This week marks the 25th anniversary of California’s most devastating wildfire in which more 3,450 homeowners lost their homes and 25 people were killed. The fire only burned 1,600 acres in Oakland Hills, Calif. but did an estimated $1.5 billion in damage ($3.4 billion today).
MarketWatch staffer Daniel Goldstein reports that numerous changes went into effect after the fire, including a 2005 state law that required California homeowners to create a 100-foot zone of clearance - no flammable vegetation was allowed within 30 feet of a home, while in an outer 70-foot zone brush had to be cut back so that fires couldn't spread easily from the ground to trees. The 2005 law was enforced by fines from local fire departments and CALFIRE, the state’s wild land firefighting agency.
Wildfires then dropped, from about 4,900 fires in 2005 to about 2,400 in 2010, according to CALFIRE.
But today, not everyone complies with the law. Despite frequent warnings and even fire-department fines for Oakland and Berkeley residents, many homeowners continue to let dangerous brush accumulate next to and atop their homes, especially during California’s historic five-year drought. In 2013, the number of wildfires in the state rose to its highest level since 2006, with close to 3,700 fires, according to CALFIRE.
“People don’t think about these things because they haven’t experienced it,” said Diane Beatty, regional vice president for insurance broker NFP Private Client Group in San Francisco. She was recently shocked, she said, when one of her clients in the Bay Area opted, without consulting her, to put an extremely flammable wood shake roof on a new-construction house.