Sometimes fire rules conflict with other regulations. Boulder County mandates that mountain homes maintain a cleared space to keep fire at bay, which usually requires cutting trees. But the county also has a rule that says trees must screen homes from each other.
"When you get in a battle between aesthetics and fire safety, who do you think wins?" asked Dombrowski.
Even when fire restrictions are in place, Dombrowski said, they only apply to new construction.
So far this year, nearly 2,000 fires have burned more than 200,000 acres in the West. David Theobald, a research scientist at Colorado State University, maps housing density at the forest fringe for the Colorado Forest Service. He says his research focuses on the forest edge, so his estimated 12.2 million does not come close to including all Westerners at risk of wildfires.
"It excludes all of Southern California and most of Arizona, for example, where there is low shrub and chaparral," said Theobald. "Those areas burn all the time."
The insurance industry neither penalizes these homeowners with high premiums nor offers discounts for fireproofing. The reason, they say, is statistics.