As someone who has dedicated the decade since the Tea Fire to fire prevention and preparedness in Montecito, I am particularly perplexed by President Trump’s comments in Paradise, CA.
There are so many ways that communities can work together to protect their neighborhoods from wildfire that don’t involve cutting down the forests or “raking.”
In Montecito, we focused on hardening homes (improving fire and ember resistance) and on creating public/private partnerships to build a network of strategic buffer zones along our WUI (Wildland Urban Interface) to protect homes and evacuation routes.
Montecito Fire didn’t do any clearing in the National Forest, but we did a whole lot of clearing on the properties and roadways that bordered it. In doing so, we created safe spaces and safe evacuation routes. This work also allowed safe access for firefighters to establish defensive positions to protect neighborhoods.
When the Thomas Fire came down like a hammer on Montecito in December 2017, with howling winds and desert-dry conditions, no one died in Santa Barbara County, and we lost fewer than a dozen homes.
The community cooperation with our multi-year prevention plan was a huge factor in the successful defense of our community.
By working together, neighborhood by neighborhood, house to house, hardening, buffering, and preparing, we were able to create the conditions that allowed firefighters to wrest a good outcome from the jaws of a deadly crisis.
Fires are a natural part of life. Preparing for them is too.
If we work together now, to build a network of fire-safe communities all across California and the Western States, we can honor the victims of the recent fires by taking bold action help prevent future calamities like the ones we have seen this year.
Abe Powell has been a member of the Board of Directors for the Montecito Fire Protection District for six years, but the sentiments in this letter are his alone.