Savannah Trail, Helen Putnam Regional Park in Petaluma
photo credit: Flickr

The Greenbelt Alliance is an organization that advocates greenbelts, or open spaces like parks, preserves and agriculture lands to create natural buffers between communities and wildlands.

"We believe that there is huge potential for the Bay Area and other fire prone areas to accelerate using greenbelts to better prepare for wildfire," said Sarah Cardona, deputy director for Greenbelt Alliance.

And Cardona said greenbelts have already worked in Sonoma County. During the Kincade fire in 2019 the town of Windsor was largely saved by regional parks and open spaces, giving firefighters space to defend homes.

Timothy Ingalsbee, of Firefighters United for Safety, said this empty land is useful for wildfire defense.

"These greenbelts are places where you can layout hoses, move engines, light fire and counter fire in a safe manner," Ingalsbee said.

He also said the spaces can also be used for prescribed burns, which indigenous communities have used for centuries to prepare land against fire.

Misti Arias with Sonoma County agriculture preservation and open space district favors using cultivated land as greenbelts.

"There are certain types of agricultural crops, particularly permanent crops like vineyard, and fire does not burn in those areas in the same way at all," Arias said."As a matter of fact, we saw some areas where fire completely avoided vineyard and went in a different route."

Advocates said greenbelts have dual purposes, like growing food for communities and creating spaces that are both good for the environment and good for people, like parks and bike pathways.

Ingalsbee said the takeaway for greenbelts is, we need to learn to live with fire, rather than simply try to prevent it.

"Smokey's wrong,"Ingalsbee said. "You can't prevent all wildfires, accidents happen, arsonists commit crime, power lines fall down, lightening strike. We really need a partnership with home owners and communities."


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