Professor Demeritt spoke with the BBC Radio4 Today programme about how heavy forestation and fuel built up from previous fires, as well as difficult terrain, have all contributed to wildfires being much harder to control.
He added that it seems likely that wildfires will become an inevitable part of life for people in places such as California, as “record-setting heat and drought” occurs more frequently in North West America.
Factors such as climate change are increasing the prevalence and threat of wildfires, as rising temperatures and drier vegetation cause flames to spread more rapidly.
There are measures that people can take to reduce the risk to their homes, including reducing cutting the brush around houses; however, these measures rely on everyone in communities taking the same action.
Professor Demeritt said that location is also an important factor in effective flood defence and management, but that, similar to extensive wildfires, there is only so much that can be done if there are massive flood events.
“On the one hand, flooding in many circumstances is more preventable if you’re prepared to engineer the landscape thoroughly enough. But it’s expensive and there are trade-offs, and eventually, with sea-level rise, there comes a time when you do have to decide ‘Can we defend this anymore’?”