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Wildfire in Australia Reminds Community to Prepare for Fire Season in Advance

January 6, 2020

As news floods in from the Australian fire siege, Mill Valley residents are reminded that California’s next fire season is just around the corner. We also should note that (less than 42 miles from Mill Valley) Sonoma County’s historically largest fire, the Kincade Fire, which consumed over 77,000 acres, destroying 374 structures and injuring four people was extinguished just a few short weeks ago. According to the Associated Press, the Australian fires have consumed 12.35 million acres, destroyed over 1500 homes, and killed at least 23 people with all numbers anticipated to sharply rise in the coming weeks.

Also tragic, and reported by the Associated Press, is that over one-half billion birds, reptiles, and mammals in the New South Wales region have been killed, with entire species likely being wiped out. This number is exponentially more significant when considering all of the areas across the Australian continent. It is expected that thousands of acres have burned so hot that the earth is rendered sterilized and thus will not support a return of vegetation to the affected areas.

Fire needs three things to maintain continuous combustion.  We call this the fire triangle (fuel, heat, and oxygen).  Fire needs an available and continuous bed of fuel.  Of the three elements of the fire triangle fuel is the only element that residents have control over.  Although Smokey the Bear has been working nonstop to prevent wildland fires through education, we continue to experience destructive fires.  Selectively and smartly removing fire-prone fuels, allows for the net reduction of fuel near your home and away from your evacuation routes.  Strategically planting fire-resistive plants, as noted at Firesafemarin.org, is a crucial step forward.  Before fire season returns, remove the fire prone fuels away from your home and plant some beautiful fire-smart replacements.

For Marin County the fire return interval (the return rate of fire to the landscape) was thought to occur every 8 to 18 years. The return interval of fire is a natural process that consumes the smaller invasive vegetation, and cleans the forest floor of down and dead vegetation with a result of removing fuel amounts known as tons of fuel per acre. The outcome is a lower intensity and less destructive fire. Since we have built our homes and communities into the forested areas known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and we have interrupted the fire return interval by suppressing all fires, we have a collective responsibility to manage our properties, more specifically, the fuels that surround our homes. Fewer fuels mean less intensive fires and more opportunities to save your home, lives, and wildlife. Over the winter, develop a plan or take action now to reduce fuels from your landscape and replant with fire-resistive plantings (firesafemarin.org). If you want to understand better what fuels and where they should be treated, please call your local fire department for guidance.  

Evacuation is another issue in focus for our "down under" friends. More than 100,000 residents have been evacuated, moving towards beaches and green opens spaces until conditions improve. Mill Valley has planned for the very same circumstances by identifying our primary and secondary evacuation routes and Community Refuge Areas (CRA). A CRA is an identified area or wide-open green space (golf course, bay front parks and school ball fields) that the community can congregate for a brief period until directed elsewhere by the authorities. Please follow the link to watch a basic evacuation video and your local neighborhood map. The time is now to take action within your home by developing a family/neighborhood evacuation plan, collecting the essentials for your grab and go bag, as well as practice, practice, practice. Fire Season is just around the corner.

The Emergency Preparedness Commission (EPC) is a City Council represented Commission dedicated to the preparedness of the community, its neighborhoods and residents. It is a proven fact that connected neighborhoods are more resilient than those who don't talk, meet, or prepare. The EPC is actively looking for neighborhoods to host a review of all subjects encompassed in this article. For more information, please contact the Mill Valley Fire Department.

Mill Valley Fire Department
1 Hamilton Drive
Mill Valley CA 94941
Non-Emergency Phone: (415) 389-4130
Email: fire@cityofmillvalley.org