suggest that we really don’t know how to prevent megafires. But that’s not the case. We know what to do...we just lack the cultural and political will to do them. As Elizabeth Weil recently wrote in ProPublica:

The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up. At the same time, the climate grows hotter and drier. Then, boom: the inevitable. The wind blows down a power line, or lightning strikes dry grass, and an inferno ensues.

On this week’s episode of Upzoned, Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn, talk about fire suppression, development, and other policies that are putting California’s land, people, and economy more at risk from megafires. They talk about the “spooky wisdom” of Native Americans who used controlled burns to clear underbrush and encourage new plant growth...and how we’ve largely ignored that wisdom. And they discuss why laying all the blame on climate change obscures the things we can do right now to make our lands—and our cities—stronger and more resilient.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck describes the joys of watching Minnesota Twins baseball with one of his daughters. And Abby is looking ahead to Halloween.

Additional Show Notes