Thinking About Fire Clearing? Why the Fire Prevention Paradigm in CA Needs to Change

“The very word “brush” is pejorative…according to Dow Chemical, the “Brush Demon” must be tamed with chemicals. Indeed, for many foresters, the mere presence of “brush” constitutes a sufficient justification for chemical treatment…”

Ray Raphael, Tree Talk. The people and politics of timber. Island Press 1981

In 2003, I lost my home, business, (and library–very painful!) in the Cedar Firestorm in San Diego County. This is considered, along with the Oakland fire of 1993, one of the worst fires in California’s history for property and lives lost. Just a few months before, following what I thought was my civic duty despite some feeling it would “not work”, I participated in a federal government brush clearing program through the Bureau of Land Management. BLM lands bordered our neighborhood. The tax payer paid for this program–meaning YOU. Despite the government sponsored “brush clearing” and good intentions, our entire neighborhood burned down in the Cedar Fire and the one landowner who did not participate in the program or “brush clear” ? Guess what? His house was left standing.

Nothing will ever ever ever EVER stop wildfires in California. NOTHING. And passing programs off that they WILL accomplish this deceives the public.In particular, Bush Jr’s “Healthy Forest” Restoration Act of 2003 MUST be struck down. This nightmare legislation has ‘fueled’ the destruction of thousands of HEALTHY FORESTS under the guise of making the public safer. Millions of dollars for biomass plants have disappeared into the hands of “consultants” and many of the plants are not even operable.

Biomass energy (just calling it burning what was once wildlife habitat) will not only make climate change worse, it is based on the continual destruction of our forests and chaparral= the faulty premise of making us “safer”. The “Healthy Forest Restoration Act” has nothing to do with fire safety and everything to do with money. Sadly, where “fuels clearing” has taken place, the forests are anything BUT “healthier” and wildlife populations go into decline (one reference on this includes the USFS!)

A forest/chaparral ecosystem is a highly interconnected living system. Think of it as one giant interconnected super-organism. You cannot “clear” one section of it without the rest of the system being affected.

Click here to learn more about this fascinating area of science.

Click here to learn even more about this fascinating area of science.

Ecologists call this EDGE EFFECT meaning the effects of clearing extend INTO the forest as much as 400 meters. This results in more drying, more wind, weakening or even killing the remaining tree-system. With this comes greater insect-pathogen infestation (also spread by the timber equipment, chain saws) and of course, all of this increases the possibility of fire, is likely increasing susceptibility of fire. It is now normal–the gutting and killing California’s biodiversity to make us all “fire safe”–because the “Healthy Forest” Act offers agencies money–nearly limitless, un-trackable money–to kill our native ecosystems with no monitoring to see if the clearing in fact reduced fire danger/benefited the public. It is a corrupt gravy train luring citizens into a false sense of security as is sadly evident in that thousands of homes that had so-called “defensible space” are still burning to the ground, like mine did.

Entities that have taken “Healthy Forest” money with the agreement they will then destroy what is left of California’s unique biodiversity for “public safety” include nearly every kind imaginable throwing out their own mandates, policies, plans, environmental regulations, convictions, ethics: CalFire (of course), CA State Parks now has logged and masticated countless acres of once pristine chaparral and forest, some of which has since burned. There has to be SOME places where humans do not intervene in order to provide “ecological baseline” conditions for scientific research. State Parks used to be this entity; Sierra “Conservancy”, California Native Plant Society, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resource Conservation Service (awarded a landowner in Nevada County a $140,000 “grant” to destroy native chaparral and plant pine trees which will be harvested for profit, deemed a “fire safety” project), many counties, private/public “partnerships”. Public officials have been charged with corruption for improper use of these funds. I could go on and on…and this is the problem. I could go on and on.

Click here Sacramento Bee Editorial-Cutting Forests Is Not the Answer.

Click here “Healthy Forests” Initiative a Misnomer.

Click here We Need Real Comprehensive Fire Policy in California.

Click here Time to Get to the Roof of the Matter.

Click here Bloomberg News: Why is California rebuilding in fire zones? Because you’re paying for it.

Click here New York Times: Fire Protections Show Mixed Results

Click here Wildfires: Why Do We Still Build Homes Out of Wood?.

Click here KCRA3-Dippity Do Da

Click here Sacramento Bee: Calfire and the Moonlight Fire

Want to fix this situation? Start with repealing this:

FIRE SAFETY IS NOT ABOUT UNACCOUNTABLE MONEY AND SLOGANS! Thousands of Californians are losing everything they own and in some cases, their lives. When will California take fire as a major issue seriously or can it, owing to how much money fire in CA generates? (Referred to as the “Fire-Industrial Complex”).


Around the time the “Healthy Forests” act was passed, the state of California, with no public input, combined the Board of Forestry with the fire-fighting component to form CALFIRE, forever sealing in the public’s mind that California native trees/flora are associated with fire, i.e. burn their houses down but more serious, creating a profound conflict of interest. Again, this was a brilliant move on the part of the forestry industry in California: make people afraid of native plants, particularly native BRUSH (that the industry hates anyway) and native TREES (they can remove/sell making everyone more “fire safe”). The problem is, thousands of (WOOD) homes have burned down anyway except, wait! Now the forestry industry can provide the wood to rebuild them so they will burn down again someday! What a great system, if you’re the forestry industry anyway.

Appalling article (below) that shows no shame in using “fire safety” with your tax dollars, as an excuse to revive the timber industry that then uses the trees they cut off the landscape (for “fire safety”) to BUILD WOOD HOMES (that burn down). This is institutionalized insanity designed to prop up the timber industry, not save lives and homes. There is also, conveniently, no mention that over 50% of the areas cut for “fire safety” (as best as we can tell; the data is impossible to get/fully confirm since none is collected) burn to the ground anyway, a fact they would rather you not know about and something the State of CA does no follow up on/make public.

Is it time to enact a moratorium on the building of new wood homes, starting with banning them on steep slopes with high sustained winds? (Oh, but wait…! See below). The ban is then phased in statewide.

We MUST remove politics from this issue which means forestry goes back to the Board of Forestry (or Department of Forestry) then the state should create a agency called the CA Department of Fire Prevention, Research, and Assistance. They get to deal with fire any way they want to, free from the politics of the forestry industry. Forestry may still be a component they address but fire safety can no longer be buried by the forestry industry. The State Department of Fire Prevention would conduct cutting-edge research. It would provide information about fire safety gels, blankets, fire safe building materials for general contractors to transition to (imagine traveling fairs all over the state demonstrating these products).

Watch This! National Public Radio. Build a House. Set It On Fire.

What about financial incentives/deductions for fire-safe roofs, water tanks, other measures focusing on OUR HOUSES? The State Department of Fire Prevention could foster the creation of a much needed Fire Land Trust; it would have a Victims Assistance unit. You see where I am going with this? Where I am going is California HAS TO START DEALING WITH FIRE IN A SINCERE NON-POLITICAL AND EFFECTIVE WAY meaning out from under the heavy political pressure of the forestry industry. Lives are at stake. In the meantime, while we are wasting time and money on “brushing” programs, we could be doing REAL things to face the pending fires because the fires are coming. They can break out at any time. Rather than wait for them, we should be preparing for fire first of all by employing fire planning around WIND.

It is WIND that drives catastrophic fires and it is WIND that should be the center of fire planning in California. For example, the Santa Ana winds ALWAYS come up in the fall/early winter in S. California but there is no preparation or planning around this by the state yet so many public officials act appalled when the catastrophic fires show up from the Santa Ana winds. I mean, c’mon. The Santa Ana winds have been driving catastrophic fires in Southern California for possibly thousands of years and will continue to do so. Get ahead of it. Plan for it. Be prepared but there really is no fire planning going on in California–it’s still reactionary and therefore far more tragic.

How many counties have quietly removed development restrictions on steep slopes? For those already in dangerous areas, is there a state incentive program to replace flammable roofs with fire-safe roofs, install gravity fed water systems to supply multiple houses, train the public to use fire barricade gels/blankets, train the public how to properly evacuate, what to take with them, how to prepare a structure when evacuating; develop new technologies to protect and build STRUCTURES? No, there is NOTHING for these measures, absolutely NOTHING. I have heard so many other plausible ideas but who is listening to them? Nobody. Why not? Money is tied to only one method for “fire safety”–“vegetation management”. This is it, all they use, and it isn’t working! NONE of this is happening because of the now firmly seated illusion in the minds of the public that all they need to do is kill, sanitize, “clean” their property (completely and utterly neglecting safeguards to their homes) and their homes will never burn down. It would be one thing if these fire clearing programs were fail-proof but they are NOT.

The Unfortunate Background on What Caused the Cedar Fire and How My Entire Neighborhood Burned Down

The Cedar Fire was a tragedy of errors the first of which was how the fire started. It was started by a “lost hunter” (sound familiar?) outside of Ramona, CA. The “hunter” who was from the LA area, started a “signal fire” within just a mile or two of a road. He started his “signal fire” in Santa Ana winds on a hot October day. But it gets better. The fire could have been put OUT by a government (military) helicopter that was flying overhead at the time with a bucket. The pilot saw the fire. Doing what any good soul would do, he dipped the bucket in a nearby lake but when he went to drop it on what would become one of the worst fires in California’s history, he was told by his superior he could NOT drop the water ON THE FIRE–the drop would not be “authorized.” How about them apples or ashes?

Now that we set the stage on how the fire started, let’s move on to the saga of my neighborhood going up in flames. Our neighborhood was built around the town’s water supply, a 150,000 gallon water tank. We all assumed if we moved to Kentwood, we would be fine. Our houses were by the town’s water tank. We got dinked pretty good on that assumption too because by the time the fire reached our neighborhood, every single drop of water in that water tank had been trucked out of our neighborhood to save the fake downtown area (Julian, CA). (They were afraid the tourists would stop coming). When the water was needed to save our homes, the water tank was dry as a bone. These are the kinds of things that go on during a fire. Let me tell ya’ it is a lot more complicated (and political) than whacking down your manzanita!

Let’s Be Honest Here.

We basically live in matchboxes and after we build them, we decide to kill everything around our little matchboxes then we are surprised when our matchboxes still burn down. Gosh, I “cleared” for “fire safety? What went wrong? You left the real “fuel” on your property–YOUR HOUSE! The structure is the most flammable thing on the landscape.The most lethal “fuel” on the landscape is your wooden home=matchbox that once on fire, sets all the other matchboxes on fire via flying embers and, you got it, most fires start from FLYING EMBERS! (Getting the picture now?)

The research site in South Carolina has a wall of 105 fans that can generate wind gusts to blow embers. Fire engineers say most homes that burn during wildfires are ignited by embers, rather than a wall of flames.” Ryan Kellman/NPR, Build a House, Set it on Fire, link above.

Most of us have asphalt composite roofs. Asphalt composite roofs are made from OIL. So we put WOOD homes with petroleum roofs in a fire landscape then freak out when they burn down.(Here is just one sample of the many scientific articles supporting these findings:

Did the Padres who built the CA missions know something we didn’t? Notice they are still around. Why? Travel in other fire prone countries (Mexico, the Mediterranean regions of Europe) and you see homes made from stucco, adobe, brick, cement. Who puts homes made of wood and flammable materials into an already fire dangerous landscape? We do. Then we call it normal.

I do not know why the fire agencies/councils, the vast bureaucracy that is our fire empire seize so tightly to a “safety” practice that first off, will NOT save your home but perhaps even more baffling is why would a public agency/entity take on the responsibility/liability for private property with something as unpredictable as a wildfire? For example, when our entire neighborhood burned to the ground (aside from a couple homes including one that did not do any clearing), could we have then sued the BLM? Why would ANY public agency run this risk?

An agency wastes public tax dollars by doing the clearing “for fire safety” then it can look forward to wasting it yet again when it gets sued and has to defend itself! This makes no sense! What’s even crazier is when I go by a clearing project and there is a house on the boundary of it and it still has a cedar shingle roof!!! So the homeowner has NO responsibility then to replace his/her roof with a fire-safe kind? It’s all on the backs of the tax payers? Really? Third, manifesting the epitome of human arrogance, relying ONLY on clearing trains people to destroy the California native habitat on their property. This has been done very well. Sadly now, when I talk with landowners, they are more afraid of their oak trees than appreciative.

The shade from one tree can lower ground temperatures up to 15F and allows for greater retention of soil moisture. Shade is GOOD. It is one of the many services we are provided (called ecosystem services) from trees and shrubs aside from the ‘minor’ fact that plants keep us alive by photosynthesizing and may be critical in mitigating the effects of climate change (they take in CO2 and spit out OXYGEN–kind of a miraculous thing, huh?).

Manzanita, once revered by the Native Americans in this region and important to wildlife, has been described by a fire agency official I listened to as the “terrorist of the back-country.” This is the height of human arrogance that we put our matchboxes in a highly fire-prone landscape then blame the LANDSCAPE for burning down our houses. I don’t think anything tops this for hypocrisy.

In Defense of Manzanita

Sometimes I imagine God, Rachel Carson, H.D. Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold (who tragically died from a grass fire), Olaus and Mardie Murie, Wallace Stegner, maybe Darwin, and a few others laughing and saying, “and right before climate change got really serious, how about when they starting cutting down trees to stop fires! Yeah, that was a good one!” They laugh uproariously, slapping their knees…The main reason we need to stop killing our native vegetation is because of climate change. There is a chance the people who run around telling us to kill our native vegetation to save ourselves from fire do not understand the incredibly important role our native vegetation plays and since there is no place for the public to get ecological training/education, including people in resource agencies that may not have it, I cannot really blame people for not knowing “this stuff” but it is critical “stuff” we must know on a living (dying?) planet.

Click here The Terrifying Reality of Climate Change.

All green plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen that we, uhm, need or we will DIE. Climate change is being caused by TOO MUCH carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the end point of complete combustion from us and/or from our cars–i.e. it is the inevitable result of the burning of hydrocarbon fuels on the planet. (Thank God plants need it for their survival or this show would have been over a long time ago). Therefore, by creating a paradigm that native plants are out to kill us, we are inducing people to remove the very thing that may SAVE US from a severe if not deadly climate transition–PLANTS! We are advocating the killing of our best buffers to climate change! Then in many cases, the plants cut are stacked up into “burn piles” and set on fire. They don’t even leave the material on the ground to provide habitat, build soil, etc. So, we are cutting vegetation for “fire safety” then setting it on fire. I’m sorry but this is kind of nuts.

The massive fire-industrial complex/bureaucracy is also very confused. It conflates improving access for firefighters (IF they show up) and evacuation routes (the fire has the last say) with ecological benefit. They are NOT the same thing. While important, as explained below, some of these practices may damage the ecology and make the area more fire prone.

When the brush clearing/logging takes place for “fire safety” (and please, just call it logging if you are in fact, logging) not only are we removing living organisms that take-in and hold carbon for us, we are releasing tons more carbon in the process of killing it. Traditional silvicultural practices (thinning and logging) used when things were climatically normal are devastating forests now under climate change conditions, and quickly. We are converting a place that used to be shaded and provide wind break functions into a more open area. More devastating is the complete elimination of snowsheds. Snowshed areas within a healthy wildlife habitat-providing forest (herb, shrub, subcanopy, canopy; each layer providing habitat to a suite of species) hold snow throughout the year. These pockets/ravines/microbasins of snow are critical to our freshwater supply. Once the overlapping shaded vegetation layers are destroyed (along with the wildlife they used to support), sunlight reaches more of the area including the soil layer. In addition to drying the “fuels” out now, this can have devastating effects on the soil biota that also retain moisture in an ecosystem. Now the area is drying along with the surrounding vegetation–and so goes the precious snowsheds. Where once we had a multi-layer wildlife-supporting, water retaining healthy forest, now it’s a drying, possibly drought-stricken biological dead zone passed off as a “fire safety” project. The cycle continues. The wind, once blocked by the natural wind break, blows through, drying out the area even more. What has been created may now be more fire prone. I have documented the loss of these snow sheds in “fire safety” projects, many disappearing in a single summer. None of them have any snow anymore or worse, they don’t retain any moisture and are completely dry.

Another question: once the surrounding trees are removed, is it clear sailing for the embers to now land on your likely oil asphalt roof? Is there the possibility trees intercept the embers FROM landing on the roof?

The idea that these actions can stop a fire is again, a STORY, just a STORY the agencies tell themselves and the public. For those of us who cleared, did everything ‘right’ and we still lost our homes, we call it a fairy tale.

The fire safety/brushing/clearing/thinning/logging programs include no post-clearing monitoring so how do we know if it works? We don’t. Why don’t they monitor what happens afterwards, especially if it saves homes? Because if the data starts streaming in that places that were cleared/thinned/cleaned/sanitized (pick a word) burned anyway (and they have and will) this would blow the story/paradigm to smithereens. With no money but my own, I have traveled to locations all over the state and seen areas that burned that were “cleared for fire safety”–including where homes burned down anyway.

Here are the latest “fire safety” now “climate change prevention” grants you are paying for, and based on the latest science, none will likely save your own life/home. (The idea that these projects will reduce climate change impacts is complete insanity but it makes for better marketing). Based on wind driven fire-storms, in order to save lives and structures, there has to be direct hardening/protection to our structures and/or ceasing building homes out of WOOD.

An individual landowner/group can receive hundreds of thousands of (your) tax dollars. There is rarely any follow-up. (See Dippity Do Da above). The state will not help you protect your actual HOME from a fire but (likely permanent) resource damage? Go for it.

Every single public project of this type or one that gets PUBLIC FUNDS for PRIVATE LANDS should include post-clearing MONITORING. It should be MANDATORY: did the area burn down anyway? Did the area grow in with flammable nonnative grasses? Did the area grow in with scotch broom, invasive blackberry? Did the clearing really make the surrounding residents “fire safe” and most importantly, if there was a fire, did their homes still burn down? WHERE IS THIS ACTUAL DATA (versus anecdotal slogans/conclusions)?

2020 Nevada County “Fire Safety” project you paid for that filled in ponds and bulldozed in this wetland. If you’re REALLY worried about “fire safety”, why would you destroy the best fire break you can get? Open water and wetlands.
What’s left of a pond. Don’t we use water to put fires out?
Location Above Is Now Being Taken Over by Invasive Blackberry, a Permanent Type Conversion from Wetland/Ponds to a Noxious, Invasive Plant. This will make the land easier to develop. Your tax dollars at work, of course only for your safety.

Every government program should include an audit/monitoring if it expends public dollars yet none of these programs do. WHY NOT? Because it’s about getting your hands on the money. It’s called the “Healthy Forest Restoration” Act…but maybe it should be called the “Fire Gravy-train Act” or the “Healthy Bank Account” act. Then there are the demands of the insurance industry to remove the native habitat, based more on reactivity than what may actually save homes.

If they actually monitored the effectiveness of these destruction-based, often fire promoting measures, the gravy train would dry up. Overlay where major fires have occurred with where brush clearing has taken place and you soon see that places that were brushed, just like my neighborhood, burned to the ground anyway.

So if the clearing isn’t stopping fires, why do they keep doing it? You got this yet? It’s about the money.

Let’s look at what is really happening:

–county Boards of Supervisors/City Councils approved the placement of these homes in these dangerous areas to begin with. These are PERMITTED structures. Counties and the state have tremendous power over development, much of it for the better. We need excellent building standards and sensible zoning but the bottom line is, I am assuming most homes in CA are legally permitted structures=sanctioned by the counties and state as “legal” but then we all get hit with the infamous Fire Tax which I call the “Fire Penalty Tax” based on where our homes are. Excuse me? The county and state APPROVED these structures, permitted them, to begin with then decades later in some cases, hits us with a Fire Penalty Tax because of where we live? Isn’t the point of employing county PLANNERS and layers and layers of bureaucracy to insure sensible planning decisions? How can you approve homes in “fire prone” locations then turn around, decades later, and slap us with a Fire Penalty Tax that did not exist when we moved into our homes? Hey counties and the state–YOU APPROVED/PERMITTED THESE HOMES TO BEGIN WITH!!! This is why I argue the enactment of the terrible State Fire Tax (Fee) (I am paying THREE OF THEM–two local and the state tax/fee) is arbitrary and capricious. If you do not want us to place homes in fire prone areas, then don’t APPROVE THEM in the first place and on this note, read on…

—in county’s all over California, including my own, under pressure from developers, Steep Slope Ordinances that once prevented the placement of matchboxes into dangerous areas (also to prevent erosion) have been removed or “relaxed” to make it EASIER to put new matchboxes on steep slopes in dangerous fire prone places. Not only is the hypocrisy with this astounding but irresponsible. People can die in the home not to mention putting the firefighters expected to save this home at tremendous risk. (But gotta’ add to that tax base!). Of course, after they approve a new home in a fire-prone area (see photo below), they will proselytize regarding that now, you will have to make your home “Fire Safe”, pay the Fire Tax, etc. etc…no hypocrisy here! No.

For Sale Sign On Steep Slope

Is that ready to build or ready to BURN? Note how steep the slope is. Slope is also stable, no erosion. Once development starts on a slope this steep, so starts the erosion. Under pressure from developers, Nevada County Board of Supervisors “relaxed” regulations that once would have prohibited homes on slopes this steep, an act of glaring hypocrisy regarding their “concern” for fire safety.

–“Brush”? We used to call it wildlife habitat. “Brush” is a term from the forestry industry. They hate “brush” because anything they perceive as competing with tree growth is automatically bad. However, latest forestry research is turning the idea that plants compete with one another on its head. Under the ground, there appears to be a vast reservoir of ecological give and take, meaning the root systems of different species may facilitate the growth of one another. This may explain the concept of “associate species”–species that are naturally found growing with one another. Removal of “brush” may in fact impede or adversely affect tree growth. Also, removal of native vegetation is causing non-native vegetation, some noxious and invasive, to take over (ex: scotch broom, nonnative grasses, invasive blackberry). Native vegetation repels weeds. Remove it and you could have a permanent type conversion on your hands: from native wildlife-benefiting shrubs to noxious plants=ecological dead zones. Also, we all know a lot of the tax-payer funded fire clearing precedes development, is a great way to side step environmental review requirements because by the time a biologist looks at it, everything that was there has been destroyed and the permit process just glides along…but don’t worry. It’s all for your safety.

–I am of the opinion, having watched the fire that burned my neighborhood down, and many fire videos, that vegetation on the landscape can INTERCEPT flying embers. Are our matchboxes just sitting ducks after everything is cleared around them allowing for the flying embers to easily land on the roof? This is how most fires start–by flying embers. (Would it not make sense then to stop making homes out of wood and roofs out of petroleum products?)

–Removal of native shrubs/trees affects the local hydrology. It removes deep-rooted plants that channel water back into the ground to be captured into aquifers or water stores. What replaces it is often shallow-rooted grasses that do not channel water back into the watershed.

–If you are going to remove so-called “brush” at least remove THE NON-NATIVE PLANTS!! A constant testimony to how reactive and arbitrary the “brush removal” efforts are is that many noxious plants are left behind! I can name countless locations where manzanita and other native shrubs were killed but invasive blackberry, scotch broom, giant reed grass, pampas grass, nonnative grasses were left standing (again, possibly on purpose if the land is slated for sale/development; something I have unfortunately documented many times). Giant reed grass is basically like paper when it dries out. If we’re even going to label plants that can catch/spread fires readily, it definitely includes scotch broom, nonnative grasses, and giant reed grass!

–“Brush clearing” can have severe effects on soil quality. Removal to “bare mineral soil” assumes the fire behaves in a predictable fashion creeping ever so cooperatively along the ground when most fires start from flying embers. Bare soil erodes, especially in heavy storm events, polluting our local creeks, ponds, and lakes. Soil should always have some kind of cover over it to prevent erosion. (We all thought we learned this lesson decades ago…apparently not). If your soil is bare right now in the dry season, at least cover it even with pine needles or leaves for the rainy season.

Property owner has raked down to “mineral soil” for “fire safety” but now the erosion is undermining his own driveway.

–In the process of removing “brush” for “fire safety” in order to “save” our homes, we are the destroying the homes of native California wildlife and all the species associated with these plants (pollinators). Land clearing, for any reason, is detrimental to wildlife and we are clearing off the land the very plants they need to survive, the very plants they need to eat and take cover within. Brush and fuels clearing is killing our wildlife. We moved into THEIR environment. Anybody remember?

–Assigning “flammability” to different species of vegetation is deceptive and controversial. Anything burns under the right conditions. Reference is made to “stand architecture” more than species, i.e.–if the conditions are right for a spreading fire. One thing that is fairly well established–nonnative grasses spread fire faster than shrubs. You may be removing shrubs that yes, may go up in a conflagration, but certainly won’t spread it or start the fire. The nonnative grasses that come in with the removal of woody vegetation can START the fire and SPREAD it. (Ever hold a match to manzanita by the way? It does not catch on fire).

–Demonizing native vegetation dovetails well into logging and brushing industries and the “biofuels” business. Never mind that all this activity pumps tons of CO2 into the air making things WORSE.

There ARE things you can do to prevent your home from burning down that fire agencies, etc. are NOT talking about (why not?). They are:


Right now, it’s about money for the timber and building industries. Period. It’s not about “fire safety” or over 100,000+ homes with “fire clearing” would not still have burned down. It’s about money. Period. Or multiple deaths would not have taken place. Once you pay the forestry industry more money to SAVE trees in the interest of carbon sequestration, extraction-based “fire clearing” will magically cease and real fire safety measures, like phasing out wood homes, grants for home hardening for existing homes, grants for saving homes with fire blankets, gels, portable water bladders on roofs, so many other existing solutions that exist RIGHT NOW, will finally be at the least, TALKED about and at best, made available to citizens of CA.

***Don’t move to a fire prone part of the country!!

I know there are people in my life confounded that I moved to another fire-prone part of the state but where I live now is NOTHING like where I lived in San Diego. I was asking for it there–I lived on a high ridge on the edge of a canyon with a spectacular view to the Salton Sea where the winds whipped around me all the time. I lived in a WOODEN HOUSE. Is it the vegetation’s fault my house burned down? Of course not.

The root of it is San Diego County should never have permitted the home in the first place. The second is since they did permit it, it should have been made out of fire safe construction materials or at the least, had a steel/cement shingle/adobe (fire-safe) roof. I admit that I was ignorant when I moved into this home being a fire “virgin” and when the well-intended folks from the BLM would stop by my house to talk with me about “fire safety” not ONCE did they ever mention a steel roof, or doing something to the HOUSE itself to make it fire safe–not once. They only told me to cut all my chamise down and I would be “fine.” WRONG. The point is, if you are freaked out about fire and cannot accept that your home may burn down no matter what you do, I am completely serious here in saying do NOT move into a fire prone region.

Regarding where I live now, I live in a part of the county that rarely gets wind and the science is showing overwhelmingly that catastrophic fires are driven by THE WIND. This was tested a few years ago when a small fire broke out about a mile from my home. The fire dept. had it out in 20 minutes because it just sat there–NO WIND. If you do move to a fire prone area, pay attention to the WIND. If you are moving to an exposed area where the wind blows all the time, think about what you want your house to be made out of because the chances of your home burning down will go UP. “Brush clearing” will probably not do much on a steep, exposed slope with winds. Build your house out of fire safe construction materials if you even build at all. I say don’t build on steep windy slopes! (Common sense? No?)

***Create a State FIRE LAND TRUST.

After my matchbox/house burned down, knowing well putting a house in the same location would result in the NEXT house burning down, I called the San Diego County Open Space program and offered my land to them at fair market value, the idea being, let’s not put another matchbox there, right? I don’t need to tell you what happened which is nothing. While the folks with the Open Space program completely understood and agreed with my logic, they told me until a program like this is set-up on a local or ideally, state-wide basis, they cannot purchase land where it is “stupid to put a house” (my words). Yes, there is another house there now by the way and someday, it will probably burn down too. The cycle will go on and on…

Landowners that lose their homes in fires should be given the voluntary option to sell their land into a state-wide fire land trust, the objective being to keep the most dangerous locations for fire/deaths OPEN. Landowners would be offered fair market value for their land. In this way, new matchboxes are not put right back on the same spot where they will yet, burn again. The Fire Trust lands can be rolled over to local open space programs, land trusts, or even local agencies. The point is, we are putting matchboxes back into places we know darn well are dangerous. The definition of insanity is…remember this?

***Anybody can put out a fire including any government employee of any agency or the military! Really? I have to include this?

***Where is the Fire Safety Education?

Two things start fires in California: lightning and mostly stupid and/or thoughtless people. We can’t do anything about the first factor but we can do A LOT about the second one. How many public service messages do you hear during fire season? How about next to NONE? How about nailing and fining (A LOT) the thoughtless pathetic no minds’ that toss cigarettes on to dry pine needles? Lots of money to be made here with FINES! How about (trying to) educate the guy that runs his chainsaw in August and hits a rock? The trailer hitch that scrapes against asphalt and can set the nonnative grasses on fire next to it? People don’t know this stuff! (I know; hard to believe). This is low hanging fruit folks!! Why aren’t our agencies ‘picking’ it? (Update: even as I type this, news is the 2013 Rim Fire was started by yet another “lost hunter”; here’s an idea! No hunting July-October? Do ya’ have to be a rocket scientist to…??)

Photo taken in a Sierra foothills subdivision (thousands of locations to choose from), summer 2013 or otherwise, Anywhere, America.
Photo taken in a Sierra foothills subdivision (thousands of locations to choose from), summer 2013 or otherwise, Anywhere, America.

***Education must include educating our firefighters and fire officials.

Did you know that in Germany, they have a type of fire hose that puts fires out with AIR? Would this not make sense in our climate? Are the fire agencies availing themselves of the best available information regarding fire equipment and technology? As a citizen, I would have no problem if a few fire officials who promise to spread the knowledge, attend national and international conferences to insure we are using the most cutting edge (life-saving) fire-fighting equipment. How are other countries dealing with the issue? What are their building standards? Do they also build homes out of wood or do they use a more sensible approach?

California needs to sponsor an international conference, bringing together people from ALL disciplines (not just fire fighters and foresters whose solution toolbox, as we know is severely limited with conflicts of interest). Bring together architects, designers, building contractors, material experts, insurance experts, fire victims, county planners, biologists, ecologists, water delivery specialists, homeowners, the public…with the goal as: what can we do to better design structures to withstand fire, and how do we retrofit those already standing to better protect them from fire? (Do you know in my county where I live, I can show you multiple homes that still have CEDAR SHINGLE ROOFS? REALLY? C’mon!). What changes should be made in zoning codes? Placement criteria? Site design? It’s time to push this paradigm along from its currently very primitive state of chopping down shrubs. Really? This is it? This is what we are going to tell the public? This is the best we can do?

Hey, look at this! Attractive and practical fire safe homes! Wouldn’t it be great if you were learning about this from the State of California instead of me? If they provided incentives for this sort of thing? Why aren’t you? Ask your legislators, the Governor! (Check their campaign contributors first though; will likely explain everything). Sorry, all I can provide is the links and guess what? There is a lot more where this comes from! A lot of options like this! Thanks State of California! Guess I’ll go outside now and saw down my manzanita! Then everything will be just fine.

***Establish a statewide let-burn policy.

Let it burn. No human being dies fighting a fire in wildlands or to save ‘stuff’. If a firefighter died trying to save my box full of stuff, it would have devastated me. IT IS NOT WORTH IT. Firefighters should NOT be expected to put their lives at risk if human life is not an issue and even then, sometimes there is nothing they can do. All the more reason to make OUR HOMES as fire safe as possible. It’s just stuff and yes, fires are devastating to ecosystems and wildlife sometimes but our ecosystems evolved with fire. They recover. Human lives do not.

***Yes, there is something to the concept of DEFENSIBLE SPACE

which does not mean killing all living things on your property to save your matchbox but you should get rid of that old dry picnic table in the yard that is up against your house; don’t store wood against your house; get rid of debris around your house and in your yard–this part is important–debris/junk/garbage can act as tinder/kindling. (I find it ironic when people “masticate” their native woody plants then spread it all over their property! You just put tinder and kindling all over your land that now has no shade over it and now it will all cure in the sun, dry out, and make for great FUEL! Good job!).

I also love it when people “brush clear” then leave all the vegetative material lying on their property all summer. Now it IS fuel! No problem! Something to remember: “Standing Live is More Fire Safe than Lying Dead.”

This is "fire safe?" One cigarette? One spark? One arsonist? .
This is “fire safe”? One cigarette? One spark? One arsonist? Photo taken in Sierra foothills subdivision, summer 2013.

***Why Aren’t State and Federal Fire Agencies, Fire Safe Councils Educating The Public About ALL Our Options, MANY USED BY THE FIRE AGENCIES THEMSELVES?

click here Fire Barricade Gels

click here Structure Fire Blankets

We all know the answer to this question: because there’s no money in it for them. This doesn’t support another “FTE” (money usually used to hire “foresters”. Why does CA State Parks now employ foresters? When did the CA citizen give them permission to log in our state parks?).

We need these structure fire prevention companies to be at every Home and Garden show to do demonstrations for the public. Call them! Ask! Let me know! Where is the information about fire safe building materials, roofs, etc at our Home and Garden shows? Where is the outreach? THERE ISN’T ANY!!! (Unless it involves killing native vegetation; this is it and they don’t want to talk about if your house still burns down).

***There are/were economic incentives for buying more fuel efficient vehicles, energy efficient appliances, solar energy, etc.

We need economic incentives (tax deductions, rebates, etc.) to purchase fire-safe roofs (steel, adobe, slate, cement, ceramic, and no asphalt composite is NOT fire proof; I had a brand new one made out of Elk Shingles on my home and it melted like molasses in the fire and collapsed my home). Help General/House Contractors make the transition to building with the new fire safe materials by providing training, sources, support.

UPDATE! KIND OF SORT OF MAYBE HAPPENING! Thank you California! See this link:

Click here for fire-safe roof options and ideas–metal, slate, ceramic, cement. Unlike asphalt composite roofs that require replacing after 15-20 years, these roofs can last for decades. We’ve come a long way from asphalt composite.

Photo of home with a steel roof.

My home that burned had a brand new asphalt-composite Elk shingle roof, literally only a couple weeks old. This is a material made out of OIL and it is flammable, will melt in a fire as mine did. It was NOT fire-proof. My house burned to the ground. This is a home with a enameled steel roof, a far better use of this homeowner’s money than chopping all his trees down since burning homes set other burning homes on fire. This homeowner is also protecting the homes around his because when embers land on his roof, it will not act as an ignition source to spread to other roofs. Insurance companies, the state, need to offer financial incentives to homeowners to take these kinds of actions versus the completely arbitrary removal of native vegetation that does not save a home from burning down. We also have to stop building homes from wood. A fire resistant roof is essential, but it’s still sitting on top of a wood home, an excellent partial solution, but still, just a partial solution.


I am thinking of one GC I spoke to about this who scrunched up his face and said, “hell, we used to build homes out of brick! I don’t need to be trained to do this! Around here, it should be common sense!”. Let’s help the contractors make the transition to building more fire safe homes without burdening them with the total responsibility for it. This is a great place for a public-private partnership! Maybe instead of blowing $40,000 on a “brush clearing” project that won’t do anything but trash the native flora and fauna, we could start spending public money on these sorts of things–things that will save lives and homes and possibly create a positive economic return in the process!

It’s Already Happening! Who is Leading It? The Insurance Industry. Click to learn more about Fire Safe Building Science.

****Underground Overhead Electrical Lines.


Learn more here:

For decades, utility companies have been saying under-grounding electrical lines is too expensive. What’s too expensive? An eternal “vegetation management” program to keep track of every stick of vegetation that may intersect overhead distribution lines? Do you know how many trees this is? What’s too expensive? When lines break and burn hundreds of thousands of acres that include the loss of property and lives? What’s too expensive? Endless lawsuits, the penalties of which can be passed on to us, the customers? Utility companies MUST underground the lines at this point. It can be phased in span by span (when two or more poles need to be replaced) or on a larger scale but it’s time to move on from this:

Aging wood pole with a line hanging off it.
What is this? An aging, cracked, dry wooden pole that is in fact a tree? Our entire electrical system is hung off of, gosh, trees? Aren’t we supposed to be cutting them all down for “fire safety”? And God knows what’s hanging off it. Really? This is our electrical distribution system in 2019? Cause undergrounding would be “too expensive”. (UPDATE! PG&E is now undergrounding 10,000 miles of line! Thank you PG&E!).

***Other ideas I have heard from people include placement of a system of hoses on roofs during a fire (water evaporates quickly however in a fire); one gentleman I talked to told me he likes the idea of placing a pool or lots of them on his roof if he ever evacuated. Hm…

The point is, there are things we could be doing to deal with fire in a realistic way though fire is an unpredictable force so the bottom line is, none of this stuff may work but we need to get OFF the deception that removing vegetation is the answer. It’s NOT. Believe me, I learned this the hard way.

Keep the ideas coming and remember, contact your legislators!

Powered by and