17 November 2013

Freeway Complex Fire Exhibit at Chino Hills State Park

This image and several below are boards put together by Hills for Everyone for the events held this weekend and next at the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Freeway Complex Fire of 2008.  Click on any image here to see it in a larger view in a separate window.
This weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the Freeway Complex Fire of November 2008, an event that burned almost the entirety of Chino Hills State Park and the Brea side of Carbon Canyon, while threatening to overwhelm Sleepy Hollow and other areas of the Chino Hills portion of the canyon before the flames were suddenly diverted and headed elsewhere.

Hills for Everyone, the non-profit that was instrumental in the creation of the state park and which continues to work for the preservation of open space in the area, held this Saturday and Sunday the first of its two weekends of exhibits at the state park's Discovery Center.  Components of the event included display boards showing the fire, the results, and the recovery; newspaper articles covering the conflagration; reports dealing with the blaze and with wildfire issues generally; videos of the fire and of wildfire matters in the region; material from the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council and Hills for Everyone; and more.

It appears that visitation was strong over both days and it is hoped that it will continue to be so next weekend, the 23rd and 24th, when the event is held again.  For those who live in or near Carbon Canyon or in or near areas susceptible to wildfires and their effects, the event and its exhibits are essential.

Viewing the exhibits are also important to the further understanding of how the relentless push, mediated somewhat by economic downturns and then revitalized by recovery, for new housing developments in fire-sensitive areas continues to be of concern.

This is true at the moment with the ill-conceived, but still possible, Madrona (formerly Canyon Crest) project of 162 houses on 367 acres on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon between Olinda Village and Sleepy Hollow, a project that sits on a site that has burned several times in recent decades and that will again (and one which has a whole host of other problems, as has been discussed before and will be more).  Tuesday the 19th, in fact, is when a staff report on the status of the Madrona project will be presented to the Brea city council, preliminary to hearings in late January and into February that will lead to a vote by that body on the appeal to the narrow 3-2 Planning Commission decision to approve of the then-Canyon Crest project--a decision that came just before the disastrous Freeway Complex Fire.

There are also two approved projects totaling 100 houses on the Chino Hills side, an application for another there that would be involve more units than that, and other in-process projects in Yorba Linda, a city that experienced significant destruction of homes in hillside areas during the 2008 fires, yet which continues to be builder-friendly.

Further off in the future, there is also the Shell-Aera properties in unincorporated Orange and Los Angeles counties north and west of Brea, which will certainly be the location of more housing projects.  And, who knows what the future portends for Tonner Canyon, almost all held by the City of Industry and some of which is not far north of Carbon Canyon.

Huge wildfires continue to be a problem throughout the western United States, much less our area.  The effects of climate change almost certainly will continue to be brought to bear, including through long-term drought that creates conditions for larger and more devastating wildfires, less water supply, and other effects.  To discount this and to act as if housing projects in wildfire-prone areas can somehow be conducted under old models, standards and conditions is not just bad public policy, it is a dangerous folly.

A long weekend last week in Julian reiterated the problems.  In 2003, the massive Cedar fire consumed a staggering 15% of the land area of San Diego County (this blogger was just leaving San Diego when that conflagration broke out and drove out on I-15 as flames roared nearby.)  In Julian and surrounding areas, the devastation was significant.  A hike in the Santa Ysabel Land Preserve featured a couple of display panels chronicling the devastation of the fire and the fact that wildfires are to be expected in backcountry areas--except that the human presence continues to grow, as it has over the last several decades in Carbon Canyon and its environs.

This photo and the one below are from text panels at the Santa Ysabel Land Preserve near Julian in San Diego County and discuss the effects of the 2003 Cedar Fire on the local area.
Certainly, those of us living in existing dwellings in the Canyon accept the consequences, as do the folks in Julian, for residing in a wildfire zone.  This doesn't mean, though, the local officials are exempt from the responsibility of carefully considering consequences when deciding to approve housing projects.  Land owners and developers don't have to worry about those consequences.  They reap the short-term rewards and leave the long-term issues for the cities and counties to deal with (or not, in some cases.)

There is a tipping point--and it's not just fire risk.  It is also decreasing habitat, increasing traffic, growing and often wasteful water use, landslide of unstable slopes, and more.   But, fire becomes the preeminent health and safety hazard and government, whose primary responsibility is (or should be) the health and safety of their constituents, should be mindful of this before approving housing projects in dangerous locations.

Events like the one held by Hills for Everyone this weekend and next bring needed attention to the question.  Anyone concerned ought to go, see the exhibits, talk to those staffing the room and become better educated.  It's vital for the future of Carbon Canyon and nearby areas.

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