Seventh Inning Stretch on Wildfires

(Melanie Light, Photographer)
Firewise members Kathleen Bain and Doreen Rau take out Scotch broom bush.

    If we are not quite to the seventh inning on this fire season, we are close enough to take a breath, give ourselves a pat on the back and consider how far we have come. While the threat of a wildfire has never been more real, we are actually safer than we were two years ago. Then, there was little consciousness that a wildfire could actually hit our beloved community. Chief Winnacker was giving his wildfire talks over and over, to no avail. I remember hearing his talk at a meeting I went to for an entirely different subject and, at first, was wondering why on earth I needed to hear from the fire district. Then, I was rocked to the core to learn just how vulnerable we are as a wildland urban interface in this new age of climate change.
    Eventually, people started responding, and a Firewise group or two sprang up. Since then, awareness and action have snowballed. In just a short time, at least 16 Firewise groups have been certified with more starting all the time. Tons of excess fuel has been removed over the course of two years by individuals and through the MOFD (Moraga-Orinda Fire District) chipper program. We have the North Orinda Fuel Break, and MOFD uses high tech monitoring systems to warn us of a fire.
    I have seen residents Keith St. Claire and Derrick Prosser tackle the Scotch broom around Lake Cascade on their own. I’ve seen GoFundMe campaigns to help fixed-income homeowners get rid of dead and dangerous trees on their property and neighbors working together to face our common enemy. The only silver lining to the new threat of wildfire is that we are coming together as a community as never before. While Orindans have always been incredibly generous to others in need, it is a bit new for us to admit we need the help of others. And make no mistake, the only way we can tame the threat of a wildfire is to recognize that we are interdependent. Unlike earthquake preparation when individual preparation might suffice, if I do not take action with my home, then I am putting you in danger; and, if you don’t do your work, then I am in danger.
    Similarly, it seems clear that we need an integrated approach to wildfire management all the way to the federal level. Our local stakeholders – Orinda, Moraga and MOFD – are now united in an effort to address fire prevention together. The Firewise groups have formed a network in the Orinda Firewise Council which is reaching out beyond the city boundaries to work with state Assembly-Member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, State Insurance Commissioner Lara and even the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to get better communications during evacuations. California members of Congress McNerney, Eshoo and Matsui have also sent a letter to the FCC urging them to do everything they can to “ensure that Californians stay connected during this time,” and have requested a report on exactly what their plan is to keep us safe during wildfires and rolling blackouts.
    We have a long way to go until we have removed decades of overgrowth and dead and dangerous trees. The recent virtual evacuation revealed that there are some issues with our emergency warning system. Insurance companies are in flux as they re-calibrate their risk assessment models, leaving us in a vulnerable position with our homeowner insurance policies. But we are all working hard to understand the elements at play and finding ways to fix problems we identify. I feel so proud of my Orinda and how we are meeting the challenges presented by wildfire. Keep it up – we can do it.

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