As most of you must know, the California wildfires have been getting worse with each passing year. According to Peter Sanders of the Wall Street Journal, fire season has barely begun, but in the past 3 weeks, the fires have consumed 631,000 acres of and $112 million in State funds. In the past 12 months, the State of California has spent an estimated $950 million in firefighting costs, a 41% increase from the previous year.
With a current budget deficit of $17.2 billion, the urgent issue of who should pick up the firefighting bill has arisen. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed an insurance surcharge on all California home and property owners to help raise funds for firefighting.
But for those of us who have not chosen to build and live in the areas where these frequent seasonal fires occur, we can’t help but feel a little resentful of this proposal. The existence of homes in those areas drive firefighting costs up due to the necessity for differing procedures and additional resources. Not only does it cost more to have to use fire engines, airplanes and helicopters to defend these structures, but they take resources away from other remote fires that would otherwise be more quickly and easily contained.
According to Timothy Duane, professor of environmental planning and policy at UC Berkeley:
“When you are forced to move resources in defense of structures, it means you’re often taking resources away from other areas of the fire, or entirely separate fires, which means those fires are harder to contain with less resources. You have to deal with life, and property and natural resources, in that order, and when you’re dealing with the first two, it increases the extent of the fire and the time period before you can put the fire out.”
Yes, we do feel sorry for those who have lost their homes or whose homes are in danger, but they willingly purchased and/or built homes in areas that they knew were susceptible to seasonal fires. When we purchased our California home, we did so after researching the various environmental factors and comparing risks of natural disasters with other areas. With this sort of information readily available, as well as the fact that the wildfires are widely covered in the news each year, it’s hard to claim ignorance to the risk when they purchased or built their homes.
I know I should be more charitable and sympathetic, but frankly, with the daily inflation of food and gas prices, the heat wave increasing our electric bill, and decline in business putting a strain on our already modest lifestyle, I am not in the mood to pay a surcharge on my home insurance in order to make up for the poor home purchase decisions of others.