Introducing the Wildland Urban Wildfire Committee

  • Posted on 1 July 2020
  • By Jonathan Howard
Updated March 15, 2021

Sierra Club California Wildfire Policy - Sierra Club California supports policies that prohibit new building in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, consistent with established Sierra Club national urban infill policy, to respond to increasing intensity and frequency of devastating wildfires on lives, habitat, property, infrastructure, and the environment. (Adopted: August 22, 2020)

The Wildland Urban Wildfire Committee (WUWC) -- Sierra Club Angeles Chapter’s newest committee – was officially approved Sunday, June 28, 2020, and will be dedicated to addressing the risks associated with building in the Wildland-Urban Interface/Intermix (WUI) and influencing policies to reduce those dangers while protecting the environment.

The committee’s founders see its formation as timely. Building in the WUI -- Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZs) – areas in which severe wildfire hazards are increasingly likely due to flammable native and non-native wildland vegetation, hazardous weather patterns, and steep topography – has increased significantly since 1990, meaning more chances for human ignition (the leading cause of wildfire).   
Fires in California have become a much larger threat in recent years. There exists a real consensus among climate scientists about the potential for a prolonged fire season in California for 2020 and beyond – in fact, California is now at significant risk for fires year-round due to climate change.
To make matters worse, California is spending millions on a fire prevention strategy that does not work. As wildfires grow in size and intensity, embers aided by yearly hot, dry winds jump fuel breaks with ease igniting homes and structures miles from the fire’s front. This is why so many families have lost their homes even though they have complied with defensible space regulations.
The cost associated with maintaining the status quo is simply not sustainable. The total damage and economic loss from these megafires can be in the hundreds of billions. Long-term residual health effects from dirty-air pose a significant risk to people with heart and lung disease or those battling the novel coronavirus. Not to mention the disruption of chaparral ecosystems, leading to drought, landslides, and threatening biodiversity.
And it’s not just wealthy hillside residents who are victims of these catastrophes. In fact, underserved and working-class communities in Los Angeles (Thousand Oaks, Sylmar, San Bernardino) are catching fire just as often and do not have the means necessary to pay for clean-up, insurance, rebuilding, or continual investment in fire safety.
Despite all that we know, developers, local governments, and the state legislators have ignored the warning signs and continue to meet the demand for urban sprawl, proposing housing bills without any mention of preventing building in VHFHSZs. “Our legislators must balance the need for housing with the reality of climate change and public safety,” said Wendy-Sue Rosen, one of the group founders.
The committee has outlined its initial actions and goals and plans to meet monthly to update those interested in their progress. They ask volunteers and members to keep an eye on local city agendas for building proposals in VHFHSZs and to alert the committee so they can promote commenting, and to join them for future zoom presentations on the issue and to participate in action alerts on state policy.
Going forward, the committee will meet once a month on the 2nd Thursday of the month at 2 pm. Please contact Lynne Plambeck: for the next meeting times. Please also check the Chapter calendar for dates and times. 
[Header photo: Smoke from Angeles National Forest Fire Azusa, CA © Gene Blevins/Reuters all rights reserved]
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I live on Spinks In an Extreme Fire Zone. I installed two wildfire cameras that are on the AlertWildfire.orhg network - Spinks Canyon and Maddock Canyon. In the next few weeks I should have a third camera up and running in Fish Canyon. I am very interested in joining your committee to share my experiences and to learn from yours. I am a recent renewed member of the Sierra Club - having joined originally when I was at UCB. I am on the San Gabriel Foothills Task force run by Joan Licari.

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