Report: Sprawl in Fire-prone Areas Endangers Californians, Increases Damages, Fire-suppression Costs

For Immediate Release, February 25, 2021

Contact:  Tiffany Yap, (510) 847-5838,

Report: Sprawl in Fire-prone Areas Endangers Californians, Increases Damages, Fire-suppression Costs

‘Built to Burn’ Calls for State Law to Limit Construction in High Fire-risk Wildlands

LOS ANGELES— As California lawmakers consider a bill that would limit sprawl development in blaze-prone areas, a new report highlights how rampant construction in high fire-risk wildlands is putting more people in harm’s way and contributing to a dramatic increase in costs associated with fire suppression and damages.

Built to Burn, released today by the Center for Biological Diversity, notes that if current land-use practices continue, between 640,000 and 1.2 million new homes could be built in the state’s highest wildfire-risk areas by 2050. Nearly all contemporary wildfires in California are caused by human sources such as power lines and electrical equipment, and development increases that threat.

“Sprawl development in California’s blaze-prone wildlands increases ignition risk, puts more people in danger and harms ecosystems and wildlife,” said Tiffany Yap, a senior scientist at the Center. “After last year’s devastating fires, state lawmakers need to take a hard look at the science and take strong action on construction in high fire-risk areas.”

Costs in areas managed by Cal Fire were $23 billion during the 2015-2018 fire seasons — more than double the wildfire cost for the previous 26 years combined after adjusting for inflation. Fifteen of the 20 most destructive California wildfires have occurred in the past five years.

Since 2015 almost 200 people in the state have been killed in wildfires, more than 50,000 structures have burned down, hundreds of thousands have had to evacuate their homes and endure power outages, and millions have been exposed to unhealthy levels of smoke and air pollution.

Today’s report notes that local officials continue to greenlight massive new developments offering mostly mid- to high-income homes in areas that have repeatedly burned in wildfires. For example, multiple wildfires have occurred on the project site for the 3,150-home Northlake development approved by L.A. County in 2019, and several wildfires have burned on the site for the 3,000-home Otay Village developments approved by San Diego County in 2019 and 2020.