Study: Most Yarnell homes not fire safe

YARNELL, AZ - In Yarnell, more than 100 homes were damaged or destroyed when the wildfire swept through the small town.

Some structures burned completely to the ground while others stand untouched next door. But which homes survived and which did not may not be random or simple chance, according to a study released by the Pacific Biodiversity Institute .

The Institute undertook a rapid analysis of the Yarnell Hill fire and found that the majority of homes in Yarnell and neighboring communities did not appear to be fire safe.

"The main thing is that the homes that had removed vegetation from around the home have a much better chance at survival than the homes that didn't," said Peter Morrison, institute director and lead author of the report.

Using satellite images to examine homes before the blaze, Morrison and his team found that only 11 percent of homes in Yarnell appeared to be "fire safe," meaning they had a clearance around the property.

Of those fire-safe homes, the Institute discovered 95 percent survived. For homes that were not fire safe, the survival rate was about 30 percent.

Morrison said that's problematic for a town in an area that had not seen a wildfire in more than 40 years.

"It was actually right on schedule," Morrison said. "There are billions of dollars that are spent every year trying to deal with wildfires. A lot of that is somewhat futile. It's like throwing money into a fire and expecting to stop it."

Morrison isn't the only person raising questions about the preparedness of communities situated in areas prone to wildfires.

At the exact spot where the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives, the crew's founder, Darrell Willis, said that the focus has to shift from reaction to prevention.

"If all communities across the western United States had a priority on defensible space, if they were taking care of their property, we wouldn't have to put firefighters between homes (and the fire)," he said.

Morrison agrees.

"It makes a lot of sense," he said. "I think there's a pretty unanimous consensus that we need to make our homes and communities much more fire safe."

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