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Thread: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

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    Default CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    A question for you folks in CA and the PNW:

    What are your thoughts or guidance regarding wildfires for someone who’s thinking of moving to the west coast, mostly to avoid the Midwest’s weather nastiness of cold & snowy winters and hot and humid summers?

    Another weather issue that bothers me around here is severe thunderstorms, and although overall the weather’s better most of the time on the west coast, I would hate to trade the risk of bad storms (common enough) and tornadoes (unlikely, but very bad if one hits you) for the dual risks of horrible air quality for extended periods of time and everything going up in flames. I used to think of west coast wildfires as something that happened hundreds of miles away in national forests, and only threatened a few hardy souls that lived in tiny mountain communities, but then you see threads here and ATH where city-folk post images captured from their backyards, where you can barely see the sun and they worry about having to evacuate on short notice.

    Bottom line, is this enough of an issue for me to seriously consider as I assess locations for eventual retirement, or am I just getting freaked out by something over-hyped that’s actually no worse in one’s everyday life than stuff like having a highway wreck, which you just live with as a fact of life, and don't worry too much about?

    TIA

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Do your research on the specific area(s), the prevailing winds, what happens when they change (e.g the santa ana winds in SoCal) I've been in San Diego County for 18 of the last 25 years. We had to actually leave a house for about 4 hours for ONE fire in all those years. Of course, some areas I loved to mtn bike were hit hard by some major fires.

    We've had occasional days where air quality is down from fires far away. In contrast, I lived in Bethesda MD for 3 years and had far more bad "ozone action days" each summer where it hurt my lungs to ride hard or run in the afternoon.
    Unless federal land management gets better investment and resources, the fires are likely to continue, so WHERE you live on the west coast can very much matter.

    I lived 2 years on the Puget Sound (this was 2006-8), and never had any air quality issues from fires. At the time I really disliked the wet/grey that was literally present for 8 months, but that was mainly b/c I commuted by bike. There was a nice part of almost every day (but NOT sunny those 8 months). I had friends in Seattle, and would like that city, IF I teleworked.

    I certainly don't "worry" about fire or earthquake here. We have a "go bag" with all our important documents and always have water in cars, emergency stuff etc. Honestly that is mainly 50% my military risk management training and 50% my wife's history of loosing all her childhood stuff when her parents house caught fire during a remodel decades ago (no one was home), rather than any specific concern about fire or earthquake. We are well south of the significant fault lines, and as I said fires do happen all around the area, but rarely in our suburban area, but we know fires can happen that affect air quality. That impacts us much as severe snowstorms did when in the DC area--we might have to stay indoors for several days.

    IF you are closer to a national forest or other areas that have the acreage for a large fire and subsequent air issues, you'd have to plan for your stay inside needs depending on your health status. N95s, air filters for your HVAC, and it could be coupled with power outage. We've had more inconvenience form rolling blackouts during summer heat waves than from fires--but again WHERE you live could make a big difference

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    I would disagree with the above assessment only in that the air quality and fire can reach out and touch you anywhere in the state. The air was poison in the Bay Area for the better part of two months, orange sky and all that.

    And a couple seasons ago a good chunk of Santa Rosa and the surrounding suburbs burned in the Wine Country fires.

    The changing weather means fire season runs for pretty much the bulk of the year. Can you adjust? Yeah. We live with it, but it's there and can happen pretty much anywhere in the state where it's dry, windy and plenty of fuel.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    If you do look into it more look closely at where you might think of moving into. My cousin lives in Morgan Hill and they were on evacuation watch where they were packed and ready, house prepped in case they were given the command. The neighborhood one street up the hill was evacuated as a precaution because of the design. Many houses and one way in, one way out on a steep slope. Really pretty but didn't need a fire right there to be disruptive.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    The future's uncertain.

    I would not want to live with these risks that seem to be increasing.

    SPP
    My name is Peter Miller.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Things are changing, and I don’t think anyone knows just how frequent and how catastrophic fires will be. Yes, it’s getting worse, but the west coast has always had fire, and many of our forests need it. So, not being able to tell the future, I think there are two considerations: air quality and risk of losing a home.

    If you have a good relationship with someone in insurance, ask them to look into fire policies in places you’re interested. My brother is, and he’s not been able to find anyone willing to write fire policies for some of his customers in so cal. I think that’s the easiest way to see what folks are paid to know think about areas and neighborhoods. Defensible space is now something *everyone* should be thinking about. No matter how many houses are around, dead and dry fuel *must* be cleared.

    For air quality... some places are worse than others. In summers you can see where air kind of gets trapped, and those will often be hit hardest during catastrophic fire. I also think there’s a year round culture adjustment. I kind of chuckle about the “wood stoves” thread because I feel like it’s 100% unethical to have a wood fire of any type, any time of year where I am. It just pollutes too much. Often, we have laws against it when air is getting bad (spare the air days).

    All that said, anywhere you live you pick which disasters you can live with.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    I rate water security a higher concern than wildfire. After 20+ years of home ownership in gray, green, and wet Seattle, I contemplate moving to other areas of the West with an eye on water supply and policy. Wildfire, earthquake, intense weather and its effects (e.g., landslides) are already on the list.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Thanks for the replies folks, this is helpful.

    Obviously it's a complicated situation and tough to get a truly good understanding of all the various factors, but given the importance of the issue it's worth the effort.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Quote Originally Posted by spopepro View Post
    Things are changing, and I don’t think anyone knows just how frequent and how catastrophic fires will be. Yes, it’s getting worse, but the west coast has always had fire, and many of our forests need it. So, not being able to tell the future, I think there are two considerations: air quality and risk of losing a home.

    If you have a good relationship with someone in insurance, ask them to look into fire policies in places you’re interested. My brother is, and he’s not been able to find anyone willing to write fire policies for some of his customers in so cal. I think that’s the easiest way to see what folks are paid to know think about areas and neighborhoods. Defensible space is now something *everyone* should be thinking about. No matter how many houses are around, dead and dry fuel *must* be cleared.

    For air quality... some places are worse than others. In summers you can see where air kind of gets trapped, and those will often be hit hardest during catastrophic fire. I also think there’s a year round culture adjustment. I kind of chuckle about the “wood stoves” thread because I feel like it’s 100% unethical to have a wood fire of any type, any time of year where I am. It just pollutes too much. Often, we have laws against it when air is getting bad (spare the air days).

    All that said, anywhere you live you pick which disasters you can live with.
    Wait’ll the big insurers stop writing policies for 30 year mortgages in Florida due to rising water levels and stronger and more frequent hurricanes. It’s gonna get ugly.
    my name is Matt

    INSTA

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Come to Vegas. No hurricanes, no real tornados, we have nothing to burn.
    bruceking

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    I'm from Milwaukee, Wi. I left 20 years to move to PDX. I have missed the mid-west exactly 0%. For me, there is zero comparison. Everything here is better. Even with "fire season" now, still no comparison....I would move all over again if given the choice. Yes, it rains (more wet than heavy rain) here a lot from November through April/May. However, if you're a mountain person, the skiing/snowboarding is excellent. The best part of that is the snow sticks to the mountains (1.5 hrs from PDX). It's usually just rain in town. So bike all summer and hit the slopes in the winter.

    Other notables. No bugs. No humidity. GREAT food and drink. Lots and lots and lots of stupid hipsters here though. They are very fun to laugh at.

    Sure, fires are happening much regularly than they used to. It's not fun and quite annoying. We evacuated our home (not total immanent fire danger) due to heavy, heavy smoke. We have a new baby so my spouse wanted to jet. That was a first.

    In short, I'd still choose the PNW over any other place in the country (and I've seen it all)....and certainly the midwest. Those winters SUCK!

    Oh, and besides the Santa Monica mountains near Malibu, I think we have some of the best riding to be had. I guess that only matters if a person likes bikes.

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Quote Originally Posted by lavi View Post
    I'm from Milwaukee, Wi. I left 20 years to move to PDX. I have missed the mid-west exactly 0%. For me, there is zero comparison. Everything here is better. Even with "fire season" now, still no comparison....I would move all over again if given the choice. Yes, it rains (more wet than heavy rain) here a lot from November through April/May. However, if you're a mountain person, the skiing/snowboarding is excellent. The best part of that is the snow sticks to the mountains (1.5 hrs from PDX). It's usually just rain in town. So bike all summer and hit the slopes in the winter.

    Other notables. No bugs. No humidity. GREAT food and drink. Lots and lots and lots of stupid hipsters here though. They are very fun to laugh at.

    Sure, fires are happening much regularly than they used to. It's not fun and quite annoying. We evacuated our home (not total immanent fire danger) due to heavy, heavy smoke. We have a new baby so my spouse wanted to jet. That was a first.

    In short, I'd still choose the PNW over any other place in the country (and I've seen it all)....and certainly the midwest. Those winters SUCK!

    Oh, and besides the Santa Monica mountains near Malibu, I think we have some of the best riding to be had. I guess that only matters if a person likes bikes.
    I grew up about 90 minutes north of Milwaukee (Appleton) and now live about 90 minutes south of Milwaukee (west of Chicago) and I'm PNW curious. My job doesn't have any bases close to there but I've often wanted to visit for an extended time - like a few weeks. That might be this spring. I'll bring a couple bikes if I drive - paved road and gravel road.

    Waiting for a slight uptick in the weather.
    La Cheeserie!

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    Default Re: CA, OR, WA and living with wildfires

    Quote Originally Posted by lavi View Post
    I'm from Milwaukee, Wi. I left 20 years to move to PDX. I have missed the mid-west exactly 0%. For me, there is zero comparison. Everything here is better. Even with "fire season" now, still no comparison....I would move all over again if given the choice. Yes, it rains (more wet than heavy rain) here a lot from November through April/May. However, if you're a mountain person, the skiing/snowboarding is excellent. The best part of that is the snow sticks to the mountains (1.5 hrs from PDX). It's usually just rain in town. So bike all summer and hit the slopes in the winter.

    Other notables. No bugs. No humidity. GREAT food and drink. Lots and lots and lots of stupid hipsters here though. They are very fun to laugh at.

    Sure, fires are happening much regularly than they used to. It's not fun and quite annoying. We evacuated our home (not total immanent fire danger) due to heavy, heavy smoke. We have a new baby so my spouse wanted to jet. That was a first.

    In short, I'd still choose the PNW over any other place in the country (and I've seen it all)....and certainly the midwest. Those winters SUCK!

    Oh, and besides the Santa Monica mountains near Malibu, I think we have some of the best riding to be had. I guess that only matters if a person likes bikes.
    Similar story to mine. I'm from NY state and moved to the west coast in the late 90s. Bounced around a bit from SoCal to Oregon but settled in the SF Bay area. For me the deciding factor is access to public lands. There's just so much to explore in NorCal and the PNW. And the mild winters, microclimates, and vast ecological diversity gradients across short distances make for such interesting landscapes. The fires are indeed a challenge lately, and sort of a price to pay for living near vast expanses of forest. So you have to choose your house location very carefully, both at the local scale (so it doesn't burn) and at a broader scale to avoid the typical stagnant air valleys. For certain days or weeks of the year the bad air can be unavoidable, but it would have to get a lot more severe for me to move.

    There is also a cultural factor. Hard to describe, but there's a bit more of a culture of tradition and conformity in the east/midwest, that I'm just not comfortable with. I never really found my people in the east. I'm a little eccentric and not very sociable, and I found myself having to almost defend who I was in the east, whereas here people just accept whoever you are, to make a wild generalization.

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