I doubt if many homeowners in the path of a wildfire complain about paying taxes for government services like fire protection.
When you stand in the path of advancing flames and watch curtains of roiling, billowing smoke obscure most of the sky, it’s a great comfort to see a crew of yellow-uniformed firefighters standing alongside you. When the crew chief shakes your hand and says, “We’re making a stand here. We will save this house,” it really means something.
This is just what happened to us over the past several days in the Sand fire along the border of El Dorado and Amador counties, where we have a small house and some forest we call home.
Watching 15,000-foot smoke plumes approach from a quarter-mile away is nature’s way of telling you how small and puny you really are. Luckily for us, we weren’t alone, and with the assistance of 2,000 firefighters and an arsenal of equipment, we and most of our neighbors just dodged the flames.
While a good bit of our property in this bone-dry river valley was burned, our house and barn survived. We were well-prepared at the house – 200-feet of cleared defensible space; metal roof and stucco walls; a 5,000-gallon water tank and pond in reserve – but still we barely made it.
A Cal Fire bulldozer driver made one of the most significant contributions, helping us extend that defensible space we had already built into our home site. The morning after the flames turned and made a run upslope at us, charred grass was touching the fire break.
Firefighter teams parked in our driveway, slept on our grass and spent several days at and around our place, just as they did up and down both sides of the Consumes River between Plymouth and Mount Aukum. They were Cal Fire crews, Forest Service hotshots and volunteer prison inmates, and all acted with skill and courage defending our place.
Firetrucks – almost 200 at one point – bore the names of distant home bases: Santa Barbara, Red Bluff, Yocha Dehe from the Wintun Nation. They came from San Diego and Santa Clara County and Hollister and doubtless far beyond.
Constant helicopter traffic supplied a Vietnam sound track to the scene, and there were audible gasps – mine perhaps among them – when the DC-10 jumbo jet cruised by just overhead to deliver its 12,000-gallon loads of fire retardant.
California’s historical drought obviously is the immediate culprit in this, but it seems apparent that as climate change and global warming accelerate, these events will only grow more common.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously” that the reality became clear to him during his terms in office. Fire season seemed to arrive earlier and linger longer until finally he was told, “Governor, there really is no fire season. The fires are going to be all year round. ... Something has changed here. ... It was really clear that climate change had a lot to do with these things,” Schwarzenegger said.
Wildfires – like super hurricanes, coastal and river flooding, blizzards and heat waves – are frighteningly expensive to combat. Having failed to invest in systems to mitigate or alleviate climate change, we are left now with no choice but to fight its effects.
This is why it’s important that we continue to think about that, and the taxes we pay and the lifestyles we lead. And remember: Mother Nature bats last.