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San Leandrans Greatest Climate Fear? Wildfires.

We recently completed nine “community listening sessions” with topics ranging from neighborhood health concerns to whether more green spaces and parks or community gardens would better improve our City. One of these questions “Which of These Climate Change Concerns is most Important to you?” got a clear response: wildfires weigh most heavily on the minds of San Leandrans. Wildfires threaten not just our homes and lives, but have serious consequences to our health. Wildfire smoke is made up of particulate matter (PM2) - and contains chemicals that are released when plastic and other harmful materials burn in homes and businesses and can cause serious issues when breathed.

San Leandro borders Chabot Regional Park, a very high fire zone. The San Leandro Climate Hazard Assessment shows San Leandro as ranging from extremely high to moderate risk of wildfire, but as we saw during fires in Santa Rosa, in Malibu and elsewhere, fire quickly travels though urban areas, and we would be foolish not to expect that the City as a whole is at risk. What propels these fires is not a wave of flames, but wind-borne embers, which travel from the burn area to whichever way the wind blows, leaving all of us vulnerable. “The wildfires that have plagued California in the past decade have gone “feral,”” says Stephen Pyne, a wildfires expert and author, “No ordinary fires, they create their own weather systems, like tornadoes, jumping over twelve-lane highways and even bridges, and are impossible to control in the early stages”.

So how does this relate to climate change? The relationship’s relatively simple: as we add more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, we increase the heating of the earth's surface. As a result, dry climate regions like California get more extreme droughts, the fire seasons become longer, and the fires burn hotter.

As our climate continues to heat up, it is past time to recognize the need for City, Regional (and State and Federal) efforts to adapt to climate change consequences. For example, the spread of fire can be limited by reducing the number of burnable materials in forests, with controlled burns or thinning, or we could require fire resistant home hardening. But what is right for San Leandro? Below are the most common measures used for adaptation in fire prone areas. Which ones are most effective for San Leandrans? Which ones are we willing to pay for?

  • Move people to safer places

  • Prohibiting development near fire-prone areas

  • Requiring people to purchase fire insurance

  • Removing dead vegetation in forests

  • Helping Americans who lose their homes due to fires

  • Increasing the number of firefighters

  • Requiring use of fire-resistant building materials

In the next in our series “Wildfire Adaptation: What it could mean for San Leandro”, we will look at each of the options above and how they might fit for our community. Meanwhile, we invite you to weigh in on what residents in San Leandro want for the future. Click here and add your opinions!

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