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North Sonoma Valley MAC helping to develop emergency planning

Ad hoc group reaches out to safety organizations throughout the valley

By Jay Gamel

The North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NSVMAC) doesn’t have a lot of money to spend, but a portion of their $10,000 annual budget will be used to reach out to Kenwood and Glen Ellen residents with information and questions about what level of fire protection they need and want. The advisory group to First District Supervisor Susan Gorin allocated $4,500 to the Emergency Preparedness Ad Hoc Committee to develop educational materials for a “Map Your Neighborhood” project intended to help neighbors mutually support each other.

NSVMAC councilmembers Mark Newhouser, Daymon Doss, and Matt Dickey have developed an extensive overview of the local and state organizations working to improve fire safety following the wildfires that have plagued and devastated the valley since 2017. One of those organizations is the Fire Safe Council of Sonoma, which is working to secure funding to develop programs for valley residents.

“While people living in the very high fire hazard areas on the mountainsides have already developed organizations to work on this,” Newhouser said, “people living in the moderate fire danger zones of the valley floor have not, even though many houses were lost in the past fires from those areas.”

Having a recognized organization with properly developed safety plans for house hardening, vegetation management, evacuation, etc. will be vital to securing state grants to pay for these programs, Newhouser said.

Fire Safe Sonoma, for example, is a private 501(c)(3) organization that can receive and be accountable for grant funds. It has been around for 25 years and is just now seeing the kind of public awareness that is needed to increase community safety going forward.

Roberta MacIntyre, board president of Fire Safe Sonoma, is hoping a recent grant application will help with that, but she worries that most CalFire grants will be aimed at “large-scale forest management and fuels-reduction projects.” She thinks “resources need to be pointed to the community [to] improve evacuation, alert systems, and things that directly affect life safety.” She was Sonoma County Fire Marshal for seven years.

Making all of California’s forests and overgrown hinterlands safe is not possible. “We need to focus on Kenwood and Glen Ellen and come up with reasonable greenbelts, make the hills alongside the roadways safe to make it better for evacuation as well as for firefighting. [That’s] where we are going to get the most bang for our buck.”

MacIntyre said the most important thing is to be ready to go. “We’ve got to get comfortable evacuating, like second nature.”