Jonathan Wilhelm had to quickly evacuate his home in the remote Larkfield-Wikiup area when the 2017 Tubbs fire threatened to torch his property. When he and his neighbors were cleared to go back to their houses, the devastation could be seen around their small Mayacama community, he said.
In the aftermath, Wilhelm and a group of others serving on the Mayacama homeowners association worked over several months to educate neighbors and prepare the area for future wildfires.
Part of their efforts to reduce potential property damage from future blazes is participating in an ongoing collaboration with Sonoma County Regional Parks and Cal Fire to conduct regular brush pile burning. The first burn at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park is set for today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the park will remain open, park officials said.
“We all recognize we live in an area where wildfires are a fact of life,” said Wilhelm, managing partner at the Mayacama Golf Club. “After Tubbs when a lot of us were repairing our property we had to ask ourselves, are we ready for another one?”
The brush pile burn is the first of several slated for the park through February, with the goal of creating a firebreak — a strip of open space to hopefully block the spread of a blaze — on the boundary between the Shiloh regional park and the nearby Mayacama homeowners, regional parks spokeswoman Meda Freeman said.
“These types of breaks, or a control line, are all opportunities for firefighters to control a wildfire in the future,” said Hattie Brown, natural resource manager for the regional parks. “When we do this, it will help to keep fires out of the high canopies of the trees and instead keep the fires low, which is less catastrophic.”
Mayacama encompasses 675 acres and has 29 homes, Wilhelm said, with an additional 20 villas for golf club members.
“We are a small and remote residential community,” Wilhelm said.
Other options to clear brush is to turn it into mulch, but because the Mayacama area and Shiloh Ranch Regional Park are in a remote, steep location, brush pile burning makes the most sense, Brown said.
“This is one small step towards building a safety and resiliency to future wildfires,” she said.
Will Powers, fire prevention specialist for the Cal Fire Sonoma and Napa unit, said brush pile burns have been happening for years in the area.
It is a way of disposing of a high volume of materials, he said, and removing invasive brush that does not belong.
The greatest threat surrounding Mayacama is the prominence of Douglas fir trees, which Brown said do not handle fires well. With the controlled burns, part of the intent is to remove smaller firs that tend to be killed in wildfires anyway but can help spread fires, she said.
“You just have to make sure you do as best as you can to prepare, and if and when it happens again you are hopefully prepared,” Wilhelm said.
You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.