Wise to rebuild in precarious spots?

By TIM KALICH,

The horrific wildfires in California that have wiped out thousands of homes and killed scores of people in recent weeks has prompted a similar question as one raised in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Should areas prone to natural disaster be rebuilt?

The answer so far in most parts of this nation has been yes.

As cold as it sounds to those who have suffered such tragedies, there does come a point where it’s fair to question whether it’s wise to allow people to continue to put themselves and their property in what is almost certain to be harm’s way.

Even if climate change is not factored into the equation, the patterns of residential development in several parts of the country have invited disasters of the magnitude witnessed. When cities are built up along coastlines, they’re bound to have cataclysmic losses when hurricanes come ashore, which they inevitably do. So, too, when entire neighborhoods expand into forests that are regularly swept clean by fire.

Most climate scientists say that these type of natural disasters are going to become even more prevalent due to global warming. Statistics on California wildfires alone would appear to bear out their forecast. Fifteen of that state’s most destructive wildfires have occurred in the past 20 years. Not only does this mirror the drought patterns that state has seen, but it also reflects how developed some of the more susceptible areas have become.

It’s natural that people love being able to look out their back door at a national forest or a white-sand beach. But those scenic views come with risk. There’s no amount of protection that can safeguard a home from a wall of water or one of fire.

Do you keep passing on the bill for that risk — in insurance subsidies and taxpayer-funded rescue and recovery efforts — to those who live in less precarious surroundings? Or do you adopt government policies that discourage development in what are scientifically and historically predictable paths of destruction?

Maybe better put, how many times does a community have to be leveled before you say, “Enough is enough”? It’s not a comfortable question, but it’s one that bears serious consideration.