My heart goes out to all of those many hundreds of thousands of Californians being affected by the wildfires there. We get the occasional serious wildfire here, but the scale of the fires in southern California and just how many homes and businesses are destroyed or at risk is a little mind-boggling to me. The most recent serious wildfire in Minnesota was the Ham Lake fire this past May. That fire was in a sparsely populated area though, and excellent preparations along with some tremendous firefighting efforts saved the vast majority of structures within the fire perimeter. I've heard that more than 500,000 people have been or currently are under evacuation orders in California. That's just staggering.
Obviously the focus now is correctly on protecting lives and, if possible, property. I would be interested in learning more about how Californians prepare for something like this though. The Ham Lake fire was in an area I'm very familiar with, and I also knew a fair amount about the work that had been done in the Gunflint Trail corridor to mitigate the risks if a wildfire broke out. Much of that work took place after the July 1999 blowdown that dramatically increased the fuel load in the BWCA and along parts of the Gunflint Trail. A program of prescribed burns was developed and executed along with logging the deadfall on privately owned land. Additional equipment and training was allocated to the MN DNR and the Gunflint Trail VFD. And perhaps just as important as those, a major effort was undertaken to educate property owners along the trail about how they could make their homes and cabins more defensible against a wildfire.
The latter included improving access to the property; if a fire rig can't easily get down a driveway, and more importantly quickly get out, firefighters may decide that property is either too difficult or too dangerous to try to defend. It also included surveys and education on brush clearing and removing potential fuel that is close to any structures. And finally, they encouraged people to do whatever they could to make roofs fire resistant to sparks and to install a wildfire sprinkler system of some sort if they had access to a reliable supply of water. One of the interesting things about those sprinkler systems by the way, is if a property owner enrolls in and follows the guidelines of the program, the Gunflint Trail VFD will try to keep that system operating if the homeowner is evacuated.
With that as background, and I recognize that we are looking at completely different terrain, climate, and scope of urban/wildland interface than what I described above, I'm curious about the approaches that government and individuals are taking to mitigate wildfire risks in southern California. I'm not looking to point fingers, but to get educated. I did some searching on the web today and found some information, but not a lot on any specific community action plans. I'll do some more looking in the days ahead, but if anyone stops by and has some links to that kind of info, I'd appreciate it.