MALIBU, Calif. (KABC) -- Diane Moss walks through the foundation where her home once stood, nestled in the picturesque hills of Leo Carrillo State Park just outside the city limits of Malibu.
"This is the living room, this was the kitchen and the front hallway," Moss said, gesturing to different parts of the rubble.
"Let me see if there's anything in the fridge," she jokes as she mimes opening a refrigerator. "Oops, I'm so sorry, our fridge is completely empty!"
Moss and her husband, Matthias, are in good spirits despite still not being able to rebuild their home five years after the Woolsey Fire destroyed it, along with more than 1,600 other buildings.
"It's not the kind of thing I would wish on anybody, my worst enemy in the whole world," she said.
But even through her struggles, Moss shared lessons she has learned.
"Nature is incredibly resilient; it's been our best teacher. Even the fire has been a phenomenal teacher on how to do things more intelligently and how to live with it," she said.
According to data from climate nonprofit First Street Foundation analyzed by ABC7, nearly two million homes in Southern California counties, about 42%, will be at major risk for wildfire in the next 30 years as wildfires become more frequent and severe.
The number of homes built in high-risk areas is also growing.
The Wildland Urban Interface is land that sits on the edge or within wilderness, putting it at high wildfire risk. Experts call it the WUI.
About one out of every three homes in Southern California is in the WUI, and there are now about 600,000 more homes in these areas than there were in 1990, according to data from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"So we have these two rising trends, and then, of course, exacerbating and amplifying all of this is climate change," said Kimiko Barrett, the lead wildfire researcher and policy analyst at Headwaters Economics.
Headwaters Economics is a nonpartisan independent research organization based in Montana.
Barrett said wildfires are an important ecological process, and the more we suppress it, the more fuel builds.
"You are punting that risk down the road for a greater long term damage and risk in the future. That is what they call the Wildfire Paradox," Barrett said.
Experts are calling for a shift in funding, with less going to suppression and more to mitigation.
Research from the National Institute of Building Sciences shows that for every $1 spent on implementing wildfire-safe building codes, $4 can be saved in future losses.
"We know investment and mitigation works, and it yields long term benefits," Barrett said.
Some experts said agencies should think about disincentivizing building in high-risk areas but acknowledge that it might not be realistic for everyone.
"What we can do, however, is say that the homes that are built in those areas have to meet certain wildfire resistant standards," Barrett said.
Moss and her husband have been trying to rebuild in a resilient and sustainable way. But they have been wrapped up in the red tape of the permitting process. Moss said it took nine months just to get a debris removal permit.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to some of the wonderful people in [Los Angeles County] Regional Planning who really tried to help. The process has been long, difficult, sometimes seemingly irrational," Moss said.
In the unincorporated part of Malibu, where Moss and her husband live, rebuilding permits come from the county. They've gotten some necessary permits from the Department of Regional Planning and are now waiting on permit approval from the Department of Building and Safety, which is part of the Public Works Department.
"I can imagine how understaffed they may still be, or under resourced they may be, to handle all of this," Moss said. "But it's hard not to get frustrated."
It really has to be about communities because if your neighbor's house is going to catch on fire, that really increases the fire risk for your home.ByBen Stapleton from the U.S. Green Building Council Los Angeles
In a statement to Eyewitness News, Los Angeles County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella said in part:
"As the building official for County unincorporated communities, LA County Public Works is committed to supporting these homeowners through what can be an arduous process of current code compliance, financing, and insurance coverage. To date, 288 homeowners have begun to rebuild, and 91 of them have completed their rebuilds and obtained certificates of occupancy," the statement read.
Even redoing the irrigation system on Moss' property proved difficult.
"Native plants do really well in fires. They're very resilient, but they're all the more resilient if they have some light irrigation," Moss said.
The new irrigation system is set up with galvanized steel piping. Before the fire, the land was irrigated with PVC pipes. They burned in the fire, releasing harmful toxins into the air and water.
But Moss said PVC pipes are more widely used and are more convenient, so it was hard to find installers with experience in working with steel.
"I called probably about 30 different installers before I found one who was willing to try, even if they didn't know what to do. They didn't know things like, how to bend the pipes properly and how you have to seal them really carefully so that they don't leak. There were a lot a lot a lot of learning curves," she said.
In addition to native plants, there are other things you can incorporate into your home to protect it from wildfire.
"We always like to say, fires don't cause wildfire burned down homes, it's embers that do that," said Ben Stapleton, the executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council Los Angeles, a nonprofit promoting sustainable and resilient buildings through education and community engagement.
To reduce the chances that an ember will blow onto your house or yard and turn into a large fire, experts say you can:
Some other more expensive options include:
Experts said these efforts to mitigate fire risk will only work well if they are done at a community level.
"It really has to be about communities," said Ben Stapleton from the U.S. Green Building Council Los Angeles. "Because, you know, if your neighbor's house is going to catch on fire, that really increases the fire risk for your home."
Stapleton also said rebates would help more people afford mitigation efforts.
"When we think about fire risk, we often think about these big expensive homes up in the mountains," Stapleton said. "But that's not the reality, in a lot of cases. And if you look at a lot of the fire risk areas, especially here in the Inland Empire, east of L.A., we've got a lot of communities that are disadvantaged, low-income communities that are in fire risk areas."
Last year, the U.S. Green Building Council, with help from a CalFire Wildfire Prevention Grant, launched a certification program for contractors and landscapers around wildfire defense.
At the heart of it, this is home.
"We really try to help instill in them, 'Hey, you know, this is something that should be a way for you to help get more business.' As you're bidding on projects to say, 'Look, I understand ways to reduce wildfire risk on your property,'" explained Stapleton.
Their hope is to train over 1,000 contractors and landscapers in the next three years, and Stapleton said they couldn't have done it without CalFire's grant support, especially since they would like to offer these classes for free.
Stapleton said many of the builders and contractors on the front lines are immigrant workers or people of color.
"People [have] got to put food on the table, they have to pay rent. To go take a class and to pay for that, without knowing what the upside is very difficult. So, we want to offer those classes for free, we're gonna make sure they know this is gonna help them make more money and help them protect their own communities."
Up in the Malibu hills, Moss continues her fight. She hopes that her struggles can help other communities.
"It's a huge opportunity to learn and to share lessons learned with others who are going to be going through or currently going through similar challenges. And at the heart of it, this is home," she said.
See below for the full statement from Los Angeles County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella:
"Nov. 8 marked the five-year anniversary of the devastating Woolsey Fire. More than 96,949 acres of land were destroyed, along with 1,643 structures. The total damage to property is estimated at nearly $6 billion; yet, the loss to families who lost their homes in the wildfire is immeasurable.
As the building official for County unincorporated communities, LA County Public Works is committed to supporting these homeowners through what can be an arduous process of current code compliance, financing, and insurance coverage. To date, 288 homeowners have begun to rebuild, and 91 of them have completed their rebuilds and obtained certificates of occupancy.
We will continue to guide these homeowners through the permitting process, as we strive to create communities that are safe and resilient in unincorporated Los Angeles County.
Property owners seeking assistance through the permitting process can call (818) 880-4150 for rebuild concierge service."