Exterior sprinklers work, too many fires in southern California, and prescribed burning advocates engage in cultural appropriation

The Los Angeles Times has been a champion in helping the public understand the truth when it comes to wildfire. But today, they made a mistake. They repeated numerous misconceptions that have held us back from crafting effective fire risk reduction policies.

The letter we wrote to them explaining why their article was inaccurate is below. If you are so moved, please write your own. It can make a difference. Limit it to 150 words or less and use this link to send it.

Our short letter to the editor can be found at the end of this post.


Dear Mr. Serna,

We are extremely discouraged over the inaccurate statements in today’s article, To guard against wildfire, it takes a neighborhood.

The focus on reducing wildfire risk from the house out was spot on. But the article is riddled with so many misconceptions that readers may end up making poor choices that could result in the loss of their homes during a fire.

More frustrating is the fact that we recently discussed this topic in an interview. We provided the most current science and references that could have been used to write a powerfully influential, accurate piece. Instead, the article reaffirms many of the same misconceptions that have held us back from solving the wildfire crisis, and even added a new one – debunking exterior sprinklers, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Here are the facts.

1. Exterior sprinklers have been extremely effective in saving homes and they can be installed quickly and at a reasonable cost. They saved 188 homes in the 2007 wind-driven Ham Lake Fire and have been used effectively in Canada and Australia. A quick search on the internet would have revealed this. We have a detailed analysis here.

We do not know why Jack Cohen dismisses exterior sprinklers out of hand, especially since he once described their effectiveness. In a video produced by the USFS Fire Lab, Dr. Cohen said (starting at mark 9:50),

“… because people, if they have the water supply, in fact can put their sprinklers on, wet things down, which definitely inhibits the firebrands, the flying embers that can potentially ignite this (vegetation)… putting the sprinklers out, it just guaranteed that anything like this that might have been fuel ends up being wetted, such that it’s no longer fuel.”

It would have been helpful to do a deeper investigation regarding the use of exterior sprinklers during the Woolsey Fire. Such a search would have revealed that exterior sprinklers were credited in saving the visitor center in Malibu Creek State Park, which was near the center of the Woolsey inferno.

We urge you to call Steve Yusi back and have a longer conversation with him concerning how he felt about Dr. Cohen’s rejection of his sprinkler system. Rather than being “deflated,” Steve was actually shocked that Dr. Cohen was unwilling to discuss the matter seriously or observe their home’s sprinkler system in action. Having visited Steve’s home and observed the system in action myself, we can assure you, it dramatically reduces the building’s ignitability, just as Dr. Cohen mentioned in the video.

The truth was not revealed in this case. Instead, a potentially life-threatening misconception was given a pass. Worse, readers are left with the impression that exterior sprinklers are a waste of time. The evidence clearly indicates otherwise.

sprinkler closeup-1b

The exterior sprinklers on Steve Yusi’s and Diana Ungerleider’s home profiled in the inaccurate LA Times article.

2. “A century of aggressive fire suppression” has nothing to do with what we face in southern California in regards to wildfire threats. The evidence is clear on this as I wrote to you in my note of May 25, 2019 (below). As noted, the LA Times has communicated this many times in editorials and articles. We don’t understand why the current article didn’t at least provide some balance to help the readers sort things out for themselves.

In addition, the spread of non-native, invasive weeds due to excessive fire and soil disturbance is not limited to “some suburban foothills.” It is a statewide problem that is destroying native habitat and increasing fire risk. This is a major problem. The USFS recognizes this, as has the LA Times in many past stories. We have assembled data on this problem here.

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Posted in Climate Change, Fire | 4 Comments

Getting angry, then inspired

We wanted to share something that is energizing us and everyone we’ve been interacting with lately.

There is so much to get upset, depressed about these days. It easily becomes overwhelming. As with many of you who care about the planet, we’ve been going in and out of being terribly upset to near withdrawal countless times over the past couple years.

But something wonderful happened to our hearts and minds this past Friday while participating in the Climate Strike march in Santa Barbara.

We went to the center of town where everyone was supposed to assemble. To our disappointment, there were only about 200 people there. And the composition was disappointing as well… mostly composed of the traditional environmental demographic – older white people. We stood around for about 20 minutes when suddenly cheers rang out. A line of young people appeared out of nowhere and began filling the park – kids with flying fish floats and flags at the end of long, flexible poles waving in the sky. Signs, drums, singing. They just kept coming, hundreds of them. Kids of color, kids with disabilities, kids with wonderful smiles.

Climate 8

After a few speeches, the kids directed us south to march through town, toward the Santa Barbara pier, singing, chanting, waving signs.

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The Shrublander has Emerged

Huzzah, the Shrublander has emerged!

Clothed in deep, manzanita-burgundy cloth, wrapped around him like the Celtic warrior he is, carrying a staff of red shank, and smoking a pipe made of ancient Chumash soapstone, the Shrublander puts up with no ye shit from the Novacained despots who seek to bring an age of darkness to the enchanted elfin shrublands with their fire, their grinders, their poisons. HAIL TO THE SHRUBLANDER!

B grass

Shrublander: one who dwells among, recreates within, and/or relies on native shrubland ecosystems and respects their rich ecological complexity and importance.

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Posted in Reconnecting to Nature, Value of Native Species | Leave a comment