Let’s hope it brings needed changes
From Chester to Eastern Plumas and all communities in between, the local response to the victims of the Camp Fire has been impressive. Individuals, organizations and businesses have all pitched in to do whatever they can to help ease the suffering of those who lost everything to the devastating fire, and all of those efforts are to be fully commended.
This event hit close to home, not only in geographical proximity, but also in the knowledge that it could happen to anyone of our communities. There has always been some degree of comfort that if a wildfire were to occur, even if it had the potential to decimate our homes and towns, we would have the chance to evacuate our loved ones and our most treasured possessions. The Camp Fire took away any sense of security. People died fleeing the fire; there was no time for them to escape. There was no time to gather photos or important documents.
The stories that have emerged over the past weeks have been heart wrenching and it’s truly miraculous that more lives weren’t lost. The horror that those who died in the fire must have experienced has been seared into our consciousness.
It doesn’t matter what side of the debate you take on the issue of climate change — whether it’s manmade or part of the earth’s natural pattern — the fact remains that the earth is heating up and our weather patterns are changing and becoming more intense. We have seen that not only in the fires in the West but with the flooding in the East. Here in California it means fire season is lasting far longer than it has in the past, and the fires that emerge are far more devastating.
It’s going to impact the way we manage our forests, where we allow communities to build, how that infrastructure is built, and perhaps new codes for structures. These will be positive changes. An effort has been underway in Plumas County with the Fire Safe Council and the push for communities to become designated Firewise. Yes, it might seem that having cleared defensible space around homes in Paradise would not have saved that town, but that doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be made. Even in that dire situation, those struggling to exit the area found temporary sanctuary in the garage of a home that could be defended until they ultimately made it back to the hospital that firefighters could protect.
Perhaps communities should designate such an area, where, if exit routes become clogged, evacuees could gather. But even that is difficult to definitively establish with the unpredictable nature of fire. The past two fire seasons have taught us that the fire threat is not limited to those who live in the mountains. Think of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Malibu …
We know that the next fire isn’t an “if,” it’s a “when.” Let’s hope that our leaders on the local, state and national levels — in government and from the private sector — can develop new approaches and tools for dealing with this omnipresent threat. But when they do happen, it’s comforting to know that there will be an outpouring of support and goodwill to help those affected.