Board Walk ~ Susan Gorin

Susan Gorin


Managing the fire zone

Posted on February 13, 2019 by Susan Gorin

One of the things we love about our county is its rugged beauty — mighty oaks, waving grasses, towering redwoods, delicate manzanita, the hillsides, mountains and meadows that surround us. After the 2017 fires, the way many of us look at the beauty that surrounds us has become more complex. We now notice how close the neglected open field or overgrown vegetation is to a block of houses, or how the dense underbrush could provide a fuel ladder to the canopy of the great oaks. The challenge can seem overwhelming. Property owners, neighborhoods and HOAs, communities, City and County government all need to work in tandem and parallel in order to make a meaningful impact.

Last December, the Board of Supervisors approved the Sonoma County Office of Recovery and Resiliency’s (ORR) Recovery Framework. This Framework came out of a long process of community engagement throughout 2018, and provides a foundation for action for our county for the long term. Along with the Framework, we also approved a list of 10 Priority Projects that we will focus on in 2019. One of these priorities is helping property owners navigate vegetation management opportunities through partnership with Fire Safe Sonoma and similar programs.

County departments are already working together to address vegetation management on county land. Transportation and Public Works (TPW) has begun the process of removing hazardous fire damaged trees located in the public right of way. These trees were determined by an arborist to pose risks to public safety. They are also removing cut brush that had been left on roadsides in the course of this work. It work is expected to continue through April.

Sonoma County Regional Parks is stepping up its fire prevention efforts with mowing, creating shaded fuel breaks by removing possible fuel, and engaging in brush burning in partnership with CalFire. In addition, the County’s Hazardous Vegetation Inspection program helps property owners protect their properties from the potential damage of a wildfire. These inspections, which will begin this spring in selected areas, will be carried out through a partnership between Sonoma County Fire Prevention and some local fire protection districts.

Sonoma County Regional Parks and Ag + Open Space have collaborated with the Sonoma Ecology Center and Sonoma Land Trust in forming a Good Fire Alliance to work together on fuel management on public lands in the Sonoma Valley.

Several neighborhoods, including the those in the Trinity/Cavedale and St. Helena Roads, have worked together to develop Fire Safe Councils, and others are interested in developing their own.  

‘Since the 2017 fires, the way we look at the beauty that surrounds us has become more complex.

For individual homeowners and neighborhoods, there are a few resources out there that I’d like to highlight to get you thinking about your own property and your neighborhood, and how to create defensible space and harden your home.

The UC Master Gardeners have a lot of resources to help homeowners learn to create more resilient landscaping. In October they gave a presentation at the Sonoma Community Center; video links from that series are on its website. Another great resource is our own Sonoma Ecology Center, which published the pamphlet Re-Imagine Your Landscape that is full of useful information and links towards more resources.

After the fire, I’ve heard from owners of rural land; they feel that they will be safer and smarter if they cut down a lot of the vegetation on their property. However, this is usually not the case — defensible space is not barren, but rather has living plants. These plants support wildlife, help rainwater infiltrate into the ground where it can stored for later use, and prevent erosion. For those who live in or right next to our beautiful wildlands, Re-Imagine Your Landscape is helpful for understanding how you can have it all on their rural property: wildlife habitat, healthy native plant communities, lower water use, and readiness for the next wildfire.

One key takeaway from this booklet for me was that re-thinking vegetation within the 5-10 feet of your home is important, but the stuff you keep near your home — brooms, propane tanks, woodpiles — is just as flammable as overgrown shrubs and bushes. You can find Living With Fire on the Fire Safe Sonoma website.

I will be bringing some of these partners, and others, together for two public workshops. These events are still in the planning stages, but both will be at Altimira Middle School in the Multipurpose Room. The first workshop on March 23 will focus on Vegetation Management and large scale lands. CalFire, Sonoma County staff and Sonoma Valley organizations will give presentations on what they are doing, what funding may be available for individuals and organizations, and what the future holds.

The second workshop, on May 4,  will focus on Individual and Neighborhood Preparedness and cover topics like home hardening and defensible space, emergency preparedness and firewise landscaping. Whether you are looking around your neighborhood wondering where to begin, rebuilding a home tragically lost in the firestorms, or anywhere in between, I hope you will come to both events.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. The 2017 firestorms forever changed our sensitivities and concerns. I marvel at how our beautiful mountain landscapes are recovering 15 months after the fires, and I’m fascinated by what trees survived, what plants resprouting and what trees and vegetation should not be replanted.

I hope you will join me in thinking of vegetation management and building a firewise landscape not as a problem to be solved once and for all, but rather as a process to integrate into everything from your weekend routine puttering in your garden, to communications with your neighbors, to government policy.


Community preparedness workshops & info

  • Saturday, March 23, Altimira Middle School, 9-12: Vegetation Management
  • Saturday, May 4, Altimira Middle School, 9-12: Community Preparedness

For more information about the Recovery Framework visit

For the “Living With Fire” booklet, visit

For more information on the Master Gardeners firewise landscaping and to watch videos from the 2018 presentations, visit

For Sonoma Ecology Center’s “Re-Imagine Your Landscape” pamphlet, visit and look for “Smarter Landscaping”

For updates follow or call 707.565.2241

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