Open Mic: Wildfire Protection Needs Improvement

By Joan Broughton

You come home to find your front door open. Inside, your laptop is missing, your wallet and passport are gone, and the jewelry box lies on its side, empty. You’re angry; you always thought you lived in a safe neighborhood. Once the police report has been filed and the insurance company notified, you make your house secure. You buy reinforced entry doors, invest in home-monitoring equipment, install motion-detection lights and seriously consider getting a dog. You spend whatever it takes to make sure you’re safe.

Since 2017, massive wildfires have destroyed wide swaths of Sonoma County, taking lives and destroying tens of thousands of homes and other structures. Billions of dollars have been lost by property owners, the wine and tourist industries, and small businesses. We’ve all been through panicked nights and smoky, ash-filled days, waiting for evacuation orders. 

We know that another wildfire might erupt anywhere in the county any time during an expanding “fire season.” Yet, unlike the homeowner who’s been burgled, we’re not doing much to make our future safer. Fuel continues to build up in our forests and open spaces, just waiting for a fateful spark. Neighborhood groups and small nonprofits are doing what they can to clear small lots and some roadways, but Sonoma County is a big place. We need a big effort to keep us safe.

Fire scientists, local tribes and hundreds of residents (many who have already lost a home) agree that the only way to mitigate the destructiveness of wildfires is to reduce fuel buildup by aggressive, widespread and ongoing vegetation management. Thinning undergrowth, removing smaller trees, and conducting prescribed burns are proven methods to reduce the likelihood of hugely destructive wildfires, which threaten not only the wildland-urban interface of Sonoma County but all the areas adjacent to that.

Just as wise homeowners protect their property from burglars, Sonoma County needs leaders who will find funding and start preventive vegetation management on a huge scale. All of us who live and work in Sonoma County should be ready to support such efforts.

Joan Broughton lives in Windsor and runs Protectsonomacounty.org. To have your topical essay considered for publication, write to us at [email protected]
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