Fire for thought

For more information about fire preparedness, visit the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection website at
Information about assistance for the Colorado fire is available at

It’s impossible to look at the images coming from the “super fire” in Colorado Springs, Colo., without thinking about how easily it could happen here.

In fact, it has: The 2007 Angora fire in South Lake Tahoe falls into this category, with 250 homes destroyed and 3,000 acres burned. And, according to recent news reports, U.S. Forest Service scientist Malcolm North says that conditions in Northern California make more of these “super fires” inevitable.

More people than ever before are living in fire-prone areas—actually, in places where the ecosystem has evolved to include fire as a natural part of life. That’s the West: Many of our trees and grasses have evolved to need fire as part of the renewal process in their lifecycles.

But we see fire as the enemy, and—thanks to changing temperatures and weather patterns—the last decade has been the hottest in recorded history. Don’t believe us? Ask anyone who farms or gardens; planting times have been moving up considerably. Or ask an insurance agent.

It’s easy to think that the mild winter we had was a gift, but it also means that the forest canopies and grasslands are dried out much earlier than in years past. We need to be prepared for these fires—and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection can help with that—by clearing defensible space around homes; creating alert systems and evacuation plans for our family, friends, and neighbors; and making sure that we do our part to avoid accidental fires.

But we also need to address the underlying issues here.

The first is our continuing insistence on moving into areas that aren’t really safe for us to live in. Just as it’s rather foolish to build in a floodplain—and yet we do—it’s also foolish to continue to build our homes in fire-prone areas. These housing developments may be beautiful, but to a fire, all they are is fuel.

Rather than fight with nature, we need to look at ways to live with it, and that includes restricting development in fire-prone areas, just as we do in flood-prone areas.

Further, we need to take steps now to mitigate the disaster we’ve enacted on our planet. The recent news-making study by UC Davis professors Alan Hastings and Geerat Vermeij and their 20 co-authors made clear that we’ve already affected the climate so profoundly that a permanent shift is rapidly approaching.

That will mean earlier fire seasons and more “super fires,” among other things. We need to be prepared, and we need to work together to ameliorate as much of the damage as we possibly can.

The tasks are huge. We can start by offering assistance to those who have been affected by the fire, by preparing our own homes and communities for fire season, and by joining with our fellow citizens to make sure that our environment and our climate take priority in public policy.