By Royal Calkins
In light of the horrific fires in Paradise and Malibu and the earlier equally horrific fires in Santa Rosa and elsewhere, I am wondering what those of us living in Monterey County should be doing now to prevent similar nightmares here.
Reasonably solid efforts have been made in the past to address the obvious fire danger in this region of forests and canyons. In my canyon neighborhood off Highway 68, the Monterey County Regional Fire District has done a good job, especially this year, of scouting the danger spots, suggesting the removal of brush and trees too close to dwellings, and inspecting fire hydrants.
One of the fire crews even suggested that I trim a tree alongside my house to make it easier for fire engines to make it up my neighbor’s driveway in order to combat any fire threatening the rear of our properties. Good thinking. I had to borrow another neighbor’s chainsaw to get it done, but I got it done.
But these steps, I’m afraid, are helping to protect us only from the “normal” fire threat, the challenging but not entirely cataclysmic situation that existed before drought and climate change created conditions for these huge and uncontrollable infernos. The fires that destroyed homes in and around Big Sur last year and earlier were horrible, but think how much worse they could have been during the type of weather conditions that combined to destroy Paradise.
Watching the painful images from Paradise, I was struck by what wasn’t destroyed. The trees. Still towering over blocks and blocks of smoldering ruins are trees, many still with their green leaves. That fire obviously didn’t spread from branch to branch. It apparently spread from house to house. How many homes in Monterey County still have flammable roofs, flammable siding? Isn’t there a foam you can buy to coat your house in fire protection? You’d think I’d know the answer to that one by now.
I used to live just down the slope from Paradise and I visited often. I remember it as mobile home park after mobile home park. I would have thought mobile homes were relatively fire safe. Aren’t they wrapped in sheet metal? What do I know? I’m hoping a lot of people around here know a lot more than I do, and that that number grows.
Look at all the new subdivisions around Fort Ord. In many of them, it looks like a fellow standing in the side yard could touch two homes at once. Saves on land costs, for sure, but it also ensures that if the Smith home burns, the Garcia home is also a goner.
So should we stop building crowded subdivisions and stop construction in canyons and hillsides like where I live? Though I do say so myself, it is a very good question, but if we wait for the county planning department to answer it, we may never get an answer. (It looks to me like the county planners think themselves capable of one issue at a time no matter how long it takes.)
Have our various public safety agencies dusted off their disaster plans lately and considered whether they are up to the new challenges? Have any of neighborhood groups thought about creating safe zones?
Have we, as individuals, looked for ways to make our properties less vulnerable and to find ways to help the disabled and elderly make their escape?
I’m going to start by taking another loop around the property, looking for trees and brush that I could live without, and by trying to remember where I put that get-away box for that time that I don’t really want to think about.
Or, I guess I could just ponder climate change and hope that the climate changes back on its own.
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