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Glen Ellen moves toward Community Wildfire Protection Plan

By Christian Kallen

About 25 Glen Ellen locals logged on to a special meeting of the Glen Ellen Forum on April 25 to take part in a planning session and inspirational rally for a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), an effort to systemize and catalog the fire threats within the community.

The solid turnout — at one point there were 36 in the Zoom room, though several fire professionals and the CWPP driving parties were also on hand — indicates the strong sense of community in Glen Ellen. In fact, a significant portion of the two-hour meeting was given over to examining the map of the areas included in the CWPP for Glen Ellen, who could be included in this “Glen Ellen,” and who would not be.

Was the area called Eldridge on the east side of Arnold north of Madrone to be included? How about the small community just south of Madrone? What about Morningside Mountain Road, or Sobre Vista? Just how far into Kenwood does Glen Ellen intrude? These questions were considered as if Glen Ellen were an allegiance, as much as an address.

Regardless, the CWPP needs to have borders, so residents and responders can prepare for wildfire and react to it. Roberta McIntyre, CEO of Fire Safe Sonoma — which is coordinating the effort to complete the planning process by the end of the year — was on hand to walk the Zoom room through a presentation, stopping often to encourage participation and tout the advantages of having a community wildfire protection plan in place for a multitude of good reasons.

Foremost in McIntyre’s pitch was the value of having a CWPP, and using it to its fullest. If the various assets of a community are itemized, and reasons and methods for protecting them listed, then the community is a step ahead in applying for various grants to tackle projects.

“Develop those projects now,” she said. Identify the projects — roadside clearing, understory thinning, habitat protection, or whatever the community prioritizes — then figure out how long it’s going to take, how much it’s going to cost, what the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) factors are, and who the stakeholders are. “Have it all built out before you apply for that darn grant, so that when the grant (opportunities) come along, then you’ve already got it built,” she said.

McIntyre said that a CWPP should be built as soon as possible because it will be a “huge asset” for any grant application going forward — an “encyclopedia of knowledge” for local fire-safe concerns. She is in a position to know: McIntyre worked for the Santa Rosa Fire Department from 1981 to 2008, becoming increasingly involved in fire protection training. She then served as the Sonoma County Fire Marshal until 2015, when she retired to focus on Fire Safe Sonoma, a largely volunteer organization providing grant-writing and project management services for local fire prevention and education projects.

To collect community input on assets to protect from wildfire, an interactive note board (IdeaBoardz) was introduced to allow participants to contribute “post-its” with their input of “assets to protect from wildfire” and “identify risks to those assets.” Such recognizable concerns as Jack London State Historic Park, the historic downtown, the Glen Ellen Community Church, Dunbar Elementary School, and, of course, the historic buildings, orchards, and more of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) were identified. Less obvious assets, such as the Jim Berkland Bridge (at the north entrance to the SDC on Arnold), the Glen Ellen Village Market, and fire stations themselves were also identified.

One item in particular drew 20 votes of approval from the attendees: the downtown is at risk due to “all the flammable booze at the Lodge,” someone commented. “Save the bar flies from the fire flies!”

The meeting also introduced a community survey designed to collect information about what sort of evacuation might be necessary in case of a fire or other emergency. Although the IdeaBoardz was active during the meeting and for the following day, the survey was open until May 9, to allow time for as many people as possible to input their needs and concerns and to inventory the special needs in the community that might require particular attention during an emergency.

“We do community meetings to inspire folks to get involved and to get a sense of what’s important — but the meat and potatoes comes from the surveys,” said McIntyre. “The better [the] surveys, the more people give us this data, the better the end product will be.”

Factors that apply to a community risk assessment (RA) analysis, according to the Fire Safe Sonoma presentation, include fuel conditions, wildlife fire history, infrastructure, wildlife fire preparedness entities, and natural resources. That analysis produces a ranking tool to prioritize and identify local fire risk projects, the contents of the CWPP itself, and, possibly, the incentive to create a local Fire Safe Council to oversee it.

Those wishing to participate in further development of the Glen Ellen CWPP should contact Mark Newhouser at [email protected] or Ellie Insley at [email protected]