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Building Homes in hot spots

Southern California's wildfires don't need to be so wild. And so many lives and houses need not be lost every few years when that arid land of hillside mansions faces a combustible mix of dry chaparral, raging winds, and summer drought.

The trick is to make sure every fire-prone community has strict regulation and enforcement of landscaping and house design. Roofs must be flame-resistant, for instance, and fuel-like underbrush pruned regularly.

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While these latest fires are a burden to residents who abandoned their homes and possibly lost them, they and local officials must ask if they could have been better prepared for this natural risk.

Why should taxpayers pay to help fire-struck communities that have been lax in taking the necessary preventive measures?

On a similar fire-prone front, Congress is weighing President Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" that would thin more than 20 million acres of national forests. The House has passed the bill, and the Senate should do the same, setting an example for southern California.

If humans are going to live in tinderbox landscapes, they need to clear out the tinder to survive.