As I rode my horse through the Auburn State Recreation Area last weekend, I couldn’t help but look out and see the rushing American River flow through the green canyon hillsides. The drought-stressed trees and plants have clearly soaked up every drop of rain and have grown and turned their leaves various bright shades of green.
The colorful wildflowers and emerald green grass will soon give way to summer. It’s hard to imagine that something so beautiful will dry out, turn brown and become a potential tinderbox waiting to explode.
The risk of wildfires is nothing new to Californians and Placer County residents. Drought or no drought, the truth is California’s Mediterranean climate lends itself perfectly to wildfires. They are a natural part of our ecosystem.
There is no doubt that the rain this winter has been great but don’t let it fool you; the risk for wildfires is still high.
While the fire-prone American River Canyon this summer will be filled with fuel for a major wildfire, almost all of Placer County is at risk for wildfires. Just look at the 2009 49 Fire that started in a grass field and quickly burned into subdivisions in North Auburn destroying more than 60 homes and businesses. Wherever you live, we must all do our part to be ready for wildfire!
I would argue that we have some of the best and bravest firefighters around but they need our help. We must give our firefighters a fighting chance to extinguish wildfires and save our homes. This starts by having at least 100 feet of defensible space around your home. Remove the dead grass, thin out the overgrown brush and clean up leaves and pine needles from your roof. These are just a few of the simple steps that will dramatically increase your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire.
This type of wildfire preparation cannot be just an individual, single-home project. We have to work with our neighbors. Working together with your neighborhood makes everyone safer. The Aeolia Heights neighborhood has known this for a while. What has now become an annual event; neighbors get together for a day of clearing brush and cutting down weeds to reduce their wildfire risk.
Their grassroots effort to make their homes more fire-safe is why they were recently recognized nationally as a “Firewise Community.” They will be the first to tell you that their work day is tough work but the end result is a cleared-out area where firefighters can make a stand and stop a wildfire before it enters their neighborhood.
The first steps to becoming a Firewise Community are easy. Use it as an excuse for a potluck with your neighbors or bring it up at your next homeowner’s association meeting. There are resources and people who can help. The Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council was established for this very reason. The council is made up of residents and fire officials, who are there to help neighborhoods address their specific fire risk, recommend steps to reduce it and then bring everyone together to get the work done.
The Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council meets on the third Friday of every month at Auburn City Hall at 9 a.m. Come join us!
There is also a great website that will give you the steps to take to protect yourself, your family and your home; ReadyForWildfire.org.
If you are like me, you live in Placer County because of the serene lifestyle and endless amounts of beautiful scenery. Cutting dead weeds and clearing the brush is a small price to pay to live in such a beautiful part of the state.
Daniel Berlant is the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council chairman and an Auburn City Councilman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.