Public Understanding and Support
Large wildfires could continue to occur in Sonoma County every year unless the people of the county--not just the firefighters, the government, or land management nonprofits, but all the people of the county--come together and say enough is enough. Only when we educate ourselves about effective measures to lessen the destructiveness of fires in the wildland urban interface (WUI) and then support these measures through adequate funding and the cooperation of everyone who lives, works, or owns land in the county can we look to a better future.
What we need to know:
Climate change is a factor, but it's not the fundamental issue.
"In response to the horrifying images of the urban firestorms in California in 2017 and 2018, the news media made a huge shift in framing their coverage of wildfires: for the first time they blamed climate change instead of hazardous fuels or forest health as the driving force of the firestorms..." Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics & Ecology (Fusee)
Fuel has built up over decades.
Prior to the twentieth century, large stretches of California wildland burned every year. With increasing population, especially within the wildland urban interface, wildfire suppression has become the main goal of governmental action. There is a significant downside to suppressing fires in these forested areas, however. Out-of-control growth of vegetation in untended tracts of land has resulted in a buildup of fuel that, once ignited, results in huge wildfires that burn intensely and destroy whatever is in their path.
Thinning the forest undergrowth and using "good fire" are effective methods and have been used successfully in Northern California for millennia.
What many Sonoma County residents demand:
Sonoma County residents want more focus on vegetation management. Respondents to a survey put out by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted overwhelmingly to spend funds from the PG&E wildfire settlements on vegetation management. In December 2020, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to earmark $25M of the $149M PG&E settlement for vegetation management, but they decided to put $2M of that $25M toward a study of how best to achieve effective vegetation management and to revisit the topic in March 2021. It is clear to many in the county that the one-time PG&E settlement funds, while helpful, are in no way adequate to solving the problem.
...many are looking to the two largest local governments — Sonoma County and Santa Rosa — to fund more aggressive fire prevention work to fortify neighborhoods against future blazes.
Some have banded together and called for a coordinated campaign of brush clearing and fire breaks at strategic points that would give firefighters a better chance at turning back flames. It is costly work that few property owners, let alone fire agencies, have been able to manage at a level that makes a difference.
Press Democrat, December 15, 2020
In a December 28, 2020 Press Democrat article titled Mark West residents push for strong action on fire prevention, Sonoma County supervisor James Gore discussed the need for ongoing vegetation management:
“You can’t just cut some trees down along a roadway and walk away,” Gore said. “Fuel ladders have to be reduced periodically, fuel breaks along property lines, roadways and driveways have to be established and maintained, flammable invasives like Scotch broom have to be removed. Where possible — specifically on large properties — we can use prescribed fire. In other places, we can reduce fuels through grazing livestock. But homeowners also have to be willing to get out there and use chainsaws and shared chippers, or hire people to do it for them. We all need to share the expense and we all need to participate, and it all has to be long-term.”
County code ordinance 13A mandates this widespread fuel management, but not everyone sees the need to comply. Ann DuBay, who lost her home in the Tubbs fire, spoke about that:
“Most of us are very concerned about removing dead trees and keeping brush under control,” said DuBay. “But there’s a smaller group — many of them absentee landowners, or people who haven’t decided to rebuild, or who want to sell — who aren’t as committed. Their properties tend to be very overgrown, and that presents an ongoing hazard to the community at large.”