USA –Two months ago, I toured the embattled Butte Lightning Complex fire area and spoke to a homeowner the day after she had lost everything. She was wandering down a dirt road near Paradise looking for her lost horse, stunned, and asking, “Why did this happen?”
Why did this happen?
The devastation caused by wildfires this year and in past years is heart-wrenching and horrible for the rural communities of California. This year we are suffering from the worst fire season the North State has experienced in the last 30 years.
I watched the lightning bolts light up the skies last June and awoke the next morning to learn that there were over 1,000 active fires in California. In all, more than 2,000 wildfires have erupted across California this summer.
Fifteen people are dead – including a group of nine firefighters who were killed recently while battling the Buckhorn Wildfire in Trinity County. More than 1 million acres of timber and grassland have burned in the state, with the cost of these wildfires currently at $1 billion and growing.
And that’s not counting the incredible cost of over 500 homes lost and the uncertainty and stress caused by wildfire sweeping toward neighborhoods around the northern part of our state.
While I am proud of the incredible efforts by Calfire and multiple other agencies that battle these blazes, the evidence is clear that there is so much that could have been done to prevent such catastrophic wildfires.
We know that current government rules and restrictions on thinning activities and other forestry management practices have led to increased severity of wildfires in California.
We know that proper forest management practices can and have reduced both the number and the severity of wildfires.
Last week, some of the most respected people in forest management and fire appeared before a gathering of federal and state lawmakers to discuss what can be done, including the state fire marshal and representatives of the Forest Service.
Everyone agrees that one action we must – and should – take is to reduce the fuels that turn a fire into a catastrophic wildfire.
We know the answer and we can look to the experience in Lake Tahoe for it. After last year’s Angora Fire in the Lake Tahoe area, the governors of California and Nevada created the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission, which resulted in real action, not just words. They initiated:
• Real emergency action to permit removal of hazardous fuels in our forests that endanger our communities.
• Real emergency action to set aside red tape that prevented homeowners from removing trees that threatened their homes.
• Real emergency action that forced local, state and federal agencies to work together to get things done.
These actions have changed the way fire is viewed in the Lake Tahoe basin – the people of Lake Tahoe are not waiting for the next catastrophe – they are taking action today and government agencies are facilitating that action.
The people in other rural parts of California deserve the same kind of protection for their homes and their communities.
Our state government, led by the governor, should call on the Forest Service to expedite thinning projects and fuel load reductions in our horribly overcrowded forests – and not settle for a non-answer.
The governor should issue emergency orders to do everything necessary now – not next year – now.
The people of Northern California do not have time for obstruction or inaction. Their homes, their jobs and their lives depend on real action. We must take steps today to prevent tomorrow’s catastrophe.
State Sen. Sam Aanestad of Grass Valley represents the 4th state Senate District, covering 12 Northern California counties.