NOVATO, Calif. (KTVU) - The new CalFire Director is touring the state with a warning : get ready.Thom Porter was appointed to the post by Governor Newsom, replacing the previous director who retired. Porter has a long forestry background, and has been with CalFire for twenty years, one of the first to sound the alarm about climate change and its affects, creating mega-fires.
"The only way we're going to turn the corner on this, is a concerted effort by everyone in California," said Porter, at a Thursday press event in Novato.
He was flanked by firefighters and local leaders from across Marin County, worried about the hot, dry weather months ahead.
"It is very possible we will see another fire burn through a community this year," Porter told KTVU, "because for the time being, we cannot stop these fires, they are going to continue to happen."
The annual campaign once called "Wildfire Awareness Week" is now billed as a "Preparedness" week instead.
It's virtually impossible to be unaware of fire, after catastrophe several years in a row.
"Last year we lost more than one hundred lives in California and over 22,000 structures," said U.S. Forest Service Manager Bob Baird.
"We are no longer having fire seasons, we're having fire years."
Director Porter says CalFire intends to clear more than one million acres of overgrowth and add more engines, bulldozers and aircraft.
"There is good fire and there's bad fire," he explained, "so we will maximize our prescribed burning programs, which is good fire. And when fires do break out, make sure we keep them as small as possible."
In Marin County, the non-profit organization Fire Safe Marin is dedicated to reducing hazard and bolstering preparedness.
Thursday, it showed off hundreds of goats, contracted to graze the woodland hills above San Anselmo.
Split into three herds, 1200 goats are consuming a few acres of foliage and grass every day, strategically creating fuel breaks to keep fire from spreading toward homes in Sleepy Hollow, Fairfax, Terra Linda and Lucas Valley. Fire officials believe an estimated 80,000 Marin residents are located in high fire risk areas.
"A lot of this county worries me, keeps me up on dry, windy nights," admitted Jason Weber, Chief of the Marin County Fire Department.
Marin has committed to hiring more crews to clear vegetation, and identified 55 miles of high priority roads.
Those are evacuation routes, often narrow and woodsy, that need to be cleaned out so more vehicles can use them in an emergency.
Various open spaces, such as parking lots and athletic fields are also being mapped, so that people who are fleeing can hunker down with the protection of a fire engine, rather than be trapped in traffic.
"We recognize that we need to create safe refuge areas, where we can put people for a short period of time, let the fire pass, and then evacuate them," Chief Weber told KTVU.
Fire agencies want to turn anxiety to action.
"Eventually people need to change out their roofs, they need to change out their siding, their windows, their venting," said Bill Tyler, Chief of the Novato Fire Department.
Tyler says when home construction or remodeling is done, it's important to opt for fire resistant, rather than combustible, materials.
And beyond creating a defensible space, he notes fire-prone landscaping needs to be removed.
"We need to have these conversations with people on their driveways, and it's really about changing hearts and minds," Tyler told KTVU.
The goal of the week-long public outreach is to encourage the public to take an active role in protecting themselves.
"Every community in California should take the lessons of the North Bay fire, Redding, Paradise, Ventura, and Santa Barbara and recognize that could be them, any day of any year," declared Chief Weber.
CalFire has practical advice on fire prevention and preparation at the site: readyforwildfire.org.