Last November’s Camp Fire devastated the small Northern California town of Paradise, killing at least 85 people and burning through nearly 19,000 structures over the course of two and a half weeks. The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, it was in many ways a worst-case scenario—but, according to a new analysis from The Arizona Republic, it’s a scenario that could easily play out in hundreds of other communities.
The report, released last Wednesday, analyzed 760 million acres of the American West for fire risk using factors like slope, vegetation, and historic weather data, identifying more than 500 small communities that have an even higher wildfire potential than Paradise. The researchers also assessed factors such as evacuation constraint, percentage of elderly or disabled residents, alert systems, and number of mobile homes that could increase human fatalities during these fires.
While the data suggested that most of L.A. County is at a more moderate risk of fire, a few communities—namely, Topanga and several cities in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains—were very much in the red. Here’s why they might be at risk.
The hilly, tree-strewn community of Topanga has a wildfire hazard potential of 4.05 out of 5, higher than Paradise’s 3.81. Its “evacuation constraint,” which is calculated by comparing the number of households to major exit roads, is 240—higher than the median of 110.0, but nothing compared to Paradise’s of-the-charts ratio of 1,818.
Topanga’s percentages of elderly and disabled residents are also fairly typical, but like Paradise, the community has a high number of residents (13.4 percent) that live in mobile home parks. Due to their close spacing and often flammable building materials, mobile homes pose a far greater risk in fires—according to the report, 37 of the 85 camp fire fatalities were mobile home residents.
San Gabriel Mountain Foothill Cities
Located in a “wildfire-urban interface” at the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains, the five communities of Monrovia, Duarte, Bradbury, Azusa, and Glendora are also in the danger zone. Their wildfire risk rates range between 4.01 and 4.46, Monrovia being the most susceptible to fire. While all five have alarmingly high evacuation constraint rates, Monrovia’s rate of 816 (compared to the median of 110) raises particular red flags.
Additionally, several of the cities have higher-than-average rates of residents who have limited English proficiency. This can prevent some people from receiving important information during a fire, since most emergency communication in the United States is in English only.
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