Fire Adapted Community News – March 2023


Fires, Floods and Drought – Oh My!

    California is a special place – as much for its beauty, diverse and dynamic economy and outdoor lifestyle – as it is for disasters.
    We, who choose to live here, have become accustomed to preparing for disaster. For many years, we dutifully maintained our earthquake kits. Now we must add wildfire prevention along with the possibility of floods and mudslides.
    After living with a perma-drought for years, it seems we got a break this winter when the nine atmospheric rivers crashed through the state. This particular good news brings new dangers and concerns in the form of floods and mudslides.
    California has “young” mountains, which are still moving and covered in loose rocks and soil. When the ground is dry, it can’t really absorb water. Instead, water runs off the hardened soil, picking up soil and debris as it goes.
    We also know excess water can cause the earth on hillsides to buckle and slide, as happened to two Orinda homes this winter.
    The rain will cause vegetation to grow fast and thick this spring, which then turns to dry fuel in the wildfire season. This encourages residents to clear the new growth and debris. However, if homeowners are too zealous in clearing their property of trees and other vegetation that helps keep the earth stable, a season of heavy rain, like the one we had, will undermine the earth. It feels like a no-win situation.
    Clearing all properties remains a good idea. If Orinda has a wildfire, subsequent rains could undermine the earth on the hills much more easily. In addition to losing vegetation, which helps absorb water and slow flooding, the top layer of ash and burnt topsoil is water repellent. Similar to pavement, lesser amounts of rainfall can produce flash floods or cause downhill slides. These can be very fast and unpredictable.
    The goal is to tread a middle path, using the recommended guidelines to eliminate ladder fuels, limb up and so on. Information about this is at the Moraga Orinda Fire District’s website and at the City of Orinda video:
    The right tools to protect Orinda homes and lives are available and it doesn’t take much to make our homes more resilient. Now is a good time to remove the trees and limbs knocked down by the recent storms. Take advantage of the free volunteer assessment and chipper programs and find out if you are eligible for the City’s Fire Fuels Reduction matching grant program.
    After the work is done, go out and enjoy this beautiful state, feeling more in tune and on top of its rhythms and wild beauty!

Melanie Light can be reached at

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