Judge J. David Markham wrote in the Guenoc Valley case. “The additional people competing for the same limited routes can cause congestion and delay in evacuation, resulting in increased wildfire-related deaths.”

The state’s environmental quality act requires state and local agencies to assess and disclose environmental impacts, but it does not dictate what decisions they should make after their assessments.

Last year, legislation was introduced to prohibit all new building in very high-fire-hazard areas. But the building industry argued that it would make it even harder to address the state’s housing shortage, and the bill failed to make it out of committee.

Without stricter prohibitions, Mr. Broderick said, new tract homes and cul-de-sacs will continue to push up into the brushy hills, and towns will be left to try to mitigate the danger.

It is a strategy full of risk, he said.

“Prevention is better than mitigation,” he said. “When you’re mitigating impacts, then you’re already one step behind.”

Mike Baker contributed reporting.

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