With warmer, drier conditions experienced during longer fire seasons, the effects of wildfires on both properties and human life have increased, leaving many homeowners and communities unprepared. According to Verisk’s 2019 Wildfire Risk Analysis, nearly 4.5 million homes in the U.S. are at high or extreme risk of wildfires, 2 million of which are in California alone. Wildfire risk is also increasing throughout the country as newer homes are built near wildlands. The “wildland-urban interface” (WUI)—the transition areas between unoccupied land and human development—is growing in size and putting communities at greater risk for wildfire. From 1990 to 2010, the WUI increased from 30.8 to 43.4 million homes and expanded in surface area from 143,568,227 acres to 190,271,144 acres.
Policymakers must collaborate with and allow for private sector innovation and participation. To ease the financial risk of wildfires to taxpayers and homeowners, private companies can implement weather-risk transfer contracts in sectors and locations vulnerable to wildfire risk. Such a move will help mitigate costs of weather sensitivities across various industries and assist homeowners and renters to better understand the risks associated with properties. The methods employed in building new and modernizing existing homes and businesses also merit reconsideration. Climate-resilient buildings can save crucial taxpayer dollars. Adapting construction practices to meet the demands of a changing climate and incentivizing projects that increase the resilience of existing structures are logical steps that better protect our communities and will prove to be cost-effective over time.
Significant steps should also be taken to protect homeowners and renters from and inform them of wildfire risk. Policymakers should require enhanced disclosures on real estate transactions so that homebuyers and renters better understand the catastrophic risks associated with properties. Supporting buyer education will create a more informed purchasing decision that energizes homeowners to implement pre-disaster mitigation strategies, such as planting fire-resistant shrubbery around their property. Beyond education, tax holidays and tax-preferred savings accounts for disaster supplies can serve as incentives to promote disaster preparedness.
- Adopt research-based methods to increase fire safety and build resilient communities.
- Promote federal incentives for projects that increase resilience to wildfire risk.
- Require enhanced disclosures on real-estate transactions.
- H.R. 5709, the Climate Resilient Communities Act, to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, along with smoke and economic losses that wildfires cause, and require the GAO to issue a report on how FEMA considers climate resiliency.
- S. 3349, the Built to Last Act, to improve infrastructure resiliency by ensuring that standards-developing organizations that issue building codes have access to forward-looking meteorological information, including data on wildfires and other environmental trends, from NIST and NOAA.
- H.R. 5494, the Catastrophe Loss Mitigation Incentive and Tax Parity Act, to exclude from gross income, for income tax purposes, any qualified catastrophe mitigation payment made under state-based catastrophe loss mitigation programs.