County must stop disconnected growth

Lacking water sources, homes are vulnerable—and saving them is expensive

The stories—of narrow escapes, exhausting rescue efforts and courage under duress—that form the saga of the Humboldt and Ophir fires are legion.

One we heard was of the mechanic who, prohibited from driving in, walked into the site of his garage. He and his fellow mechanics drove out 18 cars. When he returned after the last drive-out, he found the garage burned to the ground. Then he walked home, a mile or two, and found his house burned to the ground. But he’d volunteered for eight months in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and his problem, he said, was “nothing” to what happened to many people there. Such resilience!

There is so much to admire about the way people responded to these catastrophes, especially the firefighters and rescue volunteers, who no doubt saved many lives, human and animal alike. The whole county is grateful for their efforts.

As with all large fires, there are lessons to be learned. We notice that the Humboldt Fire was stopped when it reached the limits of Paradise, and that the destroyed houses were outside the town. County-wide, the damage is now estimated to cost $16.3 million, and fire suppression $11.5 million to date. We all pay for this—with our tax dollars and in higher insurance rates.

Clearly, we can no longer afford to allow people to build homes in outlying fire zones. Barring adequate sources of water, home construction must take place inside city limits. As the county continues work on its general-plan update, it should remember these fires—and put a stop to uncontrolled growth outside urban areas.