USA Today reported recently that since 2000, roughly 400,000 people — that’s about the population of Atlanta, Ga. — have moved to neighborhoods in the West that are prone to wildfires.

From Colorado to California, about 3.5 million people now live in those zones, USA Today reported.

Many settle there to live in scenic settings, or because of the outward expansion of Western metropolises. A fire sparked on a dry and windy day could grow rapidly to catastrophic proportions, the analysis shows.

In San Diego, as we reported earlier this month, that threat of wildfires is especially high this year, owing to extremely low rainfall and a winter frost that has left the county scattered with dead, dry brush.

Here’s more from the USA Today story:

The rapid movement to fire-prone areas propelled the federal government’s cost for battling wildfires to nearly $2 billion last year. It threatens to drive up insurance rates. Allstate will stop writing new policies in California starting in July. It also has Western cities and counties rethinking how and where people should build homes, and in extreme cases, it puts more homeowners and firefighters in danger.

“This is a lesson that’s been learned in the blood of our firefighters for many years,” says Tom Harbour, the head of firefighting for the U.S. Forest Service. “We need to be telling people … that just because you built something here, we’re not going to die for it.”

Most of the areas of San Diego County that burned during the 2003 Cedar Fire have since been rebuilt or are in the process, said Maurice Luque a spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Asked if San Diego’s seen more people moving to those fire-prone areas, Luque said development in many of the fire-prone neighborhoods have been expanding.

“There’s been additional development in those areas, certainly,” he said.

WILL CARLESS

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