What to expect as California fires inch closer to Marin

Dylan Zorn

Captain Adam Vollmer of Southern Marin Fire Department carrying his equipment up a flight of stairs during fire safety training.

 

On Aug. 11, a car burst into flames on Mt. Tamalpais, sparking a fire that was over an acre, forcing residents in the area to be evacuated. A week later on Aug.18, another small-scale fire occurred nearby on Koch Road in Corte Madera, resulting in local residents needing to be evacuated. Marin County’s fires are rapidly becoming more dangerous as the year progresses, and the Southern Marin Fire Department, Marin’s Sheriff’s Office and Marin Search and Rescue will be working simultaneously to extinguish the fires and protect people living in the county. 

Senior Dessa Needham lives close to where the fire on Koch Road occurred. It was believed that the fire, although small, threatened her and many of her neighbors. 

“[The fire] was moving pretty quickly from the car that started the fire to houses on the road. The entire road was asked to evacuate, and many others who lived close were considering leaving their houses for the night just to be safe,” Needham said. 

According to the Marin Independent Journal, over 60 firefighters responded to the Koch Road fire, and helicopters were sent in for backup. That same day, two other fires broke out south of San Rafael near highway 101.   

The Southern Marin Fire station at sundown in Strawberry, California.

Traditionally, fires both in and near Marin County are most active from the end of August to the beginning of December, indicating that the worst of this year’s fires are yet to come. Steven Mackall, a full-time firefighter for the past six years, is currently stationed at Hicks Valley Fire Station, located outside of Novato. He believes that Marin is expected to be severely affected by active fires outside the county moving towards Marin in the next few months.

“The live fuel moistures in Marin are currently at 60 percent, which is considered critical. [At] the beginning of August 2021, [Marin] was at the 60 percent threshold, which normally we don’t see until the end of October or beginning of November. That obviously is not a good sign, and without enough rain, we are looking at potentially the worst fire season that Marin has experienced,” Mackall said.

Climate change is the leading cause of fires progressively getting larger and more dangerous. According to Scientific American, over half of the acres burned each year in the western part of America is due to climate change and an increase in global temperatures.

“The months of June through July of this year was the driest two month period on record in Calif., and the winter that we had in 2020 was not the wetting winter that we were hoping for. Global warming is hugely responsible for this, and at the rate that we are at right now, the fire season will get worse and worse every year,” Mackall said.

Redwood High School has previously canceled numerous days at a time due to poor air quality, and Mackall believes that this year will be no different.

“Because Redwood is in a valley between Mt. Tam and San Rafael, it is very prone for winds carrying the hazardous fire smoke from nearby fires to blow directly to the school. There is a great chance that once fires start up in or close to Marin, Redwood will have to be shut down until we can clear the smoke,” Mackall said.

In addition to firefighters, Marin’s Search and Rescue team (SAR) will significantly contribute to  keeping residents safe in the upcoming fire season. Michael St. John, who is a member of SAR and has been a unit leader for 32 years and also served as a firefighter in Mill Valley from 1985-2018, spoke on the manner in which SAR is involved with containing fires.

Members of Marin Search and Rescue preparing for a large-scale evacuation drill in Marinwood on June 8, 2021. Photo courtesy of: Marin Search and Rescue Facebook

“Our primary job [involving fires] is to support the sheriff’s office in responding to fire related incidents. This means that in Marin, the Search and Rescue team’s primary job is fire evacuation, and supporting human remain searches after a fire has burnt through an area and consumed a lot of structures in a short period of time,” St. John said.

As fires continue to sweep through California and Marin County increasingly becomes in danger of fires, firefighters will work to ensure the safety of the people in Marin.