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By Eric Johnson
Published Aug 15, 2022

Firefighters stand outside a burning home in Boulder Creek, CA, in August 2020. Firefighters stand outside a burning home in Boulder Creek, CA, in August 2020. Image credit: Photo by Jaden Schaul, Shutterstock

Looking Back at the CZU Fire, and Looking Forward

A month or so after the CZU fire, I spoke with then-candidate and now State Senator John Laird about the fires in his district and about the state government's and the Trump administration's response. 

As many of you know, John served  for eight years in Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet as Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, which oversees many departments including the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). In our interview, which was published in the Monterey County Weekly, John drops some tasty knowledge about California’s forests and their fire-protection needs.

I’ve shared this before in The Newsletter, but I want to point you once again to Erin Marlbury’s excellent Good Times/Metro Silicon Valley piece from last November, Big Basin Recovery Spurs a Rethinking of Forest Futures. It’s heartening to be reminded that nature retains some resilience, and to know that the park is very much still alive.

We Created This Monster

The CZU Fire, one of the most terrifying events that Santa Cruz County has ever faced, can be viewed from any number of perspectives. For this week's newsletter, I want to place the fire in a specific context: The CZU Fire, and all of the megafires that have been engulfing California and the West, are human-caused disasters. 

As Jonathan Vankin’s reporting and analysis show in a couple articles posted below, there are two causes of this volatile situation. Of course, global warming is the most profound reason our world is on fire—and even though you are no doubt aware of that fact, I believe you will still find it empowering to dig into the details Jon presents here.

The less-discussed cause of rampant megafires—equally important—is a century-plus of heinous mismanagement in the woods, where the forest was seen only as a commodity and often clear-cut to dirt. What grew in its place was usually a dense crop of same-aged trees that sort of resembled a living forest, but lacked the inherent resilience, evolved over millennia, of a healthy mature forest.

This includes the CZU Fire. Let's recall that the Santa Cruz Mountains were once covered with ancient redwoods that were virtually impervious to fire. More than 95 percent of them were felled, and the trees that replaced them were, obviously, not impervious to fire. It took more than 100 years for the inevitable to occur, because in a redwood forest time moves slowly. 

The same holds true for the McKinney Fire, the biggest wildfire in the state so far this year, which has killed five people at last count. As Jon reports: “The McKinney Fire started in terrain that had been extensively deforested by loggers. That caused smaller, less fire-resistant trees to grow in place of the larger trees cut down years ago.” As you will see, that fact is not stopping anti-environmentalists in Siskiyou County from blaming the fire on logging regulations.

McKinney Fire: Did Logging Restrictions Cause the Inferno?

The McKinney Fire quickly became California's worst blaze of 2022.
Was the deadly McKinney Fire made worse by the decline of commercial logging, or were factors such as poor forest management and climate change more important in causing the fire to explode in Siskiyou County?

How Climate Change is Making Wildfires Worse Than Ever

It's well known that climate change is making wildfires worse — but how?
Climate scientists say that global warming is making wildfire season much worse. Here's how climate change causes fires to be more destructive.

Speaking of Climate Change

Given our topic, I must mention the biggest news story regarding climate policy in the nation’s history, which sadly seems to be getting lost in the maelstrom from Mar-a-Lago.

Of the $437 billion in spending included in the bill that passed the Senate last Sunday, $369 billion is earmarked to fight the climate crisis. It does so largely by investing in green energy and technology. The radical environmental journal Barron’s reports that these federal dollars will unlock trillions in private investments in solar panels, electric cars, wind farms and other clean energy technologies. 

The rather mundane truth of the matter is that this is how we battle megafires on the largest scale: by breaking our addiction to fossil fuels and building a new energy economy. And, finally, we really are doing it. This is, as President Biden once said in a similar context, a big fucking deal.  

And yes, California is leading the charge, as the story below shows. 

Offshore Wind Energy: Key to State’s Clean Energy Goals

Building new wind farms off the California coast is the next step in meeting the state's goal of 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045.
Wind power is essential to meeting California's goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Moving wind farms offshore is the next step. Sites off of Morro Bay and Eureka will soon be leased by the federal government.

Speaking of Resilience

Finally, learn how the Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) employed on old technology—ham radios—to rescue horses and other wildlife during the CZU Fire, and how neighbors in Bonny Doon are preparing to survive the next one.

Listening Skills

Members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service hone their skills at various local events.
How local amateur radio operators can help in the next big emergency.

Impact Report Image for decorative use