Fire Risk Eclipses All City Priorities
In the aftermath of what may have been California’s worst fire season, I have decided what I want most from our City Council in the coming year is a more realistic ongoing fire fuel modification program in all of our brush infested interior canyons and slopes.
This may be a bigger ask than you think. It may seem like a no brainer. You fight the fire before it happens by starving it of fuel. In the past no-brainers have been tough for us to understand.
Prior to the October 1993 fire there was resistance to the water district’s efforts to construct a 2.5 million- gallon buried water reservoir on top of Temple Hills. It took the loss of nearly 400 homes coupled with the fact that our fire hydrants made sucking noises rather than produce a flow of water for reality to set in. Even then the opposition continued until at last the water district condemned the land and built this much need reservoir.
This reservoir is fully buried, but the big objection was “we can’t have that in our wilderness reserve, it isn’t natural.”
Later the district constructed another 5 million gallon buried reservoir above North Laguna. Similar objections were raised to that facility as well. Look up at that hill today and tell me where the reservoir is. You can’t see it.
The district stepped up and addressed the water supply problem. But the bigger problem of unabated fuel loads remains.
While we have made a good beginning with our present fuel management programs, this past fire season clearly shows it is time to do more.
Any realistic fuel modification program is going to face opposition from those that want to save our interior canyons and slopes in their present condition. These interior canyons and slopes are not natural wilderness. Not anymore. They are unmaintained patches of brush surrounded on all sides by homes and development. Homes that will burn if we don’t modify the risk to them from brush that hasn’t burned in over a 100 years.
This brush in its natural condition evolved to burn regularly. Fire is how nature grooms it and how the plants geminate and regenerate. Once we build our homes in and around this brush we no longer allow it to burn and fuel loads build to critical levels.
Recent images of fire we saw on TV show what this brush can look like once it catches on fire. It is not a sight we want to see in our village.
This past year, council member Bob Whalen floated a $200 million idea to underground all of our utilities for fire safety. Utilities didn’t start the 1993 fire. An arsonist did. Even if we buried every utility in town, the next arson set fire will burn just like the last one did if we don’t get real about these fuel loads.
We would be a lot better off for a lot less money in a much shorter time if we trim this brush in all our interior canyons and slopes.
Earlier this year the City Council found some extra millions of dollars and invited civic groups to come up with suggestions on how to use it. The resulting scrum of applicants looked a lot like a bunch of third world kids selling Chicklets to the tourists. Not one of these applicants addressed the biggest threat to health and safety facing this village in the need to mitigate the fuel load in our brush.
Now is the time to face this existential threat to our village and homes presented by the build up of fuel in the brush on our interior canyons and slopes. There is nothing more important to our lifestyle. Not parking, not short term rentals, not the village entrance, not unfunded employee pensions or any of the other issues that distract us. Because if your home burns down, you don’t have a lifestyle.
JJ Gasparotti, a 60-year resident and retired building contractor, also served as a volunteer fire fighter and on the boards of Design Review, Laguna Beach County Water District, Laguna Canyon Conservancy Board and Historical Society. He swims at Woods Cove.