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Wildfires can force temporary evacuations, now they are forcing permanent moves

California Wildfires AP 102419
Posted at 1:48 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 16:48:44-04

We know wildfires can force people to evacuate, but now they're forcing people to move out of fire-prone areas. This means all of those fires are now affecting home values.

According to Redfin, homes in wildfire areas sold for nearly 4% less than those in lower-risk zip codes.

Chris McCrum says last summer pushed him over the edge.

“This incredible lighting storm evening that started thousands of fires around the Bay Area, we had this situation where the north, the east, and the south areas were burning, west was the ocean. In other words, every part of the Bay Area had fires surrounding, it was quite extraordinary, almost biblical," McCrum said.

After living in California's San Francisco Bay area for more than 30 years, he decided to leave his Oakland Hills home. The smoke sent him packing.

"The smoke lasted for weeks, and the reason was because the fires were burning for weeks and started new fires."

The pandemic made us all realize many jobs could be done remotely. Chris realized he could move out of a heavy wildfire area and keep up with his executive coaching career. So, he went straight west, to the coast, near Monterey, effectively outrunning wildfire season.

“The quality of life, the whole point of living in the Oakland Hills, was you had this access to incredible hiking trails and outdoors, none of which you could access because it was unhealthy to do so, so it was a really unfortunate combination of events.”

And he's not alone.

Daryl Fairweather is Redfin's Chief Economist.

“I lived in Seattle for four years and in three of the four summers, there was wildfire smoke so bad that we couldn’t go outside for over a week," Fairweather said.

She moved her family to the Midwest for the same reason, and ironically, she's part of the data that she now analyzes for Redfin.

“More than a third of homes in Utah, for example, are at risk of burning from wildfires and as wildfires become more prevalent, that’s likely to grow. Colorado is 19% and California is only 6.7%, but there are so many people in California that it represents a very large portion of people that are in harm's way when it comes to wildfires.”

But, she says, each area has its own challenges and problems, so you may be trading one issue for another when you move.

"People are generally moving off of the west coast, the west coast has problems with wildfires, they’re moving into an area that has its own risk; the southern part of the United States, like Phoenix, Texas, these are all places that are going to have drought and water shortages in the future," Fairweather said.

In the end, it all comes back to budget and what families can afford. Some are moving into areas that have already burned and are trying to rebuild.

“It’s interesting because there are definitely stories of people leaving areas that are wildfire-prone because they’re fed up with it and don’t want to deal with rising insurance costs or even just the trauma of going through a wildfire, but it seems like, for every person who’s leaving a wildfire area, people are still moving in, largely because of affordability.”

For McCrum, who got to experience being both a buyer and a seller, things worked out well and he couldn't be happier.

“It felt like the stars were aligning at that time, and so far, it's been wonderful to be in this new area.”