There is hope. While wildfire is inevitable, the destruction of our communities is not.

Here is the letter we just sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Dear Governor Newsom,

Encouraged by the spirit of hope that your new administration brings to Sacramento, we urge you to take the lead in creating a new wildfire policy based on science rather than tradition.

Why? Because the traditional approach to wildfire protection is backward. It focuses on vegetation rather than what we want to protect – our homes and families.
Homes burn because they are flammable and are built on fire-prone landscapes. Most structures ignite during wildfires because of flying embers that can travel a mile or more from the fire front. This is why so many families have lost their homes even though they have complied with defensible space regulations – their homes were still vulnerable to embers. This is why communities far from wildland areas, like Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, have been destroyed during wildfire and why entire neighborhoods have burned to the ground while the trees around them have not (Fig.1). This is why fuel breaks, twelve-lane highways, and even large bodies of water fail to protect our homes during wind-driven wildfires.

However, there is hope. While wildfire is inevitable, the destruction of our communities is not.

DigitalGlobe satellite image shows damages in the Kilcrease circle community aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise California

Figure 1. Camp Fire, showing the devastation of homes in the Kilcrease Circle community of Paradise. Note the surrounding green, mature forest with little or no scorching. The homes were not burned by a high-intensity crown fire, but were ignited by embers, followed by home-to-home ignitions. Photo: Digital Globe, a Maxar company via Reuters, 11/17/2018.

Jack Cohen, a former lead fire scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, has demonstrated this through decades of research. To stop wildfire disasters in our communities we must accept some basic principles based on science, especially with climate change and increasing numbers of people living next to wildlands. First among them is that the wildfire problem is a home ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem.

Focusing on forests and dead trees far from our communities most at risk or habitat clearance projects that have little value during wind-driven fires will only guarantee more of the same – continued catastrophic losses.

To stop the destruction of our communities by wildfire we must focus on strategies that will work in our rapidly changing environment: reduce the flammability of existing communities and prevent new ones from being built in very high fire hazard severity zones.

To read more, please view our entire letter here:

Posted in Climate Change, Fire, Forests, Misconceptions | 1 Comment

Fire Misconceptions on the Radio

Dear Ms. Madeleine Brand,

Thank you for addressing the wildfire crisis in your December 14th Press Play radio show.

You asked some excellent questions. In particular, when a couple of your guests advocated for prescribed fire as a way to prevent another devastating Woolsey Fire, you kept pressing them on how such burns could be carried out safely with millions of people on the landscape. Mikke Pierson reflected the problematic nature of prescribed fire best when he answered honestly, “I have no idea.”

Prescribed fire, along with many other issues relating to wildfire in California, are terribly misunderstood. Such misunderstandings lead to misconceptions that can enable counterproductive public policy. A number of these misconceptions were repeated during the show. We are writing in hopes that this information will inspire you to pursue these matters further in future interviews, or perhaps as subject matter for another show.

The most notable misconceptions repeated during the show include:

1. Prescribed fire will allow us to live safely with Southern California firestorms.\
2. Large fires in California were unknown prior to the arrival of Europeans because of Native American burning.
3. If we let fire burn like is supposedly done in Baja California, we wouldn’t have large fires.
4.Dead trees pose a significant wildfire threat.

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Exterior Fire Sprinklers Saved 188 Properties – Wet homes don’t burn

As renowned fire scientist Jack Cohen has said repeatedly, the wildland fire problem is a home ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem. Cohen has been trying to help fire agencies understand this since 1999. Unfortunately, they have shown little interest. We are hoping with the recent wildfire tragedy in Paradise, California, attitudes will change.

But private citizens don’t have to wait.

There are a number of proven strategies and retrofits that can be implemented easily to homes and communities now. One is the installation of exterior fire sprinklers.

The story of the resistance to exterior fire sprinklers illuminates a crippling dichotomy between the structural fire protection and wildland fire communities. But first, the good news. Exterior fire sprinklers systems work, are affordable, and can be easily installed.

Exterior fire sprinklers in action in Australia. From Platypus Fire Pty Ltd.

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Posted in Fire, Misconceptions | 6 Comments