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Sonora Dodged a Bullet

Remember the Washington Fire? It’s been a couple of weeks now, so many of you might have already forgotten. My family won’t be forgetting about it for a long time. We almost lost our business [Central Heat and Air/Robinson Roofing.] The Washington Fire burned literally right up to our back gate and stopped there. Had the wind been blowing harder, it would have been all over. Twenty-some of our friends and neighbors would have instantly been unemployed. That is a sobering thought.

Others across the street and by the sewer plant were not so lucky. A half dozen or more families lost their homes and everything they owned. Now we know that someone lost their life as well. It’s time we do something about this before Sonora burns to the ground again. Yes, it has happened before… multiple times!

When we think of wildfires, we usually think of them happening out in the forest. Think again. Remember what happened to Paradise in the Camp fire and Calaveras County in the Butte fire. And what about other recent fires in El Dorado County, a near neighbor of ours. And around Tahoe? Statistics tell us it can happen here, and it’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when – so we must prepare!

The problem here, where we live, is the same as it is out in the forest. Grass, brush, and trees keep growing and adding fire fuel to a landscape that is already choked with too much fuel. There’s so much fuel there that when a fire starts late in the hot, dry summer, we can’t quickly stop it. The conditions are primed for a conflagration!

Fortunately, to give our community a chance to survive, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Lots of thought, study and planning have gone into this issue. All we have to do is do our part. Information on the subject is readily available from NFPA (National Fire Preventions Association) on the web via videos. Here’s one.

So, what else can we do? First, take care of our own property. Evaluate the fire risks that could result in your house going up in flames and eliminate them. Watch the video above, learn what the problems are and eliminate them. Will your house be one of the ones that does survive?

Second, take a look around at your neighbors’ properties and see if they need work. If it does, talk to them. Tell them about the risks and the solutions-maybe even help them. Get it done. Everyone benefits!

Third, we need to encourage the managers of our public lands to evaluate the fire risks on public properties (and there are a lot of them in our rural counties). They need to put together a plan to treat them and then budget funds to pay for this necessary work. Did you know that the hill behind my shop belongs to the City of Sonora, and because it had never been treated, it was the place that burned the hottest in the Washington Fire?

Beyond our own property, our neighbors’ and publicly owned property, we need to take action community wide. Take a look around. Check out all the brush filled ravines and brush covered hills that are choked with fire fuhe whole town. There are not just a few islands of hazardous fuels in our community, we are surrounded and live in tels. The right spark under the right conditions and fire will burn though adjacent neighborhoods or maybe through the middle of a landscape of potential fire hazards. We have to treat these areas if we want to minimize the threats to our lives and properties. We can’t prevent fire, but with thinning, brush removal and clearing spaces around homes and neighborhoods, we can reduce the threat of devastating loss.

Fortunately, some action has already been taken to put this work in motion. A fund has been set up at the Sonora Area Foundation to pay for fire safety work done in our community for our protection. The CWPF (Community Wildfire Protection Fund) was established in 2020 by TuCARE (Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources & Environment) to help private landowners get the needed fuel reduction work done and maintain those areas in perpetuity with regular maintenance. The website for more information is

Project applications will be reviewed by a committee, contractors will be hired to perform the work and SAF will pay them as the work is completed. No red tape, no overhead, just work done to make our community safer. It’s time to step up and invest in the community you live in so that it will be here for your children and grandchildren. Donations should be made directly to SAF with a notation that they are for the CWPF.

As a closing thought, I want to tell you about an employee of mine that used to live in Paradise. During the Camp Fire, his house burned down, the business he worked at burned down, the bank he kept his money in burned down, the grocery store he bought food burned down, the gas station where he fueled his vehicles burned down, the school his children went to burned down and the hospital his children were born in burned down. His life in Paradise is gone.

If we don’t want this to happen here, we need to act now.

Jeff Sargo, TuCare Board Member