Let It Burn: Whitmore Preps For An Increasingly Hot Future

Fire is serious business. All photos by R.V. Scheide.

The problem is we just don’t have enough time. You can say that about a lot of things in life, including life itself, but I’m being more specific here. Fire season is just around the corner, and we have only a couple of months left to prepare for what portends to be yet another sizzling hot summer in which a single errant spark can set off a lethal 100,000-acre conflagration at any moment.

Here in Whitmore, in the forested foothills 30 miles east of Redding, we’re preparing for the worst. Many of the 1000 or so residents who live in the Whitmore area’s 200 square miles understand we’re living on borrowed time. It’s been more than 15 years since the last major fire in Whitmore proper, a relatively small 1000-acre blaze that burned down the bar. Sadly, it has never been rebuilt.

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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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18 Responses

  1. Della Martin says:

    Thank you for letting us know what is happening in Whitmore regarding fire safety. We lived in Whitmore on Ponderosa Way from 1978 to 1999 and were evacuated twice due to fires, including the one that burned the bar. We love the town and have been very concerned about it becoming another Camp Fire. We joined the Red Cross as volunteers and worked the Camp Fire shelters, so we’ve seen first hand how devastating fire is to people’s lives. We lost part of our fence in the Carr Fire in Redding. We really understand now that no one is safe from fire, you must do everything possible as a community to have viable routes for evacuation, you must look out for your neighbors and communication is absolutely vital. These were huge issues in Paradise ans many lost their lives. This is possible in Whitmore. I thank the community leaders for stepping up to find a solution. Thanks! Della Martin

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Thanks Della. My parents live in Redding and during the Carr Fire were evacuated twice. Naturally, the came up here to Whitmore. Not exactly the safest place to shelter from a fire!

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    As I sit here and see six inches of snow already fallen and no stopping in sight, it doesn’t seem possible that in just a few weeks, we’ll be watching warily for flames. Many of us here keep a defensible space around our homes, but with conflagrations like the Carr and Camp fires, that hardly seems like sufficient protection. We’ve dodged the bullet for five or so years since the Hat Creek/Old Station fire devastated the area not far from us; so our turn is coming. My go bag is still packed.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I woke up to six inches of snow too, and the first thing I said was, “Looks like we’re burning this weekend baby!”

  3. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    The entire west side of Redding escaped a bullet this year and I fear for years to come. If you look at Google Satellite view you can clearly see that the entire west side of redding is built on a plateau which has been eroded into little fingerling canyons. These canyons are packed to the gills (touted by developers as “greenbelts”) with flammables and topped with houses sold for their views. I know . . . . I live in one of them. I get a knot in my stomach every year from July until our first rains. Most of the canyon behind my house is city right-of-way. Wish I knew how to get the city and whoever owns the rest of the property to clean it out before Mother Nature does it for us.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      How to you get the city to act? Simple. Sue them for not incorporating the 2015 disaster mitigation study recommendations into the general plan. That’s what 150 people who lost their homes in the Carr Fire are doing. They may not win, but perhaps the city will take the hint.

  4. Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    I whacked and burned my way to a little more safety. When I look back on what I accomplished it seems pretty small compared to what is left. AT the time the best advice you could get was to clear at least 100 feet around the house, enough room to get a firetruck around the house. Watching our three fires of late should tell you that 100 feet is not enough. When I lived there after clearing all around the house I put sprinklers on the roof and installed a generator big enough to run the well pump. Would that be enough to save the house, fortunately, haven’t tested that theory yet.

    Every summer you keep one eye down the hill for signs of smoke. You need time to escape and the sooner the better. When I lived there the plan was to load up the critters and head for safety. After starting the generator and roof sprinklers.

    • Anita Brady says:

      Sadly, parcels without improvements (house) do not legally have to be cleared. We have such acreage barely over 200 ft. from our land. We have cleared our entire acreage. But with land so close that will go up as a hot torch, those of us that surround it have little recourse.

      This situation needs to change. Unimproved property should be required to clear all acreage that is shared by neighbors. If they don’t, it should be contracted out, and the property owners should pay it back.

  5. CODY says:

    Speaking of the Fire Safe Council – is there any progress on getting a 2nd Cal-Fire engine? The problem is with the mutual aid, where the current one engine could be assisting in Oak Run or Millville, which is a long way from Whitmore – especially if a fire starts raging.

  6. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    It’s sad to say, but July through October it’s that time of year when one hears a siren one hopes it’s an ambulance and not a fire truck.

  7. Tim says:

    If you don’t mind another hobby, you can turn chipped biomass into a pulp and compact it into bricks/pucks – basically a homemade duraflame log. Might as well heat your home and shop with the enissions you release (and it should burn cleaner in a wood stove than burn pile).

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      When I used to imagine I was going to chip all of our forest debris, I figured I could just haul it down to the biomass plant and perhaps make a few extra bucks. I figured wrong, because apparently none of the biomass plants in our area are paying for private citizens’ chips (if I’m wrong about this, please let me know). Dad replaced the wood fireplace with an efficient propane furnace so burning homemade presto logs isn’t an option.

  8. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    When I chip the slash on my property—mostly from orchard trees—I leave it in place. It helps retain soil moisture, which helps keep your vegetation from desiccating in fire season and helps control weeds. However, it takes a few years to decompose, and during that time it can steal nitrogen from the soil, so you have to be careful with it. You don’t want to layer it thick near the trunks of trees and shrubs because that can cause fungal diseases. You also have to be careful with species like black walnut—they have allelopathic chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants…not a good source of mulch. If your slash is from pine, it’ll tend to acidify your soil. Some landscape plants don’t fare well with the acidification. And lastly, wood mulch can also burn as a creeping fire, so you don’t want it close to structures in fire-prone areas.

    Dang….I’ve almost talked myself into burning my slash piles. But I’m like R.V. — I don’t want to be the guy who lit the ‘hood on fire.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Thanks for the tips Steve. When I’ve been picking up forest debris off of the floor, some of it has been quite decomposed, and I’ve been leaving it in place so it can complete the natural process. My brother and I have been discussing whether or not we should rake the oak leaves up, because apparently they’re quite flammable if they catch a spark. Fortunately we don’t have a lot of oaks on the property.

  9. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    Corrections department: I’ve been informed by longtime Whitmore resident Chris Withey that I have the date the bar burned down wrong. The bar burned downed during the 1988 Fern Fire, which burned 8000 acres in the Whitmore area. That was 31 years ago, and the bar still hasn’t been rebuilt. No wonder some locals worry we’re overdue for a big one!

  10. CODY says:

    The Fern Fire was on Fern Road East, started near the lavender gardens, then it burned North, and East up toward and around Kilarc Reservoir. It did not burn down around downtown Whitmore. The bar burned down on its own, I think it started in a house attached behind it – stovepipe or something.

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