How California Real Estate Investors Can Protect Themselves From the Risk of Wildfires

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Author: Staff

Wildfires are a major concern throughout California. In 2018, multiple major fires burned nearly two million acres of land, taking more than one hundred lives and causing billions of dollars in damage. The risk to life and property from wildfires is something that no California real estate investor can ignore. Because wildfires are, by definition, large and out-of-control, real estate investors cannot mitigate this risk on an individual basis. Investors can, however, make use of resources from the state and federal government when researching and planning an investment.

What Is a “Wildfire”?

The term “wildfire” generally refers to any fire that quickly spreads from its point of origin to cover a much larger area. California’s drought conditions have made enormous areas of land highly flammable, and wind can spread fires faster than people can run—or drive—away from them.

The California Public Resource Code defines an “uncontrolled fire” as one that meets one or more of three criteria:
– It “is unattended by any person”;
– The people attending it are not able to prevent it from spreading; or
– It “is burning with such velocity or intensity” that “private persons at the fire scene” would not be able to control it without the assistance of trained firefighters.

California Wildfires

The 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive in California’s history. State and federal agencies identified more than 8,500 fires. Two of them made history.

The Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned from July to September 2018, was California’s largest wildfire in terms of area. By the time the fires were contained, they had burned over 450,000 acres and caused more than $250 million in damage. One firefighter lost his life, and four more were injured.

The Camp Fire was both the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. It was named for its place of origin, Camp Creek Road in Butte County. The fire was responsible for eighty-six civilian fatalities, injuries to several more civilians and firefighter, and billions of dollars in property losses in November.

Wildfire Monitoring and Prevention

Investors who are considering California properties should review resources on fire hazards and prevention from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“CAL FIRE”). This department maintains and monitors fire prevention efforts covering 31 million acres of private land throughout the state.

The U.S. Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages fire prevention efforts in the eighteen national forests located in California. The nine national parks in the state are under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service. The National Interagency Fire Center, located in Boise, Idaho, enables these and other federal, state, and local agencies to communicate and work together.

Wildfire Hazard Disclosures

At an individual level, a real estate investor’s best defense against wildfire damage is information. Californians routinely rebuild on land that has been burned, and information on past fires is readily available. Additionally, resources are available on the risk of future fires. CAL FIRE provides information on areas that are designated as having high levels of risk for wildfires:
State Responsibility Areas (SRAs) are lands that are not part of a city and not owned by the federal government, and which are primarily covered by timber or other uncultivated vegetation.
Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZs) are areas under local government (i.e. city) jurisdiction, which CAL FIRE has determined are at a high risk of fire damage. These areas are subject to stricter building codes.

More Blog Posts:

Anatomy of a Commercial Real Estate Transaction for California Real Estate Investors, Titles and Deeds, January 19, 2019

What California Real Estate Investors Should Consider When Purchasing Real Property at Foreclosure Auctions, Titles and Deeds, December 15, 2018

Due Diligence Tips for Commercial Property Purchases in California, Titles and Deeds, October 9, 2018