USA — Increasingly, it happens in that forest/urban interface placeslike Alabaugh Canyon where more and more people choose to live.
After the devastation of the Alabaugh Fire, which destroyed 35 homes and costone man his life in July, the Hot Springs area raised more than $100,000 for itsvictims. We think that astonishing fundraising effort is commendable for itscompassion and community spirit.
But it also begs the question what about the next wildfire that happens inFall River County, or in any of the other numerous forested communitiesthroughout the Black Hills?
Will we continue to respond to the reality of wildland fires with donationsafter the fact, or is it time to take a more proactive approach to homebuildingin the forest? Should homeowners who choose to live in places that dont havea fire hydrant on every corner assume firefighters will always try to save theirhomes?
These are public policy questions that must be asked, since fighting forestfires is an increasingly expensive proposition for taxpayers. The U.S. ForestService has spent more than $1 billion per year in three of the last six yearssuppressing wildfires, mostly in the wildland urban interface. That price tagcomes at the expense of other forest management practices, such as reducingexcess fuels and improving forest health.
Fall River County, along with other municipalities and subdivision developers,has the right to demand, in the form of landscaping requirements and homebuilding materials regulations, zoning laws that put the responsibility forlimiting wildfire home loss where it belongs on individual homeowners.
The Firewise Communities program offers simple but effective ways to reduce therisks of home loss by wildfire. They range from tree thinning and fencingsuggestions to the use of fire resistant materials on roofs, windows andexterior walls for homes that border wildland areas.
We think the Fall River County Commission would be wise to require some of themof homeowners in the forest, thus reducing firefighting costs to all taxpayers.