As local fire prevention and mitigation efforts race against collective fear of a season of flame, members of the Sonoma County environmental community are calling for priorities to be reassessed.
After a century of fire suppression, authorities have slowly shifted forest management practices. It's largely acknowledged that past practices served more to delay, rather than avoid a natural process.
Now the bill is due.
As state and regional fire agencies race to pivot forest management practices, some, like Maya Khlosa, a wildlife biologist and toxicologist affiliated with the Sonoma Climate Activist Network said some of the old mistakes are being repeated.
Forest thinning, a term she says occasionally obscures more aggressive logging, can actually increase vulnerabilities, especially if cleared areas aren't carefully and repeatedly maintained.
"The grasses and non-natives come in and grow really quickly and those are the things that burn really fast. And the problem is the thinned areas actually burn faster too," she said
Khlosa said that's been documented in a study of more than 1,500 fires.
After four punishing fire seasons, wildfire prep has surged as a top local priority. With state and federal money pouring into the county, Khlosa is urging officials to reassess. Forget forest thinning, she says, and put as much as possible into making homes less physically vulnerable to fire through design, and creating and maintaining defensible space.
"It's just not possible to maintain that at all. It's just millions of acres, and there's no knowing where the fire's going to come from the next time anyway. So, not maintaining that, not focusing on that and just focusing on defensible space primarily, is actually the way to go."
As of Friday afternoon, 14 significant wildfires were burning across California.