In 2018 the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire, killed 85 people, virtually destroying the entire town of Paradise and shrouding large swaths of Northern California in a two-week haze of toxic smoke. Just a year before, my home community of Sonoma County, about 200 miles southwest of the Camp Fire, was engulfed in a fire which claimed 44 lives.

These tragic disasters have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and shelterless populations. They are the same communities that have been subjected to centuries of oppression and exploitation by the very capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal economic systems that created and continue to uphold inequities and competition for scarce resources across race, class, and gender lines.

To adapt to the constant threat of wildfires, we need to revisit the purpose and function of the built environment, and find a way to construct communities that mimic how indigenous Californians sheltered themselves.

Lisa Kleissner, treasurer of the Community Association of Big Sur, is an advocate for the need to allocate capital to incentivize fire-resistant new construction and retrofits.

While research is being done around fire-resistant construction strategies, much of it does not take into account the need for the building industry to reduce its sizeable contributions to the climate crisis, which exacerbates the severity of fires in California and beyond.

That path will include natural building strategies such as rammed earth, straw-bale buildings, green roofs and home hardening. Natural building generally refers to a philosophy of construction that favors durable, minimally processed sustainable materials such as straw, wood, and clay in creating human shelters.

The additional benefits of natural building include homes that are nontoxic for the workers to construct (and for people to live in) and that are able to withstand a seismic event. In some cases, homes could be designed as emergency shelter-in-place oases, protecting families indoors in an extreme wildfire.

Read the full article about wildfire recovery by Tom Llewellyn at Shareable.