A few days ago, when the Glass Fire was burning its way into eastern Santa Rosa and people were being evacuated in a hurry and homes were not only threatened but burned to the ground, I saw a little internet blip about a fire in Monte Rio. And that’s all I ever saw about it. I just assumed that it was a mistake or so minor an event that it was no longer worth mentioning.
Then, last Thursday, the daily newspaper from the big city to the east of us reported that on the last Sunday of September there was indeed a Monte Rio fire up a steep slope off Bohemian Highway that started in a homeless camp there. When this fire was discovered, the Monte Rio firefighters were helping in the battle against the Glass Fire. So, Steve Baxman, chief of the Monte Rio Fire Protection District, called neighboring districts and put together a crew that got the fire surrounded before it burned much more than an acre. Then they watched over it to make sure there was no flare up.
Baxman is admired, esteemed and all but revered for what he has done over many years to protect the small communities of the lower Russian River. Rightly so. He just seems to get done what needs to be done when it needs to be done. So, it was once again in the recent Monte Rio fire, thanks be to all that’s holy.
Baxman told reporters that fires escaping from homeless camps have been frequent in the river area over the summer. People are living in the woods, cooking and keeping warm with open fires amid tinder dry surroundings. So far, because of the likes of Steve Baxman and his colleagues, none of these fires has gotten out of control.
But I’m telling you, this is scary. Several times in the 20th century fires swept through the river area, and some burned all the way to the coast. And that was before global warming arrived, or at least before global warming was on our minds.
So, what we have are clusters of people living in the woods because they have no place else to live, and that poses a danger to us all. It puts many houses, stores, schools and churches, not to mention many lives, at risk. There has to be a better, more sensible way.
But before we condemn and destroy the homeless camps, we have to provide places for the homeless to live. Otherwise we just move the danger around from one forest to the next. Homeless people have to be someplace, for crying out loud. And they need to be where it’s safe for themselves and where they are not creating dangers for others. We just have to do better about this.
Sure, the cost of housing the homeless would be expensive. No doubt about that. But it’s not nearly as expensive as a wildfire like the one in 1937 that took out half the town of Guerneville and went roaring to the west for miles. The way things are right now, this is more likely to happen than not, it seems to me.
So, fire prevention includes making sure our neighbors have homes. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, in helping those who need some help, we also help ourselves. That’s the lesson for today, folks. Many it be so.