Since the Camp Fire, state and local authorities have tightened requirements for “fire-hardened” homes, but most standards apply only to new construction, according to Kimiko Barrett, of the Bozeman, Montana-based Headwaters Economics.
When a home is built to be more resilient against environmental hazards, additional expenses can be expected. The cost of wildfire resilient measures can vary, depending upon the location, risk exposure, building size and features, as well as other factors. According to a report co-authored by IBHS and Headwaters Economics, it may add as little as $2,800 to the cost of building a new wildfire-resistant home in California.
“BRIC is intended to fund big, visionary projects that take a lot of money,” said Kristin Smith, a researcher at Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research organization in Montana. “Those are exactly the kind of projects that many lower-capacity rural places just do not have the resources to put together.”
Many trailer parks are built on cheap, risky land. They bore the brunt of the flood damages, this year and last. That outcome is consistent with nationwide trends. Analysts at Headwaters Economics found that one in seven mobile homes are built in an area with high flood risk, compared to one in 10 for all other housing types.
More than 3,600 structures, including homes, burned in California wildfires during 2021. Between 2005 and 2020, nearly 60,000 structures were lost to fire in the state, according to the research firm Headwaters Economics.
Despite recommendations from fire officials, codes to require wildfire safety measures in Western states have often been halted by cost concerns.
According to a 2020 study by the nonprofit research group Headwater Economics, wildfires destroyed nearly 89,000 structures between 2005 and 2020, with more than 60 percent of the losses occurring in 2017, 2018, and 2020 alone.
Now, a new study shows that enhancing a new home’s wildfire resistance adds minimal cost to an overall construction project.
Bozeman, Mont.,-based Headwaters Economics in a July report about wood roofs in wildfire-prone areas determined that Santa Fe County’s wildfire risk is greater than 90 percent of U.S. counties.
While there are some less expensive measures people can take to protect their homes, like clearing gutters of pine needles, which can act as kindling, most suggested retrofits are neither cheap nor easy — and that could leave some homeowners vulnerable.
Kimiko Barrett, a wildfire researcher and policy analyst at Headwaters Economics, says the federal government hasn’t provided grants to help homeowners address the risks.
Kelly Pohl, the associate director for Headwaters Economics, says Yellowstone visitors spend more than $237 million annually in Montana.
“It’s likely that there will be more tourists recreating and visiting other nearby communities in Montana.”
Some of those federal grants for wildfire mitigation should be restructured so rural communities can compete in the fight for funds, according to Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit community development and land management research group.
The completion of a cross-country bike trail in old railroad corridors could add nearly a quarter-billion dollars a year to local economies.
“We see a lot more inequality even within those communities,” Lawson said. “And so on average it looks like median household income is doing really well – there’s a lot of prosperity, rising wages, and that’s all great. But … we have to be aware of the distribution and what’s happening for those folks earning the lowest income in those communities.”
When we first found out about these new maps, the city council said doing nothing is not an option. That’s when we got help from Headwaters Economics and Great West Engineering.
“I think it’s natural to feel skeptical after this experience,” she said, particularly as suppression and recovery costs mount. But Barrett also said abandoning this wildfire mitigation tool would be even more destructive and expensive.
“Timber payments … created a really hard situation for local governments in Oregon specifically,” said Kris Smith, a researcher at Headwaters Economics, an independent research group. The area was “stuck in a downward spiral of not having enough money to pay for your everyday needs in local government,” Smith said.
Kimiko Barrett, a researcher who helps communities plan for wildfires at Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group in Montana, said many prospective homebuyers treat fire as an afterthought. A more important audience for the new data could be local officials, she said, who decide how much money to provide to reduce fire risk and where to allow new construction.