Thursday, November 17, 2011

Texas wildfires in rural areas show growing threat of climate change, over-development

This summer, brush and forest fires occurred in the southern plains, especially in Texas, as well as California, where they have gotten more publicity (with one of the largest back in 1978).  Wildfires have gotten to be as big a threat to homes in many areas as earthquakes and hurricanes or or tornadoes.

In December of 2007 (as I recall) Texas an Oklahoma also had a lot of brush fires that consumed some homes, but the problem was particularly severe late this summer in Texas, when residents were evacuated from some areas of central Texas and could not find out what had happened to their homes. 

A personal visit to the Bastrop area, 25 miles east of Austin, showed huge areas with most ground and lower level brush burned, east of Bastrop.  Many homes in this wilderness setting were consumed and only now were contractors at work rebuilding them.  Home is more conventionally developed suburbs did not seem to be affected.  Most of the affected homes appeared to be in rural pine forest areas that offer rural country living that many people like.  The terrain in the area is hillier and more “southwestern” than “deep southern”, which is surprising for an area not too far from Houston.  Some areas in the Hill Country 60 or so miles west of Austin also appeared affected.

However, pine forests in the Southeast (northern Florida) have presented similar risks to rural homes during droughts. 

Climate change is causing longer and drier summers in many areas, and sometimes unusually warm, windy and dry weather into the late fall, resulting in more risk to residents in forested or brushy areas than in the past.  Also, the expansion of home building in rural areas, often at the high end, has increased the risk to many homeowners compared to times in the past.  While most of us support the righ tof Americans to the lifestyles they want and have earned, we should think twice about overbuilding in areas (particularly in western states) in areas prone to wildfires as part of the natural ecology (in nature, in many mountainous areas, forests regenerate very quickly after being burned) just as we don't build on flood plains.
Note, also, after a cold front, if you fly above the Missouri, Ohio or Mississippi rivers, you see lots of natural flood plains from the air; they really stand out; and no one lives in most of them.
Nov. 18, the Weather Channel reported on a major forest fire damaging homes near Reno, NV.

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