FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It

Driven by triple-digit temperatures and high winds, the La Tuna fire scorched 7,194 acres of shrubland and forest in the western Verdugo Mountains area of Los Angeles, Glendale and Burbank last summer, making it the largest fire to occur within Los Angeles city limits in half a century. What made the La Tuna fire truly remarkable was not its size, however, but the lessons it provided for our changing fire season, which seems to begin earlier and end later every year.

By the time the fire was out, there were nearly 1,400 homes either within the fire perimeter or within 200 feet of its path, yet only five homes were destroyed in the blaze.

How is this possible?

Los Angeles is a national leader in encouraging, and enforcing, fire-safe principles for homes.

Angelenos are used to annual inspections and notices about “defensible space” — the practice of reducing combustible grasses, shrubs and small trees within 100 feet of homes each spring. If people do not get around to the task, city workers will simply do it for them, and the homeowners get the bill. Moreover, the city constantly updates building codes as new information arises about how to make homes more fireproof.

While more than 99% of the homes survived the La Tuna fire, there were a few that did not. These were in remote areas that escaped annual monitoring for defensible space, or had not been updated with ember-proof vents, which prevent firebrands from being driven into attic spaces by high winds.

That is to say: The system works, so long as we let it work. Home protection must begin long before a fire does.

Despite the evidence, many policymakers still mistakenly believe that wildland fires behave unpredictably, and that their effect on homes is similarly unpredictable. That leads to inaction.

More troubling, some politicians are now attempting to use the loss of homes and lives in recent wildland fires as an excuse to reduce environmental protections and increase commercial logging in our national forests under the guise of “thinning.”

President Trump backed this disastrous approach in a recent series of tweets.

The truth is that vegetation management activities beyond 100 feet from individual homes provides no additional protection from wildfires. But Trump’s two-pronged strategy —less protection, more logging — is worse than pointless: It has been proven to increase a fire’s intensity and spread. And as if that weren’t bad enough, it will also give rural residents a false sense of security.

The way forward is simple, based on solid science and common sense. We must focus on the 100-foot perimeter around homes, create better fire-warning and evacuation infrastructures, and increase the number of rangers and law enforcement deployed to prevent human ignitions near communities.

If we take these steps, and prioritize them in our funding and policymaking decisions, we can coexist with fire, which is a natural part of most ecosystems. If, however, we allow cynical or misinformed politicians to use recent tragedies as an excuse to enrich the logging industry, that will not only imperil wildlife populations with habitat loss, but also virtually guarantee more large-scale losses of homes and lives in the future.

This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

More articles by:

Chad Hanson is an ecologist with the John Muir Project. He has a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California at Davis, and focuses his field research on forest and fire ecology, particularly in California. He is coeditor and coauthor of the book: The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs
George Wuerthner
Montana’s Wilderness Deficit
Colin Todhunter
Officials Ignore Pesticides and Blame Alcohol and Biscuits for Rising Rates of Disease
Volker Franke
Me First and the Loss of Compassion
Adolf Alzuphar
Why is the Left Without a Single Elected Official in LA?
Kim C. Domenico
All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace A Chance (Bring It Home!)
Jennifer Matsui
The End of Aquarius and The Dawn of a Death Star: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Missy Comley Beattie
Never Forget
James Haught
Prodding ‘Nones’ to Vote
David Swanson
For the First Time in My Life I’m Against Impeaching the President
Nicky Reid
Yemen as Arabian Vietnam
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb
Fred Gardner
Homage to the Tabloids
Yves Engler
RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy
Stephen Cooper
Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected”
David Yearsley
Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail