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More homes could be in risky fire zones than official maps reveal




The La Tuna Canyon fire burns in the hills above Burbank, California, early September 2, 2017. 
The brush fire which quickly burned 2,000 acres started on September 1 and was being driven by heat wave temperatures and high winds.   / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The La Tuna Canyon fire burns in the hills above Burbank, California, early September 2, 2017. The brush fire which quickly burned 2,000 acres started on September 1 and was being driven by heat wave temperatures and high winds. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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Almost every year, wildfires rip through Southern California, destroying everything in their paths, including homes. Precisely what is done to help protect those houses varies, however. That's because some prevention efforts are only required by law if a home is located in a designated fire zone. 

"If you want to build a new home or substantially remodel your home, the law requires that building materials and building techniques be used that make the house less likely to be set afire by embers," L.A. Times reporter Doug Smith explains.

These laws may apply to homes in fire zones, but the criteria for mapping these risk areas in the state is less than uniform. An LA Times analysis found that nearly a 500,000 homes in Southern California that face elevated risk from wildfire fall outside the official fire zone map. 

Smith explains why fire zone labeling isn't standard:

"It isn't standardized because they're trying to use things like wind patterns and vegetation that are hard to take account of statistically. And so it's science with a lot of guesswork," Smith says. 

The lack of guidance could leave new homes constructed near fire zones less protected from wildfires.

Press the blue play button above to hear what makes older homes in fire zones most vulnerable. 

Answers have been edited for clarity.