Wiping smoke from our eyes

Finally, some rays of sunshine. It started to seem like the sky would never clear, what with the Butte Lightning Complex fires burning 54,000 acres after Humboldt burned 23,000. Ash and smoke made for unhealthful breathing on the Ridge, in the canyons and in the valley. It was the truest definition of smog: smoke fog.

Early in the week, evacuation orders got lifted, and by CN&R deadline Wednesday morning, the Concow-area wildfire was 75 percent contained. The air quality July 16 was the area’s best in almost a month. I could walk along the sidewalk without a mask or inhaler, humming without a mouthful of soot.

Blue skies smilin’ at me

Nothin’ but blue skies do I see …

Blue days, all of them gone

Nothin’ but blue skies from now on…

Hmmm. Not so fast. The scene isn’t that idyllic.

Three-quarters contained means one quarter still raging. That’s a lot of work for firefighters, on top of the work they’ve done. The early start of fire season doesn’t mean we got all the danger out of the way. Dry grassland remains all around us.

We shouldn’t live in constant fear—no terror-alert hysteria here. Neither should we live obliviously.

Chuck Rough seems to have struck the right balance. Paradise’s town manager has continued to formulate fire-prevention strategies that are proactive and inclusive without being restrictive. Tuesday evening, which coincidentally marked his 12th year on the job, he relayed lessons learned and steps being taken as a result of the brushfires.

The Humboldt Fire came within five degrees of the town—meaning that had the wind blown a slightly different direction, Lower Paradise could have suffered extensive damage. Another easterly wind spared east Paradise from the lightning fire in the Feather River Canyon, which would have spread “canopy to canopy” and probably forced fire crews all the way back to Clark Road before they could make a stand.

“Once again we sort of dodged a big one,” Rough said, relieved but hardly happy. With Paradise’s fortune came misfortune in Butte Creek Canyon, Butte Valley, Concow …

“We’re all interconnected,” he stated—so the annual Fire on the Ridge meeting (postponed, ironically, by fire) will look to stimulate ideas that will span multiple communities.

The Upper Ridge Escape Route has long been the messianic answer. Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi and Congressman Wally Herger tout the funding they’ve helped secure to pave a pathway between upper Skyway and Highway 32. Rough encouraged patience as politicians seek additional funding—“but what about Plan B?” Also, there’s more to an escape route than pavement; there’s maintenance, traffic control, tow trucks to clear accidents and breakdowns, etc.

“It’s time while talking about the alternative route to talk about how to manage that route,” Rough continued. “You need to think of options regarding circumstances. The focus has been on getting money, getting the road—what about after?”

Great question!

FYI: Monday (July 14) marked the start of the “nomination period” for council candidates. Here’s how things stood as of the aforementioned CN&R deadline.

Chico City Councilmembers Andy Holcombe, Ann Schwab and Larry Wahl previously declared their candidacies. Three-term incumbent Steve Bertagna remains a question mark, though he said Wednesday morning he’d decide next week. Mark Sorensen, who narrowly missed a seat in 2006, is officially running. Also eyeing council spots are Ali Sarsour, Joseph Valente, Cynthia VanAuken and Jim Walker.

Paradise also has a wild card. Robin Huffman, the councilwoman who ran (unsuccessfully) for the Board of Supervisors: “I’ve decided not to decide until the last minute”—i.e. Aug. 8, the filing deadline. Meanwhile, Steve “Woody” Culleton and Alan White announced they’re seeking re-election. David E. Davis and Joe DiDuca pulled papers; and David A. Anderson declared his intention to run.