California, being the home of Hollywood, could be considered the capitol of illusion. Dreams are born and die here.
A case in point: With all the rain we’ve had in recent weeks, one might assume 2019 won’t be such a terrible wildfire year. No, that’s an illusion.
In many ways, these downpours may increase the likelihood of devastating fires after the last of the winter storms has come and gone. For example, rain keeps flora growing and greening. After a few weeks of no rain, all that green stuff tends to turn brown and brittle, fuel for the next monster fire.
But this wet winter has done some good. The annual snowpack in the high country is back to normal depths, at 100 percent of the historic average, which means when the snowpack melts in the spring and early summer, it will provide about a third of all of California water customers’ requirements.
But when the storms finally end, and if they leave enough water behind, the real concern becomes the browning landscape and inevitable wildfire siege that has become the new normal in California.
One can only hope it won’t be as bad as last year, one of the worst in California history, and by far one of the costliest wildfire seasons on record.
That was the subject of a gathering last week in the Lompoc Valley, when Santa Barbara County Fire Department officials talked to Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village residents about the importance of developing a comprehensive wildfire protection plan. The bottom line of the meeting was clear — prepare now to prevent disasters later.
Although that gathering focused on issues facing Lompoc Valley residents, the message applies to just about everyone in Santa Barbara County, that now is the time to begin preparations, taking the steps necessary to mitigate some of the wildfire danger.
The Lompoc Valley situation with regard to wildfire is somewhat unique, given the prevalence of chaparral. What is not so unique to North County is the considerations of wildfire preparation technique and costs to taxpayers, situations we all share.
County fire officials suggested that to help solve the funding puzzle, and public safety in general, communities in North County form a special committee to formulate the region’s very own community wildfire protection plan. In fact, because so much of the county is at risk for wildfires, we can see the value of launching a countywide advisory group.
The way county fire officials envision it, such a large-scale plan would be developed in cooperation with property owners and government agencies at all levels, addressing issues specific to each area within the county, and recommending ways to reduce the fire threat. If that plan is agreeable to all parties, it could help identify ways to improve fire safety, which in turn would provide access to federal and state grants to help cover the costs of fire mitigation work.
Anticipating costs is critically important. The final bill for the 2018 fires has yet to be tallied, but it will likely run into the tens of billions. The state’s fire-fighting budget had been wiped out by mid-summer last year. That’s what happens when you have more than 8,500 wildfires spread across this massive state, with fire crews spread so thin enforcements had to come in from distant states.
One thing that is not an illusion in Hollywood-land is the staggering and increasing toll of wildfires. Climate change, human-caused, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how we prepare for the disasters that are certain to come.