Editorial: Our Priorities Are Upside-Down

Are you looking for a cheerful thought for the holiday season? Here’s one: fire and earthquake may be conjoined threats in this region, but there is a lot we can do about it, right now.

Prioritize to Survive

Our holiday gift to communities throughout California should be a public “Prioritize to Survive” campaign. For adults who do not still believe in Santa Claus, Option B is to become an effective community leader yourself, to step up to say “First Things First: Prioritize.”

Last month, Richard Schmidt and Rick Throckmorton—both mountain residents—debated opposite sides of the question of whether spending or borrowing over $1 million without consulting members is a wise move for Pine Mountain Club’s POA board, which wants to build a new $5 million clubhouse.

The two agreed on just one important and irrefutable point: rebuilding the Pine Mountain Club community after a catastrophe will be expensive. One focused on the cost of rebuilding the clubhouse and infrastructure. The other focused on the cost of rebuilding community homes.

The Insurance Hit

This year, most people were stunned when they saw highly profitable insurance companies dropping coverage for fire and earthquake in these Mountain Communities. For many, home insurance has tripled in cost.

Fire-Hardened Towns

It was just 13 months ago that the entire community of Paradise, California vanished in flames as 85 people lost their lives. Only a few homes were left intact after the Camp fire.

Survivors fled—to live in parking lots, tenement-like motels and FEMA trailers. They lost their homes and their community. What can we learn from that tragedy?

Emergency Alert Sirens

Reverse 911 alert systems often failed as utility poles and cell towers burned down.
Bryant Baker of Los Padres Forest Watch is urging all Mountain Communities to take proactive measures right now to install municipal warning sirens to alert residents, often in the dead of night, of impending danger.

Community Shelters

Whether due to road conditions or lack of transport, Baker reminds us there will be those who cannot escape in a vehicle ahead of a rapidly advancing firestorm. He is an advocate of building community fire shelters, for “shelter in place” options to protect those who cannot flee in time.

Bouncing Gas Bombs

A large earthquake, architect Richard Schmidt wrote, will send tumbling propane tanks bouncing across the Pine Mountain Club landscape, spraying flammable gas everywhere amid the relentless ember flurries that accompany wind-driven firestorms.

Tie-down protocols for all propane tanks in the region need to be mandatory and implemented immediately.

Embers and propane will ignite the fuels that surround us all. Those fuels are not just trees and bushes, they will include all our neighbors’ homes that have not yet been fire-hardened.

Fire-Hardened Homes

Following the Paradise tragedy, fire scientists sought to learn why a few houses survived while the homes beside them vaporized in the hot flames. Principles for fire-hardening homes are rapidly becoming defined.

The cornerstone of Baker’s proposals is to incentivize and subsidize the fire-hardening of the homes in our communities.

First Things First

In addition to clearing foliage to create defensible space, we need to upgrade with fire-resistant siding such as HardiePlank; fireproof roofing; fireproof decking; double pane windows; and 1/16” ember-resistant, fireproof screening to retrofit all exterior attic, basement, foundation and gable vents on our homes. At the least, we can cover existing vent openings with 1/16” wire mesh to prevent embers from igniting the home from within.

These measures are first priorities for the survival of our homes and our community.

What is the value of a new $5 million clubhouse if there is no community left for it to serve?

Smart insurers may return, once they see an entire community taking preventive action.
Instead of rapidly escalating assessments for ambitious clubhouse plans, perhaps this PMCPOA board might want to incentivize neighbors to invest in making their own homes fire- and earthquake-resistent, to make us all more safe.

After that, by all means, a new clubhouse.

—Patric Hedlund, Editor

This is part of the December 6, 2019 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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