North Bay wildfire prevention team inspect homes, neighborhoods for potential 'fuel for fires'

A newly assembled wildfire prevention team is strategically roaming neighborhoods in the North Bay

The Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority is a unified front of 17 member agencies and is focused on minimizing fire risk. 

Their inspection teams have been making unannounced visits with the ultimate goal of creating fire-adapted communities. Their mission is to bolster defensible space to stop an ordinary fire from turning into a major fire.

Tate Thompson is the lead inspector and his team has been growing in numbers. Twenty-eight inspectors are currently making the rounds in Marin County

"We had some of our returning inspectors started earlier in April," Thompson said. "They have already completed over 2000 inspections and now that we have the other group in, we will probably see 800 inspections a week."

It was just last summer when the Bay Area was in the middle of a severe drought and there was alarming concern for a disastrous fire season. While the abundant rainfall last winter erased the drought, the vegetation has since been growing and drying at a rapid rate. 

This new batch of dry vegetation is the leading concern for the fire season at our doorstep.

On a sunny day in mid-June, an inspection crew was walking a cul-de-sac in the hills of Greenbrae. Their visits do not lead to punishing fines. Inspection crews want to document and point out vulnerabilities to help make a property fire safe.

Inspectors were targeting homes that featured overgrown vegetation on the hillside leading up to the property. Since the occupants were away, the crew could only complete a partial inspection. 

Over a 15-minute time span, inspectors logged potential threats, took numerous pictures, and left a notice on the front door. That notice has a unique access code that homeowners can use to learn about their findings.  

Stuart Tanenberg, the defensible space inspector, had a long list of recommended work.


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"There is a lot of grasses and weeds that need to be managed," Tanenberg said. "There is a lot of vegetation that is poorly maintained that we noted and getting up closer to the house, there are other things on the hillside that need to be maintained and taken out."

The preventative measures could pay off when all the flourishing vegetation turns into potential fuel for a fire. This is all linked to the flooding rains from last winter.

Mark Brown is the executive officer of the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority, and he shares a sobering correlation between rainfall and wildfires.

"Historically, what has happened is that we have a catastrophic fire season following drought-busting winters," Brown said.

Rainfall totals for the 2022-23 season have skyrocketed past normal levels. The last time there was this much rain was six years ago. Following the active winter, the devastating North Bay Fires flared up in the fall of 2017.

"Let's talk about the Tubbs Fire," Brown said. "It started in the grass, progressed into brush and timber, and by the time it got into Santa Rosa, it turned into a house-to-house fire."

This magnifies the importance of the house-to-house visits happening now. Crews will continue to ramp up inspections over the summer. Progress is the goal and it is happening.

"In this last week, in Greenbrae, I would say a good 75 to 80 percent of people have actually worked on some things in the report from the previous year," Tanenberg said.

More information about creating defensible space and the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority can be found on their website.