As California Wildfires Rage–Don’t Get Mad, Get Preventative—Pass SB 1500 and 1637!2 min read

For many Californians, this year’s early wildfire season has awakened us to one of the harshest realities we must face: some parts of California are always going to burn.

Some people have considered this information and come to the wrong conclusions.

Sen. Sam Aanestad held a one-sided “Legislative Wildfire Summit” that purported to probe the reason behind the more than 2,000 devastating wildfires that have swept California. Essentially, he said that more past logging in forest areas would have lessened the effect of these current wildfires.

The Grass Valley Republican concluded his event by sending out a press release that included the following quote: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. This didn’t have to happen.”

He’s right about one thing: It didn’t have to happen – and it doesn’t have to keep happening.

We can start by thinking more about land-use decisions. Senate Bill 1500, a Sierra Club California priority bill, gives CalFire a chance to develop helpful guidance documents for local government, and offer CalFire a greater role in reviewing and commenting on General Plan Safety Elements as well as projects built in State Responsibility Areas and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone. And we can escalate our fire-prevention strategies by providing funding to prevent damage to local communities already in unsafe areas.

SB 1617, another Sierra Club California-backed bill, would provide new funds for proactive fire protection by assessing fees on the houses already built in the fire-prone area. But Senator Aanestad has voted against SB 1500 and SB 1617, just as he voted against a 2004 bill that increased defensible space requirements, Senate Bill 1369. Now state law, the 2004 bill required homeowners to clear 100 feet of defensible space around homes in fire-prone areas – a move the insurance industry has credited with saving homes during wildfire.

A robust fire suppression program to protect lives and homes will always need to be a core part of California’s fire management efforts. Still, 2008’s tragedies have reminded us all that we can’t address fire by suppression alone – we need to get smarter about how we plan and prepare for inevitable fires, and stop exacerbating the problem by building homes in harm’s way.

We best honor those who have died and suffered in these wildfires not by getting “mad,” but by making good planning and spending decisions that promise families and firefighters a safer future.

Please encourage your representatives to support SB 1500 and SB 1617, to protect homes, families and firefighters.

Paul Mason has been a legislative representative for Sierra Club California since 2002.