"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Though that famous quote from philosopher George Santayana dates back to the early 1900s, it applies to Mill Valley in 2014 and our desire and ability to learn from the history of massive fires in Marin and the Bay Area, including the Vision Fire in West Marin in 1995.
So says Mill Valley resident Katherine Randolph, who has been teaching free workshops on fire prevention in Marin for the past eight years, hoping to prevent a catastrophic fire from occurring or at least make homeowners better prepared.
The next FREE “Fire in Marin” workshop takes place Saturday, September 13, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto, Mill Valley.
Randolph will discuss the history of fire in Mill Valley and Marin. In addition to discussing the Oakland Hills fire, she’ll touch on the Mt. Vision Fire that swept through Inverness in 1995 and the famous 1929 Mill Valley fire that burned 2,500 acres and homes over 3 days. If it happened today, that fire would burn approximately 900 homes.
Randolph said the Mill Valley Fire Department is doing everything it can to protect residents from a major fire, but that residents themselves must do more. Pre-registration for the “Fire in Marin” workshop is strongly recommended so we have enough hand-outs. Please leave your name, phone number, and email address at (415) 269-6836 or email FireinMarin@comcast.net to register.
“The Fire Department keeps saying to us as homeowners that we’re at risk and that we need to take action, and we say, ‘Yeah, yeah,’” Randolph said. “My purpose is to change the way we think about vegetation and fire in Marin and to get homeowners to take action.”
That action should be focused on three specific areas, each of which Randolph will cover in the workshop:
Creating a buffer between a building on your property and the vegetation that surrounds it is critical. That space includes a 30-foot “clean and green zone” immediately around a home, and a secondary 70-foot buffer outside of that, in which the level of clearance depends on the steepness of the property, vegetation and should total up to a minimum of 100 feet.
Randolph said her workshop will focus on ways to create attractive landscaping that adheres to defensible space guidelines but does not leave your property looking barren. “One of the biggest obstacles,” she said, “is that Mill Valley is surrounded by a much higher density of vegetation than is normal for the area because of the spread of non-native species.”
The Mill Valley Fire Department Vegetation Management website has a host of resources on defensible space.
Hardening your Home
“Once a fire starts, new fires can be ignited more than a mile away by flying embers carried into the air by winds so homeowners must improve their home’s fire resistance even if they live in the flatlands of Mill Valley,” Randolph said. During the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991 – a video of which Randolph uses to begin the class – flames moved up a hill to a grove of eucalyptus trees, climbed the peeling bark into the canopy, causing trees to explode, sending burning embers soaring in every direction.
Hardening a home can be done in a variety of ways, from replacing wood shingle roofs and covering vent openings with metal mesh to installing dual-paned windows.
Creating an Evacuation Plan
Because of the speed at which a fire can spread, residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. That means creating an evacuation plan checklist, creating an emergency supply kit and going through a series of emergency preparedness.
If you have any questions regarding disaster preparation, first aid and City services, please call the
Mill Valley Fire Department at 415/389-4130.