“What was that?” says my friend Mary. She’s looking up.
A golden bird with huge wings cruises over us. It finally settles in a Jeffrey Pine tree down in the gully.
“Chicken Hawk? Red Tail?” I say.
“Fire Bird?” says Mary.
It’s a joke. We’re basically worrying aloud about fire, because, well, we’re in the trees and ‘Tis the season. We’ve been lucky so far this year. But meta trends are not good. Just about the top 10 most destructive wildfires in California history have happened since November 2017.
And what strikes me most about this walk in the Mount Laguna woods is the piles of deadwood. Domes of it sprout out every 50 yards around here. Shouldn’t they be hauled off? What are we doing to reduce the risk of wildfire disasters up here in San Diego’s watershed? Everybody says to ask Pat Deasy Spinetta. She’s a school psychologist and has been an influential Fire Safe Council President for 12 years. She and her fellow-psychologist husband have a cabin up here among the trees of the Boiling Springs area.
“I had won a contest for our slogan: ‘Clean up or burn up.’ So we followed through on that. Simple, vital things like cutting down bushes around the houses,” she says. “But then the Mount Laguna Improvement Association, along with our Fire Safe Council and others, worked to have the community adopt a whole lot of things: spark arresters, eliminating eaves that can trap flying embers, no charcoal BBQs, making sure each cabin property has an ingress and egress, reflective lettering for house numbers, getting all the first responders on the same radio frequency. but above all, the #1 thing is fuel reduction. Especially since the gold-spotted oak borer a began killing our trees. California has lost 129 million trees. That’s 129 million rotting logs lying around — ideal fire fuel. And once fires get to a certain size, they have minds of their own. Remember the fire through Scripps Ranch and Kearny Mesa. It jumped the 163. It jumped the 15. It jumped 16 lanes to Miramar.”
And then there’s climate change.
“When we started going up the mountain with our kids, Mount Laguna was always 20 degrees cooler than San Diego. Now it is often hotter than down below. And then what we call ‘WUI.’ Wildland Urban Interface. The authorities still let developers build out into wild lands! They ignore the fire dangers. Already two million homes in the West are at risk for wildfire destruction.”
I have to bring up how my cellphone is really patchy up here, and my iPad went off line too. Imagine that in an emergency. And, well, those piles of deadwood we saw above Mount Laguna?
“Actually, they are part of a magnificent, wildly expensive fuel reduction program,” she says. “The US Forest Service has brought in huge bulldozers, and dumpsters to put the debris in to transport out, because we dare not burn it here. And with the 181 other cabin owners on Mount Laguna Forest Service land, we actually purchased a truck so we can take out our own debris from our properties.”
Do they do evacuation rehearsals?
“We haven’t done that yet, but maybe we should.”
So is she optimistic about the future up there?
“We do all what we can. I think we are as prepared as we can be.”
But all this trouble and huge expense. Is it worth it?
“You have to ask? Have you ever lain outside on your back at 3 am, floating above an ocean of stars?”