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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 2:18 am | Fair 51º


Letter to the Editor: Wildfires Are Here to Stay, But Mitigation Is Possible

It should be abundantly clear that wildfires are becoming more frequent and more intense, consuming greater and greater swaths of forestland, private property, homes and other structures. In Southern California alone, we have several devastating wildfires each year.

While there may be no cure for the fire problem driven by ever-powerful winds, there are preventive measures that can be taken beforehand. Clearing excessive vegetation and creating fire breaks to keep fuel from the fire are commonly used measures; however, when winds exceed certain bounds, the fire can jump a six-lane freeway.

Blocking the path of a wildfire with fire-resistant vegetation may be a solution. Some vegetation and some trees are more resistant to fire than others. Several websites list these plants and trees. For trees, Mediterranean cypress, cork oak, chestnut, mulberry and other fruit trees are some examples. Large orchards of fire-resistant trees, for example, could be used to create a fire barrier.

In Goleta, part of an avocado orchard that burned is believed to have blocked the progress of the Gap Fire in 2008 as it headed for homes in Goleta. Along Highway 101 where the Thomas Fire burned all the way to the beach, a small orchard — possibly lemon — was hardly damaged by the brush fire, which burned completely around it. Fire-resistant orchards may be part of the solution. To incentivize planting these crops, cash crops such as avocado, lemon, etc., could be used.

Objections may be raised that we don’t want our forests to be turned into farms. Most of us cherish our wildlife. If, however, orchards are placed in strategic locations rather than willy-nilly throughout the wildlife area, it could beautify the area while serving the greater purpose of protecting a community by blocking the path of a fire, mitigating its progress and making containment to a smaller area more likely.

North of Santa Barbara and Montecito, for example, a string of large fire-resistant orchards could create a fire block to any fire advancing from the north, which is the most threatening direction. Where would the land to build orchards come from? Private individuals may not want to use their land for this purpose. They may not want an orchard occupying their property. Also, the cost might be prohibitive for an individual landowner. Government lands, however, surround our community. These public lands — county, state and federal — that burned and contributed to most of our giant wildfires could be used. If sections of these lands were leased to farmers or other citizens willing to grow approved crops, this idea could become a practical solution to help block future fires. The cost savings of firefighting could go down drastically.

The government could lease sections of these lands to be farmed only with certain crops resistant to fire. Those willing to farm could be given incentives. Cash crops could bring them income and monetary compensation. Lands could be leased at reasonable cost. Tax incentives could be of further benefit. And because the service provided by the farmer would help protect our community, the crops could be completely insured by our community.

We may not be able to stop wildfires from occurring, but implementation of this strategy could certainly help mitigate their damage to surrounding forests and to our community.

Haik Hakobian
Santa Barbara

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