Fire management a hot issue

As Southern California starts to recover from a spate of wildfires that devastated the region, local officials and a major Bay Area landowner are examining how to prevent a similar situation from repeating itself here.

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District holds a study session Tuesday on fire management, in an attempt to create a plan for everything from allocating resources in the event of a major fire to preventing such blazes in the first place.

Plans have been afoot for more than two years on this issue, and coincidentally happened to come when the fires raged between Santa Barbara and San Diego, district resource planner Kirk Lenington said. But the timeliness of the fires adds urgency to the situation that San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said the Bay Area could benefit from.

The district owns approximately 55,000 acres of land between Pacifica and Morgan Hill, with the majority of the land following the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains along state Route 35, Lenington said. Much of this land is forested with redwood trees and Douglas firs, but the interior lands are covered with ignitable chaparral and other risky plant life, Lenington said.

An education component is also part of the proposed fire management plan.

“All areas are at risk,” Lenington said. “Especially when you look at the fact that 80 percent of all ignitions are due to people.”

In San Mateo County, some spots along state Route 92 are brush-heavy, with more heavily forested areas in Mills Creek and Purisima Creek.

Prescribed fire, or “controlled burns,” as they are commonly referred, is a method used by the district, as well as the Peninsula Open Space Trust to guard against fire susceptibility. While the use of such methods, recommended by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, is said to eliminate excess ignitable material from the land, Hill said there is more that could be done.

He said the county should be discussing with the state, which handles much of the fire service in the county’s open regions, the district and POST to address fire management in all areas west of Interstate Highway 280, an area in which Hill estimates there are thousands of residents.

“We have not managed prevention as well as we could have, with regard to fire breaks and regular brush clearing,” Hill said. “My understanding is that we do not have such a plan in place on the county level, but now is the time to talk about one.”

The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Hillview Community Center Multi-Purpose Room, 97 Hillview Ave., in Los Altos.

tramroop@examiner.com

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