At the end of 2017, there were serious wildfires in northern and southern California that affected Los Angeles and Ventura counties in the south. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed and thousands of people are still in need of help. Some of these people had their homes burned to the ground.
The fires are thought to be because of Santa Ana winds that can reach hurricane levels, and also the mountain ranges in southern California. These can trap cold coastal air and create conditions that are ripe for wildfires on the Los Angeles area. As of December 2017, at least 120,000 acres of land was burned and 200,000 had to leave their homes.
Some areas are getting support from the government to rebuild, but not in every case. With the cost of wildfires in the state growing, some areas want to pay home owners to not rebuild their homes. Or, they want to use more economic pressure to encourage people to not rebuild in fire-prone areas. The state saw in 2017 the most destructive year of fires in decades. More than 15,000 structures across the state were destroyed or damaged, and 45 people died. Some researchers with the California state government think there could be more of this to come as the climate continues to warm.
Some environmentalists in the state argue that mayors and legislators in cities across the state that were affected by the fires should consider buying up land before it is built on. If a fire comes through, the land should be bought up, so it cannot be built on again.
The question of whether or not to rebuild is a challenging one for the state. People like to build in areas that are close to nature with lovely views and some degree of remoteness from the big city. Some of the neighborhoods in California that burned down in 2017 had fires before and were relatively undeveloped. Homes that are rebuilt in those areas could be at risk again for fire; experts say fire cycles are shortening now in California from decades to just years. But thousands of property owners are dealing with losing their home and possessions, and it is difficult for them to be asked to give up their land and not rebuild there.
Any new state policies that could increase the cost of building in areas prone to fire could raise the cost tremendously for many middle-class people to buy their home. Many of them will be priced out of the market.
In the Santa Monica Mountains, there have been 500 new housing units that could be built near Los Angeles that is in a high fire hazard area. These are homes in the $1.5 million range so are not low income. Some in the state government say the developer of the homes should have a way to mandate buyers will have to pay for more fire protection that will be needed.
Resources Available to Help Fire Victims in California
For homeowners in California who are indeed going to rebuild, there are some resources available from these state and federal government organizations:
- Governor’s Office of Emergency Services – maintains information about status of fires and the cleanup process
- California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – this provides fire summaries for any active fires on the state
- Employment Development Department – Employers that are affected by a fire can get a 60-day extension from the EDD to file a payroll report or to deposit payroll taxes without any interest or penalty
- Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance Benefits – workers or those self-employed who have lost jobs or had hours cut in Lake, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma, Yuba and Butte counties, you can receive these federal benefits by applying through EDD
- Disaster Loan Assistance – The SBA at the federal level offers long term, low interest disaster loans to businesses, renters and homeowners to repair or replace damaged property
- California Department of Tax and Fee Administration – tax relief is being offered to those affected by fire. You can request relief from interest and penalties
- Office of the State Treasurer – Rolling out programs that will help communities affected by the fires get more access to financial resources
- USDA Rural Development – This federal agency has several programs available to help rural communities that have been affected by disasters.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles – Offering help to people who have lost their DMV documents as a result of fire
The bottom line is that there is a lot of rebuilding going on in northern and southern California and plenty of help is available from state and federal partners. However, it remains to be seen if rebuilding will be encouraged in the fire prone areas that the state designates especially high risk.
References: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-rebuilding-in-hazard-zones-20171216-story.html and http://www.businessportal.ca.gov/Business-Assistance/Emergency-Preparedness-and-Recovery/California-Wildfire-Resources