Jensen: Ventura County Wildfire Plans Not Implemented Before Thomas Fire

The County of Ventura had a great plan to save the County from the destructive force of a forest fire.  But, written plans are just words on paper.  In the case of the Thomas Fires, those words were not only meaningless, they were deadly.

Mr. Roper rightly points out: “Elected leaders are using “climate change” as the #1 sound bite for the reason why today’s wildfires are so damaging. Whether a person believes in climate change or not, today’s fires are becoming more damaging because of unhealthy landscapes, reduction of commercial logging, population growth into wildland fire areas and increased frequency/scope of wildfire incidents.”

He also quoted Philosopher George Santayana who said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

So, the County does nothing to implement the Wildfire plan—then blames “climate change” for their incompetence.  Why do people have little trust or respect for government?  Government promotes wildfires and blames it on junk science.  When will the people revolt against corrupt and radicalized government?

VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is destroyed by brush fire as Santa Ana winds help propel the flames to move quickly through the landscape on December 5, 2017 in Ventura, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Ventura County Wildfire Plans Not Implemented Before Thomas Fire

Retired Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper Tells Why

By Lynn Gray Jensen, Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, 2/2/18

In 2009, the Ventura County Fire Protection District produced a Fire Management Plan that identified the “Ventura Fuel Bed” (see map) as part of its countywide wildland fire prevention program. This fuel bed turned out to be the core of the Thomas Fire, responsible for the majority of homes burned in Ventura County as the fire swept through brush filled unincorporated lands from Santa Paula to Ojai and Ventura, driven by the unpredictable Santa Anna winds.

The Fire Management Plan described the predominant risk exposure: “The greatest area of risk in the Ventura Fuel Bed is in the interface area that separates the City of Ventura from the County jurisdictional areas. Fingers of development have continued to grow over time. Development in the areas between Harmon, Sexton, and Barlow Canyons would be challenging to protect in a wild fire driven by winds from the northeast. Additional at risk areas include Sulphur Mountain Road, Creek Road and the east side of Highway 33. Orchards are also at risk throughout this fuel bed and need consideration when planning for fuel modifications.” These predictions turned into reality.

The Five-Year Vegetation Management Plan, commonly referred to as the Five-Year Burn Plan, had the overall strategic objective of modifying hazardous fuels within the County. Controlled burns are a significant tool in reducing fuel in order to impede wildland fires.

The San Buenaventura Project was identified within the Ventura Fuel Bed encompassing 43,362 acres “selected due to its ability to protect its interface area from Ventura to Santa Paula. The method of treatment consists of cut, stack and pile burning, prescribed fire and mechanized work.” The project was ranked as priority level one by the Ventura County Fire Department.

In 2010, the Ojai Fire Safe Council prepared a Community Wildfire Protection Plan acknowledging the San Buenaventura Project and also ranking it as priority level one. The Plan was signed by Linda Parks, then Chair of the Board of Supervisors; Bob Roper, Ventura County Fire Chief; and Matt Jenkins, Unit Chief of Cal Fire. The status of the San Buenaventura Project in the plan was marked “pending environmental” according to Ventura County Fire Protection District.

This second plan identified fourteen communities in Ventura County as “high risk for wildland fire disturbance”. Statistics showed that 76% of homes within Ventura County are within these “Communities at Risk” with less than 20% of the housing units built after 1990.

The Communities at Risk include Fillmore, Ojai, Oak View, Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte, Ventura and Santa Paula, the main communities in Ventura County affected by the Thomas Fire. They also include Camarillo, Casa Conejo, Moorpark, Oak Park, Piru, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks that could be targets of the next wildfire.

Again this plan identified and prioritized areas for hazardous fuel reduction treatments to reduce wildfire threat and recommended measures to reduce ignitibility of structures in the Communities at Risk. While there were areas within the San Buenaventura Project that had cattle grazing activities to reduce fuel loads, according to Richard Atmore, cattle rancher and board member of the Central Ventura County Fire Safe Council, less than 2% of the burn plan was accomplished prior to the Thomas Fire.

To understand the importance of wildfire planning and implementation in California, it is essential to consider historical fire data. In the Ventura Fuel Bed, there were fourteen fires larger than 300 acres between 1950 and 2007, ten of which were reported to be wind driven.

The largest fire in California history prior to the Thomas Fire was the 2003 San Diego Cedar Fire that burned 273,246 acres and destroyed 2,232 homes. This year in Napa and Sonoma Counties, 17 separate fires burned 245,000 acres and destroyed 5,130 homes. The Thomas Fire, now the largest fire in California history, was contained at nearly 282,000 acres, destroying 1,063 structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. And, the fire burned over 10,000 acres of farmland and 60,000 acres of rangeland in Ventura County.

Bob Roper is a retired Ventura County Fire Chief and the retired State Forester for Nevada with 40 years of firefighting experience. His frustration is evident in a recent article in Evergreen Magazine:  “Bob Roper on Wildfires and What to Do Next” (1-2-18) which is a must-read.

Mr. Roper rightly points out: “Elected leaders are using “climate change” as the #1 sound bite for the reason why today’s wildfires are so damaging. Whether a person believes in climate change or not, today’s fires are becoming more damaging because of unhealthy landscapes, reduction of commercial logging, population growth into wildland fire areas and increased frequency/scope of wildfire incidents.”

He also quoted Philosopher George Santayana who said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

According to Mr. Roper, “These Things Must Happen” to restore and maintain landscapes to prevent the spread of wildfires:

  • Government must empower people who live off the land to be its stewards. These groups (Native Americans, foresters, farmers and ranchers) are the best land managers around because they know that well-managed lands will yield the best resources and agricultural products. They do not need government telling them how to manage their land because they live the need for renewable land every day,
  • EPA standards need to weigh the negative effects of uncontrolled smoke during a wildfire versus conducting controlled burns to restore the landscape,
  • The environmental review process to approve landscape treatment projects needs to be streamlined,
  • Congress must develop a funding source for federal fire agencies that does not supplant prevention dollars to suppression dollars,
  • State and local governments must recognize their responsibility and fund wildfire activities themselves and not be solely reliant on federal funding, and
  • We must develop legal immunity provisions for government agencies, non -governmental entities and private parties to encourage proactive landscape treatment actions for a backlog of projects.

These points by Mr. Roper are the key reasons for the lack of proactive land management for wildfires in Ventura County. The “backlog of projects” evident across the County has been a frustration for the private stewards of the land, many of whom have paid the price in losses of their homes and agricultural livelihoods.

The fact that wildfire plans including controlled burns were not implemented prior to the Thomas Fire is a reflection of a misunderstanding by California leaders. Particularly, Ventura County politicians have led the community to believe that pristine wilderness adjacent to developed communities is necessary to maintain wildlife habitat.

The opposite has been shown to be true in the wake of the destruction of the Thomas Fire in the open spaces of Ventura County. According to Richard Atmore, wildfires are ten times more devastating to the environment and urban communities than controlled burns.

The editor’s note in Evergreen Magazine aptly points out: “Mr. Roper brings 40 years of firefighting experience to this discussion, so we’d suggest you read what he has to say because, in our opinion, he has artfully lanced a festering boil the political classes continue to ignoreAnother wakeup call for federal, state and local elected officials who have refused to heed Mr. Roper’s recommendations.”

Lynn Gray Jensen is the Executive Director of the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (www.colabvc.org).

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.