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Below is an article from the Marin IJ written by Dick Spotswood!

Wooded areas of the North Bay have always been subject to the risk of wildfire.

For those living in or near a forest, forest fire is inevitable. Twenty years ago, that reality faded, leading to a false sense of safety. What’s changed is a succession of dry years in Marin and Sonoma counties.

After wildfire destroyed sections of Santa Rosa, the risk has been front and center.

Even if we try to overlook that threat, America’s property insurance companies have made that impossible. We’re now in the same spot as Florida. There, the magnitude of hurricanes increased, convincing insurance carriers that the state is too risky to insure.

Marinites, like other at-risk California counties, are facing wholesale property insurance cancellations or refusals to issue new policies upon sale.

Californians need to regain the insurance industry’s confidence while simultaneously protecting their families’ safety. Do it by taking steps to make it unlikely that a small fire on a windy day doesn’t turn into a catastrophe.

In 2020, 70.8% of Marin voters (excluding Tiburon and Belvedere which opted out) voted to support Measure C to prevent and mitigate dangers from wildfire. Funding is a 10-year parcel tax at the rate of 10 cents per built square foot, $75 per unit in multifamily housing. That tax funds the new Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority with $19.1 million annually.

During the pandemic, I vowed to walk Mill Valley’s network of steps, lanes and paths. What I saw was discouraging. On hillsides, dead brush, fallen limbs and mounds of leaves on adjacent private property were everywhere.

Making those lands more safe is a Herculean task. Clearly, homeowners should do their part by removing flammable cypress, junipers, bamboo and debris.

About 50,000 free home inspections have taken place this year, pushing past the MWPA’s average of about 33,000 per year. They look at home hardening and defensible space, tell residents what’s required by law and what is recommended, indicate what remedial work is grant eligible and when the next free chipper day is scheduled.

Some impacted homeowners are “property rich and cash poor.” They need to apply under the authority’s grant program for assistance.

Their free woodchipper day programs had 3,307 pick-ups in 2022. Residents learn what is recommended to be removed, they do the work, pile debris at assigned spots and the authority picks it up.

Creation of shaded fuel breaks is underway. Oregon State University researchers defined it as “a strip of land where fuel (for example, living trees and brush, and dead branches, needles, or downed logs) has been modified or reduced to limit the fire’s ability to spread rapidly.” These zones won’t prevent wildfires from spreading. They will reduce its intensity and spreading propensity, giving firefighters on the ground and in the air a higher chance of swift containment.

Soon work will commence on shaded fuel breaks in Marin City, Mill Valley, San Rafael and West Marin, plus a 38-mile one in Ross Valley and another 60-mile one in Novato. Twelve miles of fuel breaks have been finished and another 20 miles will be completed in 2023.

It’s a massive task. If the funds can be found, the goal should be doubled to 40 miles annually.

Since wildfire’s risk can’t be eliminated, the MWPA has improved 566 miles of evacuation routes. When its evacuation, ingress and egress risk assessment is complete, residents will see risk ratings for all evacuation routes. It’ll also identify communities that need to improve their emergency communication infrastructure.

Given that wildland fire is the greatest threat to life and property in Marin, there’s an urgency behind these efforts. To expedite that work the partnership between the authority, participating municipalities, county government and, crucially, a full buy-in from at-risk property owners, needs to be intensified.

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Fire Safe Marin

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