Due to climate change, wildfires are growing in size, frequency, and intensity, and wildfire seasons are becoming longer. Mikie Sherrill, Congresswoman
It is hard to find a Sonoma County resident who hasn’t been impacted by wildfire during the last 4 years.
At 2 am on Monday October 9, 2017 my son phoned me: “Wake up Mom. The whole county is on fire!” From our hillside home in northwest Santa Rosa we watched a wall of fire spread from the Geysers to Rohnert Park and a traffic jam of lights on Mark West Springs Road with families fleeing the flames. Four years later my memory remains incredibly vivid. In all, my family lost 5 homes to the Tubbs fire. It was heartening to watch our community rally to help neighbors with supplies, equipment, labor and expertise, sharing household goods, clothes and skills that spanned every industry from construction to health care. Character is revealed in the way we deal with challenges.
Wildfire is the largest threat to our community with the loss of much-needed housing, the economic impact of loss to the County property tax base, social issues with people leaving the area and the resultant workforce shortage, PTSD for many survivors, environmental impact of the smoke, ash and debris, potential Public Safety Power Shutoffs during severe weather to mitigate damage in high fire-threat areas and homeowner and business fire insurance coverage cancellation. Our California environment is changing and we have an opportunity to adjust.
The Alliance Environmental Committee has been following climate change, including the impactful consequences of drought, water shortage, and wildfire. We wanted to use the August General Membership program to share what our neighbors in Marin County are doing to mitigate wildfire threat.
Mark Brown, Executive Officer of The Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority (MWPA) is a 29-year veteran of the Marin County Fire Department who, at 16, started as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Kenwood. Mark was hired by the Marin County Fire Department in 1991 as a firefighter-paramedic and rose through the department’s ranks over the course of nearly three decades, serving as an engineer-paramedic, captain and battalion chief. Mark hopes to bring Sonoma County some of the lessons learned by Marin County in forming their Wildfire Prevention Agency to protect their neighborhoods.
Mark is a 7th generation Sonoma County resident who battled the Nuns Fire in the hometown of his youth and Glass fire in his own Santa Rosa neighborhood. He provided examples of 9 neighbors who lost homes because of simple steps that were not taken by homeowners.
Marin County passed a parcel tax to fund the MWPA whose work covers public education, evacuation route evaluation and clearing, vegetation management, and funding for local agencies. They partner with environmental groups to create ecologically sound vegetation management practices. MWPA provides parcel level risk assessment, walking properties with owners to talk about most effective steps that can be taken to harden their homes and give firefighters a better chance during a fire.
Also presenting was Santa Rosa Fire Chief Scott Westrope who assumed his position last March. The City of Santa Rosa Fire Department officially declared May 17 as the start of the 2021 wildfire season in Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa Fire has many resources about preparing for wildfire on their website at Wildfire Ready | Santa Rosa, CA (srcity.org). Chief Westrope explained that with the recent PG&E and FEMA funding, Santa Rosa can leverage those dollars to obtain grants for vegetation management. He explained the support received from Cal Fire, yet noted there is no County-wide fire department. Since Santa Rosa is the largest, they are often called upon.
Both speakers noted that Sonoma County needs continuous funding to carry efforts beyond the 5 year horizon of current sources. And we need a holistic approach which considers fire prevention as well as suppression. Sonoma County Supervisors are currently considering a tax ballot measure for 2022 which will focus on consolidation of smaller fire departments and needed resources. The Sonoma County Alliance wants to support this effort provided it includes the necessary wildfire prevention aspect of a holistic program. We will be working to convene a broad community group of interested residents from business, environmental, for-profit and non-profit, to become involved in this important endeavor.
If you missed the August General Membership presentation, members can log-in to the website to listen to details in the recorded presentation.
As additional resources, the following are informative articles about wildfire:
- Press Democrat November 2019, history of fires in Sonoma County A look back at wildfires in Sonoma County and on the North Coast (pressdemocrat.com)
- LA Times October 28 2019, preparing for wildfire How to prepare for wildfires – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
- New York Times June 2021, why CA has so many wildfires https://www.nytimes.com/article/why-does-california-have-wildfires.html?smid=em-share
Thank you again for being a member of the Sonoma County Alliance. In September we will be taking a deep dive into the Child Care crisis facing Sonoma County workers. Please plan to join us September 1. Have a great month.
The threat from extreme weather events highlights the importance of investing in preparedness. Sheri Fink, American Journalist
What are you grateful for today?
Marlene Soiland, President
Sonoma County Alliance