El Granada resident Keith Mangold can imagine how the disaster will unfold. One night, some kids would be playing around with fireworks near Quarry Park. A stray spark could ignite some brush, which quickly races up to the crown of one tree, then hops to the next. Soon, the whole park is ablaze, and those nasty Diablo winds blow it straight to the heart of El Granada.
“If this place catches fire, we’re toast,” Mangold said, stepping carefully through the lower trails of Quarry Park.
Mangold, who has lived in El Granada since 1983, said he remembers the days of the “asbestos coast,” when no one thought the Coastside could burn. But after successive droughts and last year’s CZU August Lightning Complex Fire that tore through the South Coast, he knows better. Now, it’s the Diablo winds — which race, hot and dry from the Northeast — that keep him up at night.
That’s why Mangold is calling on the San Mateo County Parks Department to prioritize preventing a canopy fire by cutting away all the hazardous material in the park, with a focus on preventing crown fires that aren’t easily fought using ground equipment. Estimates from local fire experts have pegged such a project to come out at around $160 million, making cost the most significant barrier when it comes to feasibility.
The county is already taking on a few projects that target El Granada and Quarry Park. Over the next five years, three projects will treat 218 acres of eucalyptus trees in the park, using $1.2 million to create shaded fuel breaks and work on fuel reduction. The county Department of Public Works is also set to begin a $500,000 project this fall to remove hundreds of eucalyptus trees in the medians along key intersections of El Granada to prevent a fire’s rapid spread through the neighborhood. And the San Mateo Resource Conservation District is set to begin a project that will scope out and plan what other measures are needed to reduce fire risk in El Granada.
Mangold supports any effort that will target fire prevention in the neighborhood, but as for Quarry Park, he says it’s not enough to build shaded fuel breaks, where the crowns of trees reach across wide roads anyway. With the park’s dense groves of eucalyptus looming overhead, he sees the Oakland Hills as El Granada’s destiny.
“I’d rather see prevention than evacuation,” Mangold said.
On the weekends, Mangold can usually be found posted up in front of the El Granada post office with a white poster board and a petition, which now has more than 350 signatures. At last week’s Granada Community Services District meeting, directors decided to send their own letter to the county in support of vegetation management and other fire prevention measures, and to include Mangold’s petition to prove it has community support.
Mangold isn’t the only one taking action in his own backyard. Last month, the final logs were being dragged off four properties along El Granada Boulevard. Property owners had all united to undergo the lengthy permit process to remove around 40 trees to create a fire break behind their properties. Now, San Mateo County has waived that permit process, and anyone who lives in the unincorporated areas can remove hazardous eucalyptus from their backyard, so long as they’re threatening structures or evacuation routes.
Meanwhile, members of the Coastside Community Emergency Response Team are preparing for Mangold’s worst nightmare. On Saturday, they were handing out basic emergency supplies to 32 neighborhood teams at the old fire station, which they’re using as a logistics hub. The large plastic containers held fire extinguishers, flashlights, notepads, bullhorns, medical supplies, tarps, clipboards and even large canopies for shade.
Materials Manager Joyce Logan was onsite checking the equipment and greeting neighborhood representatives, who will store them in case they are needed in an emergency. She sees Coastside CERT, the volunteer group that trains and prepares to aid in any disaster, and whose South Coast branch was activated during the CZU fire, as a lifeline. Along the Coastside’s many communities dotting Highway 1, knowing your neighbors and being ready for anything could make a life-or-death difference if a fire ever does roll down the hill.
“We’re isolated out here,” Logan said. “We need to be able to communicate and understand each other.”