The Ponderosa Fire in 2012. (CalFire photo)

California Wildfire Report: Smart Growth, Fire-Resistant Building Standards Can Mitigate Blazes

As the impact of Australia’s wildfires mounts, a new study available to the public, “California Fires: Building Resilience from the Ashes,” illuminates the rising toll of wildfires and outlines practical actions that individuals, businesses and communities can take to help reduce devastating losses and enhance resilience in fire-prone areas of California and elsewhere.

The new study focuses on lessons learned from four California wildfire disasters, including the Camp Fire, which nearly destroyed the town of Paradise, and the Woolsey Fire, which prompted widespread evacuations of Malibu and other areas in Southern California. Both ignited on November 8, 2018. The Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa and the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, both in 2017, were also studied. The report is based on research and interviews with more than 50 wildfire-impacted community members, public officials and other stakeholders in California.

Zurich collaborated with DuPont and the nonprofit ISET-International to research and prepare the report using Zurich’s Post-Event Review Capability, which earned a 2019 Innovation Award from Business Insurance and an Outstanding Achievement Award at the 2019 National Hurricane Conference. Another Zurich-led wildfire report using the methodology is under way, focusing on Australia’s 2018-2019 Southwest Complex fire in Tasmania.

While fire-prone areas of the world have unique characteristics and challenges, communities can learn from each other’s experiences.

“As climate change continues, wildfires are becoming increasingly catastrophic in CaliforniaAustralia and elsewhere,” said Paul Lavelle, Chief Claims Officer of Zurich North America. “With our new California wildfires report, we are sharing recommendations to help reduce devastating impacts and build resilience for future wildfire events. This study offers some cost-effective steps that can be adapted to many fire-prone environments.”

“Adoption of ignition-resistant construction in upgrades and in new builds could help prevent the total loss of the property,” said Marcelo Milani, Building Resiliency Platform Leader at DuPont. “The research in California revealed insights for mitigation techniques that can be applied in communities affected by wildfire around the world. At DuPont, we’re learning from leaders in resiliency and innovating methods to help make these practices accessible to homes and buildings everywhere.”

California’s wildfire mitigation efforts lead the nation in many ways,” said Karen MacClune, Executive Director of the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET-International). “Nonetheless, what we found is that more work needs to be done to help individuals and communities embrace their role in adapting to a new normal of hotter, drier, windier conditions that intensify wildfires.”

The “California Fires” report aims to help shift the mindset from response and recovery after a fire to resilience measures before. The report includes stories of five Resilience Trailblazers, individuals who, as a part of an organization or team, are helping to lead that shift within their areas of influence.

Zurich’s Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) framework is designed to distill lessons and insights from what worked well, and what didn’t, in the periods before, during and after weather-related disasters.

The PERC methodology previously has been used to study flood disasters around the world. This is the second wildfire-focused study from Zurich using the PERC methodology, following a report on the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada. The Australia fire report is slated for release later this year.

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