After several years of catastrophic fires here in California, I still can’t figure out why our private citizens and our government won’t do the obvious to reduce fuels, protect property, and secure fire escape routes. If I were governor, I would have mobilized the National Guard and all fire agencies in the off season to eliminate all non-native species of trees, on our public lands, starting with eucalyptus trees. They are lofty and highly flammable, with perfect winglike leaves that spread fire rapidly over great distances. Santa Barbara is full of them creating perfect fire pathways from the mountains, through the city, to the sea. You won’t be escaping on U.S. 101 in the next firestorm. The freeway is lined with eucalyptus, for miles, with plenty of tinder at their bases.
Climate change isn’t the only thing making fires and floods worse. All the poorly designed development that’s happened all over the world, because of human overpopulation and a “build it cheap” mindset, has covered the ground with unnatural hard surfaces such as buildings, driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, airports, patios, and roads that repel precious water rather than soaking it in. Precipitation that used to soak into the ground, keeping trees and vegetation greener and replenishing the water table, simply runs off into the ocean along with all the toxic garbage that we humans dump everywhere. I could have kayaked down State Street in the last storm.
The city, and citizens who care, should do much more to reduce runoff. Some new Whole Foods stores are designed to be “no runoff” with sumps and leach fields under their parking lots to allow water to soak in. We need to design all human development to hold fresh water on and in the land and we need to sequester all the carbon we can by burning less vegetation.
Mulching cut vegetation would help do both. Yes, six inches of dry mulch can burn, too, but not like a dry 40-foot tall eucaliptus tree or a 100-foot fir or pine. Cabins in the Sierras are supposed to have a minimum vegetation clearance of 30 feet with 100 feet highly recommended. Some places require cleaning down to the dirt and others, like the Tahoe basin, require a mulch layer to reduce the human-made toxins being flushed into the lake. Few homes in Santa Barbara would pass the fire inspection that my Sequoia cabin had to pass every spring.
If I were governor, I would have had all the vegetation cleared at least 30 feet back from the sides of all forest highways. People would have a better chance of escaping a fire and a better view of the scenery from the roads. Seeing people getting cooked trying to leave Paradise should have been a catalyst for tree cutting action all over our state. The Australians are cooking now too! They have excessive populations of growth-crazed humans developing in eucalyptus forests, hardening the water-absorbing surfaces, and drying out the trees faster, in the midst of our global warming crisis. It’s a lot cheaper to cut and mulch trees than it is to pay high insurance rates and rebuild a city and one’s life.
I’ve written some politicians but I’ve seen little action anywhere in preventative cutting and mulching. These are really fairly simple solutions for some big problems.