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Are Some Places Just Too Fire-Prone for Us to Live?

With flooding, we have rules about where to build and how to prevent calamity. Why not with fire?
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The conventional wisdom in the wake of forest fires is that everyone rebuilds. Homeowners who live where nature and civilization rub up against each other go there for a reason – the views, the solitude, the independence. And when fire touches their property, that same allure leads them to rebuild. This is what fire professionals at the "wildland-urban interface" will generally tell you.

Whether most homeowners actually do this – and, more importantly, why – is a thornier question and an important one for land-use planners in an era of climate change. Since Hurricane Sandy last October, Americans have begun to talk more about the risks and responsibilities of building at the edge of water. But some similar, disquieting questions arise inland, in fire-prone places. Should we tell people not to – or how to – build there? Should people who've already built get to rebuild? What happens when private property owners need rescuing at public expense?