California’s deadly wildfires have a straightforward solution, experts say: stop building homes in places that are likely to burn – and make homes that already exist in those areas a whole lot tougher.

That approach, wildfire and climate policy experts are quick to add, would be expensive and unpopular, especially in a state with both a housing shortage and stunning wooded landscapes that people want to live in. But as climate change causes more frequent and shocking blazes, they say anything less won’t make enough of a difference.

“It’s a land-use issue,” said Alice Hill, a senior adviser for climate resilience to President Barack Obama. Without so many homes being constructed in vulnerable areas at the edge of the forest, “we would still have the fires. But we wouldn’t have this kind of devastation.”

A paradox of California’s wildfire epidemic is that it already has one of the most aggressive building codes in the nation. The state uses the most up-to-date version of model national codes, and doesn’t allow local governments to opt out of those codes. It also requires that homes in areas with the highest risk of wildfire get built with fire-resistant materials and techniques.

“I always use California as an example,” said Sara Yerkes, senior vice president of government relations for the International Code Council, the Washington-based nonprofit that releases updated model codes every three years. “The state really takes its responsibility seriously.”

But Yerkes said building codes are meant to be a baseline, providing a set of minimum requirements that states can add to based on their specific environments. And she said they don’t account for broader policy decisions, such as allowing subdivisions in places with high fire risks.

“There’s more people now living in these areas,” she said. “Maybe that’s something that these local governments need to look at.”

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