Watching the devastating impacts on human beings as the Sand Fire swept through the borderlands of Amador and El Dorado counties, it reminded me that momentum is a powerful force in both nature and the creation of public policy. For instance, there is a scientific phenomenon called a firestorm. A firestorm occurs when the fire becomes so intense that the heat from the original fire draws in more and more of the surrounding air and creates its own wind system. This type of momentum creates destruction.

But we have free will. Citizens working together in a thoughtful and determined way can create a positive momentum. Thomas Jefferson knew a thing to two about momentum. He said, “A republican government is slow to move, yet once in motion, its momentum becomes irresistible.” Sometimes it takes time or major events to get good ideas accepted in the political arena. A decade ago, I was certainly frustrated as one of a small group of volunteers who created the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council. Despite the clear danger of wild land fire in the Auburn area, the local, state and federal government officials at the time had little enthusiasm to proactively remove dry wood fuel from our communities. Not my job man. Bureaucratic inertia ruled. The danger became greater. All that changed on August 30, 2010 when the 49 Fire destroyed 63 homes and burned 500 acres in North Auburn.

The aftermath of the 49 Fire created public-private partnerships that are working hard on multiple strategies to reduce the dangerous accumulations of dry wood fuels in our urban, suburban areas of Placer County. Our team has created the American River Canyon Shaded Fuel Break, a planned thinning of dense vegetation designed to keep the fire on the ground rather than in the tree canopy, to protect homeowners and businesses all along the eastern edge of the City of Auburn. In the last four years, we’ve treated 271 acres in the Shaded Fuel Break. Last year, homeowners in the neighborhoods of Grand Oaks, Gray Horse and Riverside treated 32 acres through homeowners’ associations or forming their own collective action. Last year, Auburn Fire Department sent out 114 weed abatement notices and all but 5 of the homeowners removed the dry weeds and wood from their properties. For the five holdouts, the city abated the property and sent the property owner the bill.

This positive momentum continues to build on a number of fronts. Two weeks ago, the Placer Board of Supervisors used funds from the Middle Fork Project to provide $129,460 in grants as a part of a new Fuel Reduction Management Program. These grants will support two City of Auburn fuel reduction projects along the Shaded Fuel Break, two Foresthill/Iowa Hill projects along the Baltimore Mine Fuel Break and help pay for a feasibility study for a biomass plant in Foresthill. And last week, we got the great news that PG&E has approved a total of $380,00 in grant funding to help seniors and disabled individuals provider defensible space around their homes and for fuel reduction projects in Foresthill, Alpine Meadows and Meadow Vista. In the race to prevent a catastrophic fire in our community, it is gratifying to see progress.

Much more needs to be done and getting more local residents to provide defensible space around their homes is the key strategy. Earl Weaver, the famous manager of the Baltimore Oriole baseball team, “Momentum? Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” That is why we’ve got to keep the Big Momentum (the “Big Mo”) going. The Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council is sponsoring a North Auburn Town Meeting entitled “My Family – My Home: How do I protect them from Fire?” at 7:00 pm on Thursday, July 31 at the Planning Commission Chambers at 3091 County Center Drive. We will have brief presentations from various government agencies and lots of time for questions from residents. Please come.

Published in the Auburn Journal on July 30, 2014