Wildfire haunts the WUI. Dreaded and imminent, the inevitability of wildfires’ invasion sparks fears conjoined to the terror of homes burning. Long before they burn down, a lot of WUI houses will experience catastrophic financial meltdown. And this implicates actors beyond the usual suspects of insurance and bank mortgages, both becoming unaffordable and unavailable.
We will see this financial decay first with house flippers who will, at a very steep cost, insure only the amount of money they have immediately sunk into the house. After all, they expect to con a mark, not live there forever. Next, mortgagees may begin to realize that their bank-administered mortgage insurance covers the profit expectations of the bank but leaves the mortgagees owning a potential pile of ashes without enough money to rebuild. And they may walk away before conflagration strikes, as they did during the Great Recession. We could also see a death spiral of sorts as banks recognize that their past placid low-risk WUI mortgages begin to transition to unsustainable high-risk investments. High-risk Investments have their own ecosystems that differ from low-risk loans typical of locally financed home mortgages. In response, financiers will place a number of tranches on WUI house mortgages which will degrade them and perhaps even make them toxic.
From house flippers to bank mortgages this tendrilled vortex, home to the vampire squid, will destroy any value in the WUI as we currently know it. We now see this financial malaise afflicting houses in expanding flood zones that cower before the increasingly frequent torrential deluges from a superheated atmosphere and along coastal shores that lie abjectly supine, alee great storm surges boosted by rising seas. Homeowners in flood zones will use their government subsidized insurance to doggedly rebuild houses on ever taller stilts until their homes begin to resemble witch houses from Russian folktales and until these stilted houses lose their balance and fall over from the force of reasonable people laughing at them. The WUI has no equivalent to government subsidized flood insurance. Ironically, the fixes for WUI homes can be a whole lot cheaper than those required for flood zone survival.
Moreover, people living in the WUI can make real contributions to fighting climate change. Along with preparing their homes to survive and become resilient to wildfires, many WUI residents realize that they must also battle global warming because it increases the intensity and severity of wildfires that subsequently threatens their homes. WUI residents can actually create conditions that will make a difference. They must make the landscape surrounding their abodes safe for themselves, safe for abutting ecosystems, and safe for firefighters ordered in to aid them. They cannot ignore ethics and must reside on an ethical path, returning more than they take, and eschewing complicity in ventures that thieve from the youth and future generations. WUI residents also must abide in a fire-permeable ecology and accept the domain of a destroyer and creator avatar, our green-eyed wildfire. Grasping the moral Excalibur of their own homes, they can regain a sense of purpose and place lost amid modern helter-skelter and quell the empyrean yearning to bequeath a lasting legacy.
Through vigilant enforcement of zoning and building codes and other common sense, common law legal means, residents can become advocates for converting their neighborhoods into a wildfire-permeable WUI. They can lobby for needed fuel treatments near their homes and use responsible, positive, protective, and progressive NIMBY actions to counter activities that summon hazardous milieu and threaten their homes. They can monitor federal money earmarked for thinning to reduce wildfire fuel, or enhance forest health, so that it doesn’t drift away and subsidize timber extractions in distant old growth. WUI residents can become guardians of habitats that will become climate change refugia for wildlife threatened with extinction.
A climate easement already exists across homes in the WUI, analogous to the existing stay against property owners who cannot modify their land to cause water to drain onto and harm a neighbor’s property. A similar stricture may prohibit property owners from being negligent in allowing their property to become stuffed with flammable fuel (small trees, brush, and other ladder fuels) that intensify fire behavior, potentially threatening neighbors.. Fire scientists, landscapers, Fire Safe, and FireWise programs have protocol that can assure a safe, ethical, ecological, and fire-permeable WUI.
In this series, we will outline threats beyond the immediate menace of high intensity Global Warming-enhanced wildfires. Climate change piles up auxiliary problems, such as credit crunches created from loss of insurance, unsustainable mortgages, and the migration of WUI investments into high-risk environments. Also, we will take a cursory look at the duende of WUI dwellers and how some of their motivations can inevitably lead to their own demise and how we can conjure resilient solutions.
This series will examine contensions in:
- How Global Warming, wildland management, and fire suppression have stoked fire intensity and severity. Why wildfires now invade urban biomes.
- Why strategic burning (prescribed fire, controlled burns, managed wildfire) offer the most effective and inexpensive solutions for making the WUI fire permeable. Restoring low severity fire can restore landscape resilience. In the backcountry, monitoring of fires and herding them away from critical areas and into landscapes in need of fire, remain the best options.
- How enforcing zoning regulations and adhering to science-based building codes can help protect the WUI. And why the WUI may become an innovation hub for developing defensible spaces and defensible structures.
- Why prescribed fire should be thought of as part of WUI infrastructure. Similar to roads, electrical, water, sewer and storm drainage, it needs bonds, taxes, and funds for maintenance, repair, replacements, and improvements. Prescribed burns along roads are particularly critical and necessary for evacuation.
- Why air quality concerns will welcome more strategic burning but fanatically focus on industrial and transportation polluters, picking the low-hanging regulatory fruit. WUI residents may soon bombard agencies with panic and complaints when they don’t smell smoke in the air. Prescribed fire can help diminish smoked-sotted summers. Additionally, wildfire smoke reflects sunlight, increases humidity, and reduces temperatures and thus can locally mitigate effects of Climate Change.
- How stranded infrastructure in WUI exurbs (and bonded debt created by roads, electrical, water, sewer) threatens taxpayers. Depopulating WUI exurbs may bankrupt many counties as property taxes revenue shrinks but debt remains.
- How institutional fear of wildfire may transform WUI property into high-risk investments. High-risk financing has powered the worst of the fossil fuel era, from scams, cons, and fraud. Financials, modeled on scaling-up renewable energy, can transform the WUI into fire-permeable vicinages and low-risk investments.
- Why Global Warming, wildland management, fire suppression, and fuel build-up have created problems so vast that thinning remains too expensive and can only treat a small amount acreage needed. Limited funds for thinning should remain close by the WUI and not become exploited for timber extraction.
- How opportunistic entrepreneurs will use the Climate Crisis to augment current schemes of Disaster Capitalism. We have seen vendors seemingly unseemly bilk government, expecting largess in everything from DC-10 retardant planes to water tenders in furtherance of often unnecessary fire suppression. Distant from the WUI, some proposed “thinning” operations masquerading as “fire prevention” may be scams for timber extraction. While we must increase fuel treatments, we cannot commercially thin our way out of the problem.
- How useful concepts that could help draw down atmospheric carbon can degenerate into scams, in absence of militant monitoring, but can be used in the WUI for routine maintenance. (magnesite, rock mineralization, and BECCS)
- How the duende and motivations of some WUI dwellers can inevitably lead to conditions not safe nor ethical for themselves, their neighbors, and the ecosystems that abound around them. How we can conjure resilient solutions.
- How WUI residents can become guardians of habitats that will become climate change refugia for wildlife threatened with extinction.