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Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa: Our Perspective


Fire Safe Marin was formed in 1991, shortly after the Tunnel Fire in the Oakland and Berkeley hills burned 3,400 structures and killed 25 people.  Our newfound mission was simple – to bring people, agencies, and landowners together to address Marin’s wildfire risk collaboratively.  Along with San Mateo County’s newly formed “Fire Safe Council,” this idea was a resounding success, and the Fire Safe Marin, FIRE SAFE San Mateo model was soon adopted nationwide as Fire Safe Councils took our lead and fomed in all 50 states.  We are now in our 26th year.

It’s All in the History

While Marin has a history of large destructive wildfires, your fire departments have largely been successful at preventing destruction for the last 75 years.  Until this month, the Tunnel Fire in Oakland was the most destructive wildfire in modern US history, having burned only 11 miles from Marin’s border.  Four years later, a 12,000 acre wildfire in right at home in Marin, the 1995 Vision Fire near Inverness, burned 45 homes and consumed 1,000 acres per-hour as it’s wind-driven flames raced through the National Park to the coast.  Marin’s fire agencies were put to the test as fires burned each subsequent year in California – a Marin firefighter was killed fighting the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego, which would take the #2 spot on the list of destructive wildfires. Then, just two years ago in 2015, the third worst wildfire in US history occurred 33 miles from us when the Valley Fire destroyed much of Middletown in Lake County.  Building codes changed, fire safety and evacuation plans were addressed and updated after each event.  Communities recovered and neighbors soon forgot the risk.

On October 5, 2017 the US national Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for the entire North Bay, including Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties.   This fire weather warning triggered emails and messages from Fire Safe Marin and local emergency responders to notify the public: the NWS message stated that this would be the most severe “fire weather” to occur in at least the past decade in the North Bay, with strong dry winds predicted acoss the entire region.  

On October 8, as predicted, the winds materialized.  The Tubbs fire fire burned to within 12 miles of Marin during this “Diablo” wind event, when dry winds ranging from 8-68 MPH blew across the North Bay Mountains from the northeast, much as they did during the Oakland, Vision, and Valley Fires.  At least 8 more fires started in the Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino that night, one skirting the border of Novato.  In the subsequent hours and days, nearly 8,500 structures would burn, at least 43 people were killed, and the record books again were broken.  This would become the most destructive firestorm in modern US history, destroying nearly 3 times the homes and killing almost twice as many people as the Oakland fire, now relegated to number two on the record books.

That the two most damaging wildfires in US history burned less than 12 miles from Marin’s borders is important.  There is no condition – not the vegetation, not the terrain, not the climate or weather patterns, that protects Marin from the potential of a fire like these.  That a fire did not ignite in Marin on the night of October 8 was largely luck.  While Marin’s fire agencies and Fire Safe Marin work to protect Marin’s infrastructure, address fuels, and enact codes and plans to address Marin’s wildfire threat, the risk is real.

Please follow our guidelines to prepare your family for the eventuality of a large and destructive wildfire in Marin.  Your family’s survival depends on your’s, and your community’s, preparation.

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