A Self-Perpetuating Cycle of Wildfires

When many in California talk about this year’s wildfires, they describe the color — the apocalyptic, ominous, red-orange glow in the sky.

The state’s current wildfires have seen two and a half million acres already burned.

Climate change has made conditions ripe for fires: Temperatures are higher and the landscape drier. But the destruction has also become more acute because of the number of homes that are built on the wildland-urban interface — where development meets wild vegetation.

The pressures of California’s population have meant that towns are encouraged to build in high-risk areas. And when a development is ravaged by a fire, it is often rebuilt, starting the cycle of destruction over again.

Today, we explore the practice of building houses in fire zones and the role insurance companies could play in disrupting this cycle. 

Guest: Christopher Flavelle, who covers the impact of global warming on people, governments and industries for The New York Times. 

For more information on today’s episode, visit nytimes.com/thedaily

Background reading: 

  • “People are always asking, ‘Is this the new normal?’” a climate scientist said. “I always say no. It’s going to get worse.” If climate change was an abstract notion a decade ago, today it is all too real for Californians.
  • Research suggests that most Americans support restrictions on building homes in fire- or flood-prone areas.