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Wildfire Protection Tax

I applaud Senator Ted Gaines who is seeking to repeal a bill recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown that places a mandatory $150 annual “wildfire protection tax” for property owners in rural areas of California. We are already paying for this by the way through our current tax burdens.

There is a concept in resource management called “adaptive management.” What it means is as new credible information (including wisdom and experience) becomes available, management incorporates into its approach, this new information. In my mind, it is just another term for “common sense”.

There is a tremendous amount of new information regarding fires in California, much of it published in scientific journals. The findings are as follows:

  • Catastrophic fires are caused by wind, some of which is generated by the fire itself.
  • Homes set other homes on fire; structures are in fact, the most lethal “fuel” on the landscape.
  • In every major fire since 2003, hundreds of homes have burned down that were “thinned and brush cleared”, sometimes at tax payer expense.
  • Fire is spread by flying embers. Your home can burn down even before the actual “fire” reaches your property. Note that in cities, firefighters stand on the roofs of adjacent buildings. This is to keep the embers from the burning building from spreading the fire. Note there is often very little to no vegetation in these locations.

Using adaptive management, the fire agencies should be considering the following:

  • Instead of destroying native vegetation, especially in wildlands, which has only limited effectiveness, is expensive, removes wildlife habitat and introduces even more flammable noxious weeds into wild areas, focus on WIND and structures as the management strategy for fire.
  • Provide tax incentives for homeowners (on steep slopes especially) to get steel or cement shingle roofs
  • In highly fire dangerous areas such as steep slopes, phase out construction of homes made of wood and highly flammable materials
  • Recognize the hypocrisy of continuing to permit homes on steep slopes as Nevada County has been able to do more easily since it “relaxed” its steep slope ordinance in 2004. Many of these homes are on slopes so steep, the roof is even with the road ABOVE it. These homes have cedar siding or other flammable materials. (You might as well put a box of matches on the slope and light it). What is the purpose of layers and layers of “planning” if these kinds of dangerous decisions are rubber stamped? Then these same entities have the audacity to blame it all on manzanita.
  • Provide incentives for installation of gravity fed community water tanks (i.e. installed on hills) and community based fire response including phone trees, evacuation coordination, and assistance.
  • Provide demonstrations and incentives for people to learn about and possibly purchase fire barricade gels which can leave entire homes standing.
  • Create a Fire Land Trust.

After my home burned down, I offered my land to the open space program in my county. They supported my idea of permanently removing homes from fire dangerous areas (willing seller, willing buyer) but not have the money to buy my land. We need to create a Fire Land Trust that will allow willing landowners to sell their property at fair market value that is then designated as permanent open space. Why put a home back into a stupid place where it will just burn down again? This will also save the taxpayer money.

In 2003, I lost my home in the Cedar Firestorm. No one came for us. Fire crews were stretched to the limit and it was too dangerous for them to attempt to save our neighborhood. Also, tragically, the town’s 50,000 gallon water tank had been emptied to protect the tourist part of town. By the time my neighborhood was on fire, the tank was empty. I lived right next to it and I moved next to it just in case there was a fire. I “brush cleared” but flying embers set my home on fire. My home was gone even before the ground fire reached my property.

Prior to the fire, fire safety personnel from various agencies stopped by my house to encourage me to keeping “brushing” my property. Not ONE of them suggested to me a fire safe roof (and asphalt composite is NOT fire proof–it melts like molasses and collapsed my home) nor fire barricade gels.

This tax is classic “nanny state” empire building. It laziness on the part of the state to enact it. They also better prepare for the slew of lawsuits that will take place when, in spite of paying double, possibly triple taxes for “fire protection”, homes will still burn down– because they will based on the sheer unpredictability of fire. Placing the burden of this issue on the backs of already stressed out and broke landowners (with insufficient public input by the way to pass it) is not recognizing the hypocrisy that got us here in the first place and continues.

It also encourages the fire agencies to keep turning their backs on the REAL things they could do to prevent fires. All landowners who own homes in California must take the responsibility for where their live in their OWN hands and recognize your house could burn down. Instead of taxes, incentives to help us do this would be far more productive. All landowners should oppose this tax. Please contact Ted Gaines to show him your support.