Researchers urge new approach to wildfires


The 2007 Castle Rock Fire in Idaho's Smoky Mountain range was sparked by lightning.
KARI GREER

A study of wildfire strategies on three continents has concluded that many firefighting and land-use policies can encourage development in danger zones and lead to the loss of life over time.

A new international research review led by the University of California, Berkeley, urges policy makers to change their approach to fires – we must learn to co-exist with fire because it is a natural process, the authors say. The paper, "Learning to Co-exist with Wildfire," will be published in Nature this week.
"We don't try to fight earthquakes - we anticipate them in the way we plan communities, build buildings and prepare for emergencies," says lead author Max Moritz from Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. "Human losses will only be mitigated when land-use planning takes fire hazards into account in the same manner as other natural hazards, like floods, hurricanes and earthquakes."
The review looked at fire-prevention strategies in the western United States, Australia and the Mediterranean basin. Although the authors say a one-size fits all fire strategy does not exist, they do advocate:
• Adopting land-use regulations and zoning guidelines that restrict development in the most fire-prone areas.
• Developing better maps of fire hazards, ecosystem services and climate-change effects.
• Updating building codes, such as requiring fire-resistant construction to match local hazard levels.
• Evaluating evacuation planning and warning systems as well as developing plans for how to survive "stay and defend" situations.
"A different view of wildfire is urgently needed," says Moritz. "We must accept wildfire as a crucial and inevitable natural process on many landscapes. There is no alternative. The path we are on will lead to a deepening of our fire-related problems worldwide, which will only become worse as the climate changes."

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