Kenwood Press

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News: 06/01/2014

Jack London seeks funds to minimize wildfire risks

Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen has launched a community initiative to raise $80,000 help reduce wildfire risks in the park during a particularly dry year.

“We had two scares last summer,” said Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, which operates Jack London State Park. Van Wyk said that in two separate instances, falling power lines sparked brush fires, one only 150 feet away from the House of Happy Walls Museum. Luckily, both times the smoke was seen quickly enough that Glen Ellen Fire Department was able to put out the fire before it spread. However, Van Wyk said these two events underscored the park’s need to maintain the grass and brush that turns into wildfire tinder during a particularly dry year.

In fire fighting, this is called “defensible space.” The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Calfire) says that proper clearance around structures to 100 feet dramatically increases the chance of that structure (or home) surviving a wildfire.

Van Wyk said the park’s effort to raise $80,000 will go to pay the Glen Ellen Fire Department and Calfire crews to maintain defensible space within the park, including clearing and improving fire roads for emergency access, maintaining defensible space along park trails and around historic structures, and establishing defensible space around all power lines.

Sonoma Valley hasn’t had a major wildfire since 1964, when a fire on Nelligan Road burned 10,000 acres in three days. The National Weather Service measured only 27.26 inches of rain in the Santa Rosa basin (against a norm of 35.77 inches) in 2013, making it the driest year in California’s recorded history. With only 14.59 inches of rain so far in 2014, Sonoma Valley could see some dangerous fire conditions through summer and fall.

Other local parks are paying attention as well.

“We are prepared for a bad fire season, but it’s still too early to tell. Stuff is still green,” said John Roney, park manager at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood. “A lot has to do with the weather – heat and winds.” Roney said Sugarloaf has replaced old hoses in all the fireboxes, had staff attend wildfire training class, maintained defensible space around buildings, and updated the emergency plan, but they have yet to do a large-scale fundraising campaign like Jack London State Park. “You can have fires in campgrounds, but based on changing conditions we monitor that,” said Roney. “And there’s no smoking in backcountry. We put up extra signs to remind people.”

Cyndy Shafer, natural resource program manager for California State Parks, said rules are in place in Annadel State Park, but the key is whether or not people follow them and they are enforced. “Wildfires are always a concern for us and this year is no different,” said Shafer. Annadel State Park follows an ongoing management plan using contract crews to remove invasive species and flammable vegetation. Shafer said the primary effect the drought will have is that this year’s wildfire season starts earlier and extends longer. “We are asking our visitors and everyone to be careful this year because we are all in it together,” said Shafer.

If enough funds are raised by August, Van Wyk said Jack London State Park hopes to begin major road and trail work by September or October, after spotted owl nesting season ends. The fundraising campaign will be followed up with an ongoing forest management plan conducted by volunteers as a long-term solution for safeguarding the community against the threat of an out-of-control wildfire.

More information on the fundraising campaign can be found at To find out more about defensible space guidelines for your own home, visit

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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