Sunday, October 28, 2007

New York Times on Southern California Wildfires

Some interesting information in the New York Times, Sunday, October 28, 2007 front page story Rethinking Fire Policy in the Tinderbox Zone by Kirk Johnson and Jesse McKinley. It includes:
■ “Mexico has smaller fires that burn out naturally, regularly clearing out combustible underbrush and causing relatively little destruction because the cycle is still natural. California has giant ones because its longtime policies of fire suppression — in which the government has kept fires from their normal cycle — has created huge pockets of fuel that erupt into conflagrations that must be fought.”
■ “In San Diego County, which has borne the brunt of the recent fires, three out of four homes built since 1990 are in the dangerous zone where open spaces and housing meet.”
■ “Wildfires by and large start in national forests, recreation areas and other publicly owned lands. About half of the land in San Diego County is publicly owned, much of it in the Cleveland National Forest.”
■ “As the events of this week illustrate — at least 480,000 acres burned, 1,575 residences destroyed and 7 people killed” [Map depicts that 1,424 San Diego homes destroyed while a total of 51 in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties with an additional 300 homes destroyed in San Bernardino County – the numbers don’t add up, but clearly San Diego took the brunt of the 2007 wildfire]
■ But not as deadly as the 2003 wildfire “San Diego County went through a painstaking self-evaluation after the Cedar and Paradise fires destroyed 2,400 homes and killed 18 people in 2003.”
■ “San Diego County was among the first in the nation to adopt voluntary standards of home protection stringent enough that homes could be deemed safe enough to “shelter in place,” if evacuation is impossible. The standards require special fire resistant building materials, sprinkling systems and water supply fixtures for fire fighting, and fire-resistant vegetation controls. There are early indications from the current fires that some of the new rules may have made a difference. Five housing projects have been built in the county under the shelter-in-place standards; all five have survived the fires.”
■ “The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and three other environmental groups successfully sued in 2005 to block a proposed 57-home development near Lake Arrowhead, but that was the exception. Smaller communities like Cedar Glen, near San Bernardino National Forest, are also operating under new rules, including stipulations that homeowners provide 100 feet of defensible space around their homes.”

Since most fires start on public land would it not be fairer for the public to provide the fuel modification around the public lands perimeter to create the defensible space for the firefighters? That’s what we do in Laguna Beach which is surrounded by 17,000 acres of the Laguna Greenbelt. The City uses a herd of goats to munch down the chaparral around the town thinning out the plant life for 200 feet from private property.


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