Karl Rodefer didn’t waste any time in his new chairmanship of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors to address one of the most important issues facing this community.
At the first full meeting of the new board, he announced an effort to study and enact a full-throated response to protect Tuolumne County from wildfire.
The loss of 86 people and the decimation of the town of Paradise proved a grim reminder of what can happen when geography, weather and insufficient planning meet fire.
Make no mistake, the parallels between Paradise and Sonora are stark. It does not overstate the situation to say this could happen here.
Tuolumne County, Rodefer said, has made forest management and attacking dead trees the centerpiece of its effort to reduce wildfire.
“We must, while continuing those ongoing efforts, rethink how we are approaching that work in order to converge on a common, countywide both near- and longer-term effort to make our county both as resistant to wildfire and as responsive to wildfire when it happens as possible,” he said Tuesday.
He wisely selected Supervisor Sherri Brennan to lead the effort. Brennan has a vast knowledge of forest practices and has served on a number of boards and commissions relating to forestry. She’s also a problem solver.
“It’s really how do we expand and move this faster,” Brennan said Tuesday.
But here’s the rub. This must be a true countywide effort. Everyone has a role to play, because the moving pieces are so many.
A Los Angeles Times investigation into the Camp Fire in Paradise found the community was doomed from the start due to gale-force winds in a nearby canyon driving the fire into a community with few roads out. Also, firefighters and emergency personnel had trained, but never for something as deadly the Camp Fire.
“In truth, the destruction was utterly predictable, and the community’s struggles to deal with the fire were the result of lessons forgotten and warnings ignored. The miracle of the tragedy, local officials now concede, is how many people escaped,” the newspaper said.
Tuolumne County’s geography is similar to Paradise, and sadly, emergency planning for fire is not as system-wide as it should be.
Tuolumne County’s Emergency Operations Plan has not been updated since 2012. The Union Democrat reported last year that the county is waiting on a $10,000 grant to get that going, a true lame excuse if we’ve ever heard one.
The delay means the lessons learned in the 2013 Rim Fire and the many other huge firestorms since are not considered. There are no maps to guide residents out of harm’s way. Public alerts need attention because they’ve been spotty in recent emergencies.
It cannot be overemphasized that this absolutely must be an all-hands-on-deck effort.
Rodefer put it like this: “Unproductive public gridlock hindering progress will constitute in and of itself a public safety hazard. We must all agree that the status quo is unacceptable, and that we must make timely progress or we will be home to a future Paradise disaster — pure and simple.”
Just as Rodefer recognized, there is no time to waste.