A group of retired police officers works through the ruins of the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California.
Stephen Lam/Reuters

A morning roundup of the day’s news.

“Where humans meet wild forests”: In a primal view, the wildfires ravaging communities in northern California represent the chaos that can unspool in those liminal spaces “between the wilds and the built,” Wired writes—the type of disaster that humans can’t fully harness:

A fire’s progress through the forests and wildlands of North America isn’t exactly formulaic, but scientists understand it reasonably well. In the city, though? “Most wildland firefighters are not trained in structural protection, but the urban fire departments are not trained to deal with dozens or hundreds of houses burning at the same time,” says Volker Radeloff, a forestry researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “When these areas with lots of houses burn, the fires become very unpredictable.”

Buildings, the material bits of cities, don’t burn like woodlands. “A wildfire typically doesn’t last in one spot more than a minute or two. In grass it can be like 10 seconds,” says Mark Finney, a US Forest Service researcher at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. “But structures can burn for a long time. That means they have a long time to be able to spread the fire, to be able to ignite adjacent structures.”

  • See also: Authorities are at a loss in pinning down the cause of those 17 wildfires. (AP)

Size matters: Whether built around coal, steel, manufacturing, or hospitals, smaller U.S. cities have straggled behind larger ones in recession recovery, according to a Brookings analysis that sees this geographic inequality deepening with automation tech and global forces. (New York Times)

Fizzing out: Just about two months after Chicago’s soda tax took effect, lawmakers are now repealing the controversial policy—the largest such tax in the nation. That’s a major win for Big Soda, and a major loss for the national soda tax movement backed by top public health officials and Michael Bloomberg. (Washington Post)

Great Lakes revival: Downtown Milwaukee is seeing its biggest growth surge since World War II, with two major developments—a 32-story office tower, and the upcoming Milwaukee Bucks arena—bookending 100 new real estate projects. (New York Times)

Sunshine testing ground: The solar-powered, car-optional  community of Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida will be home to America’s first self-driving shuttle network. (Fast Company)

The urban lens:

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