Stanford University
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Vulnerability in Construction: An Analysis of Home Developments After the Tunnel Fire
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Vulnerability in Construction: An Analysis of Home Developments After the Tunnel Fire
On October 20, 1991 the Oakland Hills Firestorm (Tunnel Fire) destroyed over 3,300 structures, killed 25 people and seriously injured more than 150 others. The Tunnel fire stands as the largest fire, in terms of dwellings lost, in California history. In the aftermath of the firestorm, several post-disaster reports noted that residential structures were the largest fuel load on the landscape and that their close proximity to one another contributed to the fire’s size and intensity. 

During the rebuild process, significant efforts were initiated to make the community more resilient to future fires. These included efforts to thin vegetation, make stricter building codes, improve evacuation routes, increase water capacity and bury power lines. Meanwhile, residents eager to move back in the fire area began to repopulate the landscape with newly constructed housing units. Both the City of Oakland and displaced residents participated in an expedited building permit review process allowing homeowners to return to the neighborhood as soon as possible. 

This visualization explores the rebuild process in two neighborhoods and compares home size and proximity before and after the fire. The findings are based on analysis of aerial photographs from before and after the fire as well as subsequent spatial and statistical analysis to infer changes in home size and proximity.

Our findings show that the rebuild process led to the construction of larger homes that are closer together. This means that a) more fuel load was placed on the landscape and b) these now larger home structures are closer together than before. Our results suggest that efforts to promote fire resilience in the community are undermined by the post-disaster home reconstruction process. We consider this rebuild process an example of vulnerability-in-construction.
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