86,000 Homes to be Built in Fire-Prone Areas

At least 86,000 homes are being planned for Los Angeles and Orange counties on land designated as being at high risk from wildfires, it was reported Sunday.

Housing tracts are sprawling over brushy hillsides that provide beautiful views but also funnel flames.

"This is a land rush into danger," said Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service.

Wildfires that began last month killed nine people, destroyed some 2,100 homes and charred more than 800 square miles of land from Los Angeles County to the Mexican border.

One such fire was in Santa Clarita in northern Los Angeles County. An area there where 600 homes are planned was blackened by the fire.

Altogether, some 60,000 homes are proposed in risky northern county areas over the next few years, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing records and interviews.

"Nearly all of the major subdivisions in north county are in a very high fire hazard zone," said Paul Novak, planning deputy for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area.

In Orange County, the Irvine Co. and Mission Viejo Co. have approval to build more than 26,000 homes in high-risk fire zones over the next 20 to 30 years.

New homes must have fire-retardant features and landscaping but critics say building in fire-prone areas raises the cost of firefighting.

It will cost about $869 million to fight wildfires in the 2007-08 fiscal year, up 83 percent over the cost from 10 years ago, according to the state legislative analyst's office.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently directed a state task force to look at whether the state should allow homes and businesses to be built in brushy ridge areas with high wildfire risk.

Some residents, though, accept the risks.

"That's what you get with the view," said Melanie Altieri, who lives near the scene of last month's Buckweed blaze in northeastern
Los Angeles County. "Fires."
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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