Reducing the Risk of Fire Requires Hard Choices

Since fire season is now an annual event, we need to look at neighborhoods differently. How are people reducing risk? Are there exits that will allow people to flee quickly enough in the event of an ever-more-likely wildfire?

Since I live in the Ukiah Valley’s eastern hills, I am particularly interested in this area. I will say that most who live there have done a lot to mitigate risk. Trees along roadsides have been pruned back. Grassy hillsides have been knocked down. Grass and shrubbery along roadsides have been mowed or weeded. On individual properties, homeowners have pruned trees several feet off the ground, cut bushes up and away from most structures, and removed branches that used to overhang their roofs. Really and truly, although we can always do more, folks have done a pretty good job. Still, the risk of wildfire is significant.

If that happens, there are four major subdivisions that will need to evacuate: El Dorado, Deerwood, Vichy Springs, and the north end of Redemeyer. Today, there is only one realistic exit: Redemeyer south to Perkins Street and over the Russian River into town or onto the freeway. Other neighborhoods in the eastern hills like Rogina Heights have two ways out, via Redemeyer to Perkins or via Watson Road to Talmage Road.

There are other exits for the four subdivisions I mentioned, but they are neither easy nor particularly reliable. The Coyote Dam is accessible through the back side of Deerwood or via Hulda Drive on the north end of Redemeyer. These aren’t good options because the terrain, while passable, is rough, and locked gates generally prevent passage. Those locks probably aren’t sufficient to stop a determined driver, but the egress would not be smooth. Best case scenario, it would be slow going. More likely, traffic would get snarled and accidents would block access to the dam.

The best solution is the one that was planned when the Redemeyer subdivision was originally developed. The north end of Redemeyer Road dead ends about 200 feet from the south side of East Fork of the Russian River. The plan was to build a bridge across the river, which would not only supply an additional exit in the event of a wildfire but would also dramatically reduce drive times for many people who work on the north side of Ukiah or further north. They would no longer have to drive to Perkins Street and then double back to go north on the freeway or State Street.

I believe a house has since been built on the lot that was originally held for the purpose of putting in a bridge, which is really frustrating. Local government decision makers often bow to the requests of vocal constituents rather than making the unpopular decision to say no.

I am not typically in favor of imminent domain, but in the event of an eastern hills fire, we need a way out. That bridge would provide a safe way for hundreds of households to make a hasty exit. The risk in the eastern hills seems to increase every year. Given our current drought conditions, the 40-acre parcel of sheep grazing land near Vichy Springs would burn so fast it would almost explode, and it is bordered by a road where someone’s car could easily throw a spark.

I hope local elected officials can make the hard choices to keep people safe as the threat of wildfire increases. It’s a rare politician who can make decisions based on what’s right over what’s popular.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.



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