Who knew the fire fuel break came with a fence? Get the facts first

Special to The CambrianJune 20, 2013 

A comment on the Covell Ranch fence disaster: Fellow Cambrians, we have been had.
The method used is a common one, so it shouldn’t be hard to open our eyes and do better next time. When someone wants something from us, they scare us. Then they claim they can protect us from the scary thing.

During the push for desalination, I spent a Cambria Farmers Market at an information table, collecting signatures. The point of the petition was simple. First do an environmental impact report, then drill up the beach. Not exactly rocket science.

Cambrian after Cambrian came by to ask if I wasn’t scared my house would burn down. One guy told me we had enough water to put out one, maybe two structure fires, and that was it. After that, they’d just burn.

But that line of reasoning defies logic. Desal water is slow to produce. It can only help in a fire if you store it. If we’re going to store water, we have plenty of creek water flowing out to sea in winter months. That puts out fires, too.

Plus, I can’t help noticing we went from having so little water that all our houses would burn down to having so much that we can resume growth — without the addition of any water.

Then the Covell Ranch disaster. “We need a fire break! Right now! The situation is desperate! Hurry! Don’t ask too many questions! Just approve this fire break before your house burns down!”

Look, I’m not speaking against fire safety. Of course, common sense fire safety is a good thing. And I’m not saying there’s no threat of fire. All I’m saying is, let’s ask questions and get facts before we jump.

I had questions about the fire break. Particularly the masticator. Because, where I come from, to make kindling you cut the wood very small and let it dry out. And there was some suggestion that, in at least one recent California fire, the use of the masticator made it worse, not better.
But the question got reduced to: Do you want your house to burn down?

Just like years ago when the Cambria Community Services District took an informal desal “advisory vote.” It didn’t ask, “Would you rather handle the water shortage with desal or some other method?” It just asked if the CCSD should pursue desal for water. Kind of like asking, “When you turn on your tap, do you want water to come out?”

Aren’t we all old enough to know that nothing is so black and white?

After investing huge public monies in the Covell Ranch conservation easement, we invested much more public money into clearing this guy’s land so he could put up a fence. But we didn’t know he would put up a fence. That was a little surprise.

Now he says the people who walked those trails for decades can no longer be permitted, because they might start a fire. In the 28 years I’ve lived in Cambria, nobody’s house burned down due to a fire started by hikers on those ranch trails. But this year it would surely happen, according to the guy who benefits from the fence. Now we’re getting reports that tinder-dry fire fuel has not been cleared from the Covell Ranch as promised.

So, here’s the moral of the story, in my opinion. Next time someone tells us a scary story, like our houses could burn down — well, they could, I suppose. Anything is possible. But if they want us to sign off on a plan guaranteed to give us a nice warm, fuzzy feeling of false security, let’s take a second look at what’s in it for them.

Some are pro-desal, some against. Some are big on property rights, others like access. But why would anyone be in favor of making important decisions without all the facts?

Cambria resident Catherine Ryan Hyde is author of 22 published and forthcoming books.

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