Ring Of Fire: A Tour of Redding’s Most Flammable Spaces

Slash piles burned by volunteers at Henderson Open Space. Photo by Randall Smith.

Randall Smith hobbled down the slippery gully trail, nursing a bad right hip. He stopped next to a section of dirt embankment scorched black by the Carr Fire, a marker signifying the flames had stopped there, instead of spreading uphill into the Sunset Terrace neighborhood above and burning everything in its path, including Smith’s home of 44 years.

“Volunteers did extensive work behind all of these homes,” said Smith, 74, a volunteer himself who has donated 7000 hours to non-native plant eradication in Redding’s open space areas since he retired from a successful anesthesiology practice in 1999.

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R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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31 Responses

  1. Thank you for getting this message to the people of Redding!

  2. Candace C says:

    Randall Smith,
    Thank you for all of your blood, sweat and tears, I personally think you have some very good workable ideas. R.V. Thank you for this article.

  3. Robert Wallenberg says:

    A very informative article! Sounds doable. Too bad we can’t clone Dr. Smith.

  4. Robert Wallenberg says:

    A very informative article! Sounds doable.

  5. Beverly Stafford says:

    So glad you’re back with yet another in-depth article, R.V. Dr. Smith’s Friday comment that another Carr Fire could happen today or tomorrow nearly came true on Sunday with the Masonic Fire. I continue to feel that the City Council wears blinders about Redding’s real needs. Ridding open space of both homeless camps and overgrown vegetation would make Redding nearly fireproof. But instead, illegal homeless camps appear to be legal, and open space continues to be choked with overgrown vegetation.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      City Council doesn’t exactly wear blinders on those issues. They put a public safety tax on the ballot to deal in part with the homeless issue. They are moving toward putting a fire safety tax on the ballot to deal with the vegetation management issue. I think the consensus here is that the latest tax initiative stands scant chance of passing, given recent history.

      Arguably, it’s Redding voters who are wearing the blinders.

      • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

        A good case can be made that the city council is wearing blinders: The Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, completed in 2015, clearly spelled out the risk from fire to the entire city and in fact describes a potential event that fits the Carr Fire exactly. Yet the city did not incorporate any of the mitigation suggestions into the Parks and Open Space plan. This is the basis of developer Jaxon Baker’s lawsuit against the city.

        • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

          True, that case can be made. But incorporating mitigation measures requires funding, and the City is underfunded and over-obligated. There’s simply no budget to scalp the urban-wildland interface every year or two.

          And of course, a good argument could be made that developers and the City are both to blame for developing areas on the West side of town where fire danger is extreme (and likely always will be) without forcing developers to adequately mitigate the fire danger as part of the development, in perpetuity. Would that make those areas impossible to develop? Maybe that would have been for the best, regarding much of that area.

          • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

            Regardless of future development, we’ve definitely built a nice little fire trap for ourselves. In the back of our minds, we always knew it could all go up in smoke. Why would anyone build here, knowing those risks? A new replica of the Alabama gov. mansion is going up right now in Sunset Terrace as I”m SMDH.

            On another note, I think Redding and Shasta County can find help addressing fuel load issues in open spaces and forests if we embrace the state’s Forest Climate Plan. Burning biomass to make energy (and burying the remains) can create a net carbon deficit if done properly, and is gaining popularity again, even among some environmentalists.

            To me, it’s two birds with one stone: we can reduce our carbon footprint and our fire risk at the same time, if we match the scale and pace required.

            I’m not holding my breath for this to happen though.

          • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

            I can understand a one-time breach of taste that would inspire someone with new money to build a replica of the Alabama governor’s mansion as their home in Redding, California. And I don’t feel a strong need to speculate in unflattering terms why they picked that particular edifice of Deep South politics, history and culture…though I could.

            But twice?! That’s really hard to fathom.

  6. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate this morning.

    I agree that the tax proposal likely has the same fate as a snowball in Hell, but why not support it for now? It’s possible that enough people were shocked by the Carr Fire’s devastation that it might pass. What’s gained by talking down that small possibility of success?

    We’re all in this together? No, we’re not. I owned a house in Sunset Terrace until recently, and I can tell you that those who live with canyon views—the majority of houses that burnt down—are in a different tax bracket than the modal Reddingite. It’s further true that the modal Reddingite will tend to see those wealthy canyon-viewers as me-first conservatives of the type who voted against the effort to pass the public safety tax. If I’m a modal Reddingite, my response to “we’re all in this together” collectivism regarding wildfire safety is a bitter laugh.

    People who own houses on the very edge of the wildland-urban interface are like people who own houses on floodplains. I live on North Cow Creek in Palo Cedro and pay floodplain insurance because of the higher risk I’m taking. My neighbors farther away from the creek do not, even though many might flood in a big event—the flood equivalent of the Carr Fire. I don’t see that it’s morally repugnant to draw lines based on probabilities. People taking higher risks should pay more.

    A reckoning is coming for those risk-takers—if not in the form of a graduated fire safety tax based on relative risk, then certainly in the form of higher homeowner insurance rates.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I agree, let’s give the latest tax proposal a proper hearing before we shoot it down. I don’t think the money can be had in the present budget by merely shifting priorities. However, I don’t think fire risk is confined strictly to canyon dwellers, a lot of homes that weren’t on ridgetops got taken in the Carr Fire, and virtually every neighborhood in Redding is adjacent to some sort of open space. Prevention efforts should be focused on cleaning up the wildland urban interface and there needs to be a local, state and federal fundraising effort to complete the task. These mitigation goals fit nicely with the state’s climate change plan for our forests, which already provides grant funding for such activities–although I notice Shasta County and Redding are so far not on the list of grantees.

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        That’s why I couched risk in terms of relative risk instead of absolute risk, and used the analogy of flood risk. All of my neighbors are in danger of flooding during a 500-year flood. Those of us in the 100-year floodplain are the only ones required to purchase floodplain insurance. Under ideal circumstances those in the 500-year floodplain would pay a lil’ something and I’d pay a little less than I’m paying now. Those outside the 500-year floodplain would pay nothing.

        Analogously, in Redding those whose properties abut the urban-wildland interface could pay the highest, those within a block or two somewhat less, and those in the middle of neighborhoods even less. The idea that we all need to share the risks and costs equally is absurd and hard to swallow, especially when it would primarily benefit people who are anti-collectivists on just about every other topic.

        Keep in mind that the Carr Fire was an anomaly—most wildfires are going to primarily threaten those on Redding’s U-W interface. If the “firenado” is the new normal, torching whole neighborhoods, we’re screwed no matter what.

  7. Terry Turner says:

    Your article is so well-written, as usual. Thank you for so clearly articulating the need, and thank you to Dr. Smith for all he has done to help us all.

    I am living in a small, simple community near the railroad tracks, south of Benton Drive. I was evacuated in the Carr fire, which was stopped only one-half mile from my home. On Sunday, as I watched the smoke column come closer, I was packing to evacuate again. I would Love Not to have to pack to evacuate from a wildfire again, and the idea that the solution to this is within our grasp is a glorious thought.

    The Masonic fire appears to have been caused by a transient cooking in a ravine area if I have it correctly? With all the undergrowth and the 50 mile an hour wind gusts, that outdoor cooking was a recipe for disaster. (Thank God for our amazing fire fighters.)

    You are so right that wildfires could happen anywhere in Redding – in the wealthy communities and in our more basic communities. If there are sparks, and undergrowth near by, next comes conflagration. We all lose. As you say, we need to clean up the wildland urban interface, with local, state and federal fundraising to complete the task. And then we need to maintain the clean up.

    I appreciate everyone and every idea trying to fix the issue of the vegetation and has become fuel for wildfires. Thank you all! If I never have to pack to evacuate because of a wildfire again, that would be fantastic. We Can do this together.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      It will be interesting to see the details of the city’s proposed city-wide landscaping district. From what I’ve read so far, it appears they’re considering a single tax for all homeowners that will not be based on geographic location. From the tour I took with Dr. Smith, I think this would be appropriate. The concern of course is that the anti-tax sentiment in Redding will nullify any effort to do something about the issue. Hope the city has a Plan B.

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        Yeah but……would not a graduated tax, married to level of risk, perhaps help the thing pass a vote? It’s just unrealistic to say that everyone is equally at risk—they’re not. It seems like a proposed flat tax on an extremely gradated risk is asking most Redding citizens to chump themselves.

        If I’m living in Garden Track or most of Enterprise, I’d be more likely to vote “yes” if I’m not getting hit with the full assessment for my relatively low risk. I’d also be willing to pay a little more if I owned property on the West side or anywhere else on the periphery of town, because any cost subsidized by others is less that I’d have to pay on my own or by neighborhood assessment.

        On the other hand, if I’m sitting in a modest tract home in Enterprise, struggling to make ends meet, and I’m being asked to pay the full price to protect what I view as Posse Riverview’s palatial abodes in the hills of West Redding, my answer is probably going to be: Not only no, but HELL no.

        • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

          I think in a response above I agreed with you, perhaps it should be assessed according to the parcel’s risk. It might stand a better chance of passing. Smith seemed pretty convinced that what the city will suggest is a parcel task weighted by risk, and that that proposal wouldn’t fly either, and therefore, nothing will be done except a new report. “Napkin money,” he calls it. I guess we’ll find out more after today’s meeting.

          • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

            When the citizens of a city refuse to pay for the things that they desperately need, that city is in deep scheisse. I live in an unincorporated ‘burb in the County, but Redding is the city where I obtain nearly all of my services and entertainment—and where my daughter lives and owns a home—and I hate to see it circling the drain.

            The failure of the public safety tax was one of the last straws for me when we were deciding whether or not to move back to Palo Cedro. If the fire safety tax craters too, I’ll have another affirmation of my decision……one that I don’t really want.

          • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

            What would you call a county that refuses to fund its own safety? A shithole county? Is that going too far?

  8. Egon Harrasser says:

    Thank you very much for your review and input on what we should be doing to avoid another wildfire threatening our community. We are having a potential fire problem just south of Sunset drive.
    The City of Redding has a city “Right of Way” all along the whole extend up from Eureka Way. There is a lot of dry, dead vegetation which need to be cleaned up… I will try, with the help of neighbors, to get this done. I wish you all the best with your upcoming surgery, Egon Harrasser

  9. Alice Bell says:

    I note that the area north of Benton drive from Barbara Rd. west to the Pump House 4 is tinder dry and thick with weeds, trees and shrubs. Who owns that property and why haven’t they been required to thin it out to reduce the fire potential?

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Could be lack of code enforcement, or perhaps no money for fire prevention. There’s areas like that all over town.

  10. Frank Treadway says:

    I find the City of Redding on the verge of bankruptcy when the next dry period comes, is it next Summer, is it this Winter ? We all know of those canyons, swales and City owned property that runs right up behind private property and is completely dry with grass, pine trees and mounds of blackberries that are just waiting to combust into fast growing fires. The City of Redding has access to grants from Cal Fire and other sources. As mentioned we have prison farms nearby, we have some 300 inmates in the county jail at all times, I’m sure 15% of them would be fine to do this kind of clean-up. We have a local CA Conservation Corps who do excellent work on jobs like this. Form a local Public Works Project, just like the one created by FDR. When private homes and businesses are at stake, money should be no object. New property codes need to be implemented. The City needs to make something happen yesterday.

  11. Johanna Anderson says:

    Suddenly that lovely home in my neighborhood, the one closer to the creek (Creek? More like dried-up, overgrown ditch) looks far less appealing. Here’s a thought: perhaps the city and Shasta College could partner up? Vegetation management, urban-wildland interfaces, public lands management, together with GIS mapping… a can envision a robust academic program driven by hands-on, applied experience coming from this (on going) disaster.

  12. Hollis Pickett says:

    Everything is contained in the last sentence! Humans are the only life form that can reproduce beyond the capacity of our environment to support us. We become complacent – secure in our ability to create our own shelter, deliberately grow the food we need and, perhaps most important of all, move water to wherever it’s needed. We are using resources much faster than they can be replaced. In many cases, those replacement resources are sub-standard. We have pockets of awareness, but fail to connect the dots. The rice farmer in Korea isn’t thinking about the rainforest devastation in Brazil. The price for our willful neglect will be exacting and pitiless. In support of Randall’s efforts, I would refer everyone to Kathleen Gilman’s excellent article regarding environmentally conscious habitat modification. Great article, R.V. !

  13. AJ AJ says:

    I live on the crest of a hill overlooking one of those jack pine/manzanita loaded canyons. I get anxiety stomach cramps every summer from July until we get our first rain. There is a very busy road down one side of this little draw, all it would take would be one careless cigarette or spark from a car and 18 homes would be gone immediately! I, for one, would gladly pay a tax to have a year round program working on proper restoration of these areas.
    Also, in response to Hollis’ comment above. I doubt that many of us, whether ordering a fast-food burger or an upscale fillet mignon realize a connection between beef consumption of beef and the decimation of the rain forest in Brazil.

  14. Gwen Tough says:

    Some Thoughts, skimming through this article and all the comments. Young people-high school/college kids! They are the ones who should be enlisted somehow to help with “cleaning up” the fire prone weeds and other dead material. Paid by the hour by the city-I’m sure it would be FAR LESS than a massive tax!! Make it fun! Kids have new hips and joints and can tolerate the heat. Why pay for inmates? Our young people need summer jobs. Many colleges get out very early and many kids would be available before summer heat sets in.
    Another thought: the same material that can turn creeks into what Smith calls a “bomb” (is that inflammatory language or what? ) are the same things that protect creeks from erosion. There was major erosion on our property, along Stillwater Creek, during the 2016-17 torrential storms. Bamboo, which has a badf reputation and has been taken out of many creeks, actually protects land from erosion by its very tenacity.
    Another thought: would the City have more money for this, and many other badly needed projects, if city workers weren’t able to retire with amazing pensions and lifetime health care benefits for themselves and their spouses at age 50 or thereabouts? Frontline on PBS is running an excellent program about how public pensions can’t be sustained without wrecking the entire economy of a city or state. This is a firestorm of another kind.

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