Expert says the more people moving to rural areas of California, the greater the risk for 'devastating fires'

The Holy Fire as seen from Lake Elsinore, California.
(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The largest fire in California's recorded history is still burning, one of more than a dozen major blazes causing destruction in the state.

Professor Char Miller of Pomona College, an expert on wildfires and California's drought, said that many of the fires are spreading across rural areas, places that just a few decades ago had only a few inhabitants, but now have three to four million residents. "The more people move into these areas, the greater risk for more devastating fires," Miller said. "When humans push into areas of chaparral, pine, or sagebrush, we inevitably bring fire with us."

Climate change is causing blazing temperatures and drought conditions, leaving firefighters facing a fire season that now lasts all year. "We are setting the conditions for the very harm we are now experiencing," Miller said. He recommends communities in California and other western states consider incentives for residents to leave fire hazard zones, and purchase the land and leave it undeveloped.

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The fire risk is not going away, he said, and "California needs to move quickly to adjust to this reality. The first step is for counties and cities to adopt a fire-and-flood bond that would enable them, pre-fire, to purchase from willing sellers. And, post-fire, to offer devastated property owners a buyout. San Antonio, Texas, does this with homes in floodplains, and it has proven highly effective."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.