Building in Disaster-Prone Areas

For rural San Diegans, neighborhood design and building can make a world of difference in an emergency.

Harmony Grove Drive winds through the community it’s named after. The road is the main road in and out of Elfin Forest Harmony Grove. Proposed developments would add over 700 homes along the areas’ escape route. (Kailey Broussard/News21)

As officials and developers eye real estate in rural areas as solutions to the area’s housing crises, some residents fear increasingly dense neighborhoods will put them and their families in danger when — not if — the next wildfire burns. Many of these photos originally appeared in a News21 project by Anna Huntsman and Jake Steinberg, along with more pictures and contributed reporting by Ellen O’Brien.

Click pictures for caption information.

Lali Mitchell — Harmony Grove, Calif.

The Cocos Fire completely destroyed Lali Mitchell’s home in rural California. Now living adjacent to her old property, Mitchell views proposed developments near her as a “death trap.”

Allyson Watson and Family — Valley Center, Calif.

When they were told to evacuate during the 2003 Paradise Fire, Allyson Watson and her family were ready to go. However, after two of the cars in which they were evacuating crashed. Watson’s sister, Ashleigh Roach, died at 16, and Watson suffered burns on over 80 percent of her body. The family has since turned to advocacy, hoping to get through to even just one person of the dangers of wildfires.

Van Collinsworth — Santee, Calif.

A longtime California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection volunteer, Van Collinsworth walked us showed us the proposed site of Fanita Ranch, a development approved in Santee.

The Hartmans — Elfin Forest, Calif.

Some five years after her family’s garage burned down in the 2014 Cocos fire, Angelique Hartman is weary of new development near her neighborhood that would call for “shelter in place” procedures in case of fire. “The idea of actually asking families to stay in place, to shelter in place, is absurd,” she said. “It is human instinct to leave as soon as you see a threat coming. You’re not going to sit there for a moment’s notice — you’re going to get out as quickly as you can.”

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