By Jim Carlton : wsj – excerpt (you need access to the ssj to read the article)
Fast-growing cities in the West need more housing, but residents fear that crowded roads could lead to Paradise, Calif.-style disaster when fires hit
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—A plan to build more housing in this fast-growing city has been put on hold because of another pressing concern: wildfire evacuation routes.
A citizens’ group in this community of about half a million has successfully lobbied the city council to halt development of the 2424 Garden of the Gods apartment project on grounds that it would overload already congested roads in case of wildfire. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire tore into the same neighborhood, destroying 346 homes and killing two as people trying to evacuate spent as long as two hours stuck in traffic.
“I just want to make sure I can get out,” said Dana Duggan, a resident who helped start the Westside Watch group earlier this year to push for a greater focus on evacuation scenarios, including computer modeling.
Developers trying to build more housing in fast-growing cities in the West are running into similar opposition. Worries about wildfire evacuation intensified after the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise, Calif., in 2018, killing 85 people—including some found in charred vehicles. An assessment afterward found three roads out of town were blocked, while traffic was backed up for miles on the fourth…
Bill Wysong was among those caught in a traffic bottleneck in 2012 as residents fled a fire in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Evacuation is the critical issue,” said Dr. Louise Comfort, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied the issue. “If people try to get to a freeway, everybody else is trying that same road. This is something that honestly needs to be planned ahead of time.”
Colorado is building more homes in flammable wild land areas at the same time a drought fueled by climate change has greatly elevated the fire danger. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history took place in 2020. “We have to do a better job learning how to grow in a safe way, including fire [escape] corridors,” Gov. Jared Polis said.
Other communities in the West are similarly dealing with how to balance calls for more housing with wildfire concerns.
A California appeals court in August blocked a planned expansion of a resort near Lake Tahoe after agreeing with some environmentalists’ concerns, including that plans underestimated wildfire evacuation needs. An analysis was remanded to a lower court for further review. “We are disappointed in the decision but we will respect the process,” said Dee Byrne, president and chief operating officer of the Palisades Tahoe resort
As Wildfire Threat Rises, At-Risk Communities Eye New Defenses