Editorial: Fee would offset firefighting costs

Editorial: Fee would offset firefighting costs

21 June 2013

published by www.dcourier.com

USA — The Prescott area’s latest devastating wildfire – deemed by the Forest Service as the Doce Fire, costs of which have already topped $2.4 million – is an opportunity to ask questions about how and whether we should build communities in forested areas going forward.

Ideas that have surfaced elsewhere in the country include tougher building codes to ensure homes and the spaces around them are defensible from fires, designating homes at risk of wildfires prior to sales, and allowing more controlled burns to improve forest health and mitigate fire risks.

How many homes in the line of the Doce Fire have proper defensible space? Those that do not only hinder firefighting efforts.

More controversial suggestions include assessing a fee on homes in the wildland-urban interface to help offset the costs of fighting fires in these areas. According to the Associated Press, California has such a fee, charging $150 per property per year in fire-prone areas, a fee that critics said hit folks hard in some areas with high unemployment. Thousands of homeowners are appealing the imposition of the fee.

We can see a similar situation developing here, as it would be possible to consider the entire Prescott area as fire-prone, while residents of some locales might object to that designation.

We agree care should be taken in considering any fee on homeowners in fire areas, taking into account ability to pay, and such a fee would need to be used only to pay fire-related costs, not to shore up lagging government budgets.

Also on the table should be insurance issues, like those for flooding – modeled after the National Flood Insurance Program that was created in 1968. Should homeowners in the wildland-urban interface have to carry special coverage for wildfires? They currently do not.

That program, though, has had trouble keeping its head above water financially, running an $18 billion deficit after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that grew bigger after Hurricane Sandy last year, according to the AP. That kind of spending doesn’t exactly encourage responsible building in flood-prone areas, and a small number of properties that are repeatedly flooded have driven much of the cost to taxpayers.

The bottom line is living in beautiful wilderness areas is a privilege. Now, more than ever, there’s a needed discussion about the responsibilities that come along with that privilege.

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