Wildfire risk rising amid rapid development in North Carolina

Tom George Image
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
NC wildfire risk to grow by 2050 amid rapid development
The counties in central North Carolina most at risk of wildfires by 2050 include Cumberland, Harnett, Lee, and Hoke.

NORTH CAROLINA (WTVD) -- It's the time of year when North Carolina is colored with breathtaking fall foliage - It's a reminder of the perks of being so close to nature.

But just past month, thousands of acres of land in western North Carolina have been scorched prompting a state of emergency and burn bans in 30 counties.

As some of those fires continue to burn, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who is also the state Fire Marshal worries many were caught off guard.

"They seem to be getting more frequent here, but people are not expecting it, you're not expecting North Carolina to burst into flames," Causey says.

New data from ABC's climate division found North Carolina was one of the top states in the country with one of the largest increases in WUI, or Wildland Urban Interface - areas where wilderness meets human development.

Within the state, Wake County has the highest increase, with nearly 3 times more homes built in WUI zones in the last 3 decades, going from 50,129 housing units in 1990 to 137,463 units in 2020.

Causey is concerned that as developers meet the demands of a population boom, it comes at a cost.

"We've seen some efforts by some legislators to weaken some of our existing state building codes and this is not the direction we need to go, we need to, when you tighten up the building codes, people say that adds to the cost of the home and the structure, and that's true, you don't want to make it so it's cost prohibitive but at the same time, safety needs to be a top priority," Causey says.

While most properties in Wake County aren't at a major risk of a direct impact of fire in the next 30 years, the further we encroach on wildlands to keep building, insurance costs will go up and so will the chances of a wildfire.

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"You know we don't need to develop a square inch of real estate in a particular county, you know not that development's bad but it needs to be planned development and preserving the green space and the open space for the public good and the public will for future generations," Causey says.

Among the counties in central North Carolina most at risk of wildfires by 2050 - Cumberland, Harnett, Lee, and Hoke.