[Marin County] Dick Spotswood: Readers offer suggestions on how Marin can prepare for wildfire

Blog note: opinion writer Dick Spotswood is a big supporter of the grand jury system.

We’ve now seen Marin’s worst-case scenario. The incineration of Paradise, population 26,000, and adjacent Butte County communities is a lesson no Marin resident can ignore. As the Marin County Civil Grand Jury says, it’s “not if, but when.”

Paradise’s demise is on top of what we learned last year about climate change and poor vegetation management when Sonoma and Napa counties were aflame.

With the Camp Fire still raging and resulting smoke making Northern California air the worst in the world, there are more immediate tasks than banging local politicians for inaction or finding fault with negligent utilities.

I’ve received suggestions from IJ readers related to the Camp Fire’s aftermath and the loss of at least 79 lives and thousands of homes obliterated.

Novato’s Fred Runner, noting 50,000 Butte County residents are homeless and jobless, has a common-sense idea: “How about taking the 5,000 troops Mr. Trump assigned to the U.S./Mexico border and sending them to California’s Central Valley, where the government, state or federal, could lease land and build a camp to house Camp Fire victims for the winter. … This is an excellent moment for a massive effort with military speed and scale to build a camp for nearly 10,000 homeless former residents of Paradise. I suggest a housing camp that could stand for two years. It will easily take that long to begin to rebuild.”

Ruth Snyder, past Mill Valley mayor and current Santa Rosa Press Democrat Editorial Board member, suggests both Marin and Sonoma mimic ideas from the Oakland Fire Safe Council: “Create a regional wildfire prevention management agency. Such an agency would have jurisdiction over both public and private land, be adequately funded and staffed with a science-based plan of action and have the authority to implement the plan.”

The big difference from our top-notch Fire Safe Marin program is that a new state-authorized countywide wildfire management agency would have direct independent authority to act. The crucial question left unanswered: Who pays for it?

Tamalpais Valley’s Doug Scherf makes a no-cost suggestion: “If individuals discover a fire near their homes any time during the day or night, after calling 911, they should immediately set off their home burglar and automobile theft alarms to alert their neighbors.”

I’ll offer that every fire professional I’ve consulted indicates controlled burns — fires intentionally set for forest management — must be in the vegetation management toolbox. We’ve cut back on controlled burns because persnickety citizens and Bay Area Air Quality Management District staffers objected. The complaint: controlled burns produce too much smoke. Note: The BAAQMD board’s vice chair is Marin Supervisor Katie Rice.

Instead of micromanaging some poor soul with a fireplace in Ignacio, look at the big picture. Either prudently manage controlled burns or face the reality that air quality in BAAQMD’s bailiwick will, after the next big fire, be worse than in Beijing and Delhi. That’s the definition of professional failure. We need to encourage controlled burns as prudent vegetation management.

November 20, 2018

Marin Independent Journal

By Dick Spotswood

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