Past Wildfire Lessons Guide Us


    We’ve been living with wildfire in California for a few years now. As the power and destruction of the wildfires has grown, clearly the best preparation involves an entire community. The process takes time to educate and mobilize all stakeholders. Looking back to past fires can help us move forward.
    The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency recently published, “Tahoe in Depth Special Issue, Caldor Fire, Fall 2021, Issue 20.”
    While a change of the wind helped the firefighters, the report states, “In the neighborhoods where the Caldor Fire threatened homes, residents successfully active in creating defensible space and recent fuel reduction projects had thinned trees and removed dead woody debris.
    “Publicly owned urban lots in the neighborhoods had received initial fuel reduction treatments as well. These combined tactics improved the odds for firefighters and gave them the room to work.”
    The fuel reduction work was done over many years. For more information on Tahoe in Depth, visit
    Lessons can be learned from the Camp Fire too. Yana Valachovic, the county director-forest advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, and a registered forester and scientist, wrote about her visit to Paradise for the Fire Adapted Communities website on Dec. 2.
    She found strong statistical signals showing how we can adapt our homes and properties to fire exposure.
    We are Interdependent:
    “Over 73% of homes destroyed in Paradise had a structure burn within 18 m (59 feet),” wrote Valachovic. If you haven’t hardened your home, it could take out your neighbor’s home. Density creates vulnerability. This means we need to look out for each other.
    Homes are fuel too:
    “Burning homes appeared to catch neighboring trees on fire more than trees catching homes on fire,” she continued. Homes should have non-combustible gutter guards. Investing in a Class A roof is critical, while shake roofs are very dangerous. All vents should be ember-resistant. That five-foot perimeter around the house and decks needs to be clear of mulch, wooden planters and woody plants. Upgrading to tempered, double-paned windows also would help.
    Construction Practices are helping:
    The age of a home is important. Only 11% of single-family homes built before 1996 survived, compared with 39% of homes built after 1996. Surprisingly, homes built to the 2008 WUI construction standards did not increase a home’s survival when compared to homes constructed between 1997-2007. Regardless, it is extremely important to harden older homes.
    For more information on Paradise, visit
    These quiet months are the perfect time to have a look around your home, meet up with your neighbors and work on home-hardening while creating defensible space.
    While there is no guarantee your home will withstand a wildfire, you can tilt the odds in your favor. Keep chipping away at making your home and neighborhood safer each year. Every bit you do will help you and your neighbors.

Melanie Light can be reached at

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