There is hope. While wildfire is inevitable, the destruction of our communities is not.

Here is the letter we just sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Dear Governor Newsom,

Encouraged by the spirit of hope that your new administration brings to Sacramento, we urge you to take the lead in creating a new wildfire policy based on science rather than tradition.

Why? Because the traditional approach to wildfire protection is backward. It focuses on vegetation rather than what we want to protect – our homes and families.
Homes burn because they are flammable and are built on fire-prone landscapes. Most structures ignite during wildfires because of flying embers that can travel a mile or more from the fire front. This is why so many families have lost their homes even though they have complied with defensible space regulations – their homes were still vulnerable to embers. This is why communities far from wildland areas, like Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, have been destroyed during wildfire and why entire neighborhoods have burned to the ground while the trees around them have not (Fig.1). This is why fuel breaks, twelve-lane highways, and even large bodies of water fail to protect our homes during wind-driven wildfires.

However, there is hope. While wildfire is inevitable, the destruction of our communities is not.

DigitalGlobe satellite image shows damages in the Kilcrease circle community aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise California
Figure 1. Camp Fire, showing the devastation of homes in the Kilcrease Circle community of Paradise. Note the surrounding green, mature forest with little or no scorching. The homes were not burned by a high-intensity crown fire, but were ignited by embers, followed by home-to-home ignitions. Photo: Digital Globe, a Maxar company via Reuters, 11/17/2018.

Jack Cohen, a former lead fire scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, has demonstrated this through decades of research. To stop wildfire disasters in our communities we must accept some basic principles based on science, especially with climate change and increasing numbers of people living next to wildlands. First among them is that the wildfire problem is a home ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem.

Focusing on forests and dead trees far from our communities most at risk or habitat clearance projects that have little value during wind-driven fires will only guarantee more of the same – continued catastrophic losses.

To stop the destruction of our communities by wildfire we must focus on strategies that will work in our rapidly changing environment: reduce the flammability of existing communities and prevent new ones from being built in very high fire hazard severity zones.

To read more, please view our entire letter here.

One Comment on “There is hope. While wildfire is inevitable, the destruction of our communities is not.

  1. Hi Rick,Always great stuff that you write.  I sat in on a meeting with the EFHG Town Council and their attorneys suing the county on both the Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano projects.  The attorneys mentioned that a continued PR campaign is effective and will have significant impacts on the legal case.  They noted our recent news coverage and we also discussed your recent interview with NPR/KPBS.  Along that line, I was wondering if you would like to co-author an op-ed with me on this subject.  I’ve had success getting the SDUT to publish lengthy op-eds in the past on subject much less controversial than this one.  My thought is to write something combining all of the downsides of suburban sprawl development that is inevitably being built in WUI areas as we run out of land that is not WUI.  Besides fire danger, there are many more downsides to this type of development, cultural, financial, environmental, all of which would make for a solid and holistic op-ed.  I would also put forth other development options, such as urban infill, and point out that if done right, it is a much healthier and more vibrant community model to follow.  There’s all kinds of material and research out there to refer to and support this view.  It would also point out that we don’t want to kill all development, just bad development, a point that needs to be made loud and clear since the BIA always paints opposition to sprawl development as opposition to ALL development.  One great example is Intregal Communities that is the developer behind Valiano.  Valiano is an odd one-off project for Intregal since most, if not all, of their projects are urban infill.  They’re the ones that just purchased the old Palomar Hospital and want to convert the site to several hundred residential units.  Great idea (but the devil is always in the details).  I also co-lead a Sierra Club hike over at the EF Reserve a week ago and the Sierra Club hike leader happened to be a developer….I know.  Odd.  But he is one of the in fill urban guys who has built that stuff to the north of Cal State SM between the campus and Hwy 78.  We talked for a bit and how he’s all excited to help TECC out with encouraging Escondido to support and create incentives for more infill near their downtown and along the Escondido Creek in the city as a way to finance the recovery of the concrete channel in the city.    Thoughts?Kevin Barnard858-688-1700

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