Paul Bancroft had been through Southern California wildfires before, but never as bad as the one that threatened to burn down his home last week.
The fire burned “right up to the fence (and) started burning in my bushes.” he said. “I built my home and I didn’t want to leave."
With the Woolsey fire having destroyed more than 400 homes and other structures, killing two people and blackening 93,000 acres from Calabasas to Malibu, including Bancroft's neighborhood in the Agoura Hills, many homeowners who lost their homes have to contemplate whether to start anew.
But some experts are starting to say enough is enough: It makes no sense to rebuild again in brushy areas that are repeatedly swept by wildfires.
In Malibu alone, an average of two major fires has raced through the hills every decade since 1929, according to a history compiled by the Malibu Times, the local newspaper. Each successive blaze has claimed more homes. reflecting the growth of the area -- 100 in a 1956 blaze, 103 in 1970, 230 in 1978 and 268 in 1993.
After each fire, the city and its companion communities -- home to celebrities ranging from Miley Cyrus to Will Smith -- have rebuilt, usually even more spectacularly than before.
Besides the threat to life, there's the cost to taxpayers involving the massive effort needed to fight the fires.
The average cost of defending a home under threat from wildfires is about $82,000, said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit that works with communities on strategies to reduce wildfire risk. In one fire, the average cost was $683,000 per property.
"People want to live with a national forest in their backyard," Rasker said, and as a result, "are building in harm's way."
Given the costs to society and danger to inhabitants, some, however, believe it may be time to break the burn-rebuild-burn-again cycle.
Under some circumstances, that might mean not rebuilding in an area repeatedly ravaged by fire and helping residents to relocate, said Alice Hill, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at at Stanford University, who helped develop climate-change policy during the Obama administration.
A community might let its residents know and agree in advance: If an area burns yet again, no rebuilding will be allowed, she said.
"It's not just the homeowners at risk, it's the firefighters," she said. "There is a whole host of reasons not to build in an area."
At very least, Hill said, areas prone to wildfire need much stricter building codes -- including the possibility of retroactive code revisions to force homeowners to make their properties fire resistant. Tougher rules would need to be backed by strict enforcement.
Relocating residents wouldn't be without precedent. Entire neighborhoods in Kinston, North Carolina, were relocated to higher ground after three out of four homes were damaged or flooded by three hurricanes in the 1990s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes in a report.
In Malibu, where a single ocean-view mansion can hit the real-estate listings at $6 million, acquiring property and moving residents would be a complicated issue.
"Malibu is a whole different part of the planet," said Char Miller, professor of Environmental Analysis & History at Pomona College in Claremont, California. "The dilemmas that come from that are many and costly."
The community could, for instance, buy up development rights in places that are yet to burn, he said. Or, perhaps more practically, it could get tough on common-sense safety measures like 200 feet of brush clearance around homes and banishing wooden porches.
No matter what course a city chooses, it should do something, Miller said. With climate change bearing down, wildfires show no sign of being any less intense. It's time to act, Miller said.
"Surely nature has sent up enough signal flares," he said.