People living near the old Creekside Elementary School woke up to a wildfire early this morning. The fire erupted on the bank of Chicken Ranch Slough on the school property's northwest side in an area that has been frequented by homeless individuals. When Metro Fire came to put it out, their crew had to struggle to unlock the gate into the school parking lot at the end of Kent. The padlocks there are supposed to make it easy for first responders to get through. But that depends on everyone who uses the padlocks locking their padlock in a way that let's other authorized people unlock their own padlocks. That wasn't the case at Creekside, costing precious time this morning. Once the fire crew got to the scene they were able extinguish the blaze before it caused too much damage. Everyone is breathing a little easier now. Still, the fire was a shock to the system. Hopefully, important lessons will be learned from this incident.
- California is tinder dry. Wildfires can happen just about anywhere, including where there are untended weeds on the banks of creeks in urban areas..
- Homeless people have rights, too, but maybe camping in dry vegetation isn't one of them.
- The American River Parkway and Del Paso Regional Park are not the only natural areas in our neck of the woods that are subject to wildfires. If homeless camping is banned in those places, perhaps there are other sensitive areas that deserve protection as well.
- It should be easy - really easy, not hard - for fire crews to access public facilities.
At Creekside, Chicken Ranch Slough is the County's responsibility for flood control, the San Juan Unified School District is responsible for basic management (vegetation, public safety, access) at the school property, and the Fulton-El Camino Recreation and Park District is responsible for the care and feeding of the adjacent Creekside Nature Area. Also, nearby private property owners have responsibility for their own properties. The arrangement cries out for team play. Failure to cooperate can have serious consequences: fires can spread, people can get hurt, property can be damaged, and the environment - the critters and vegetation our community enjoys - can be destroyed. We are all lucky a truly major problem did not happen this morning. Metro Fire was able to put the fire out before it got worse. But will someone clean up the mess (the burned-up homeless stuff, the burned trees, the damaged fencing)? We don't know.
A few more thoughts: The San Juan Unified School District needs to pay serious attention when people express concerns about wildfires, whether at the Creekside site or elsewhere. Instead of treating potential fire hazards as a simple, inconsequential box to check for its Creekside Middle School EIR, the San Juan Unified School District should be beating down Metro Fire's door for early consultation about the best ways to prevent and suppress fires at the proposed new campus AND adjacent properties. That should include being open to redesigning the site plan and building designs, something the school district adamantly opposes at the moment. And, obviously, unrestrained maintenance and emergency vehicle access to the Nature Area is a must.