Keith Mangold is a man on a mission to save El Granada from wildfires no one thought possible when he moved to town nearly 40 years ago. In fact, few contemplated unchecked fire burning through the canopy of eucalyptus even five years ago. Yet today everyone acknowledges the danger, even as too little is being done to mitigate it.

Mangold erected a table near the El Granada post office to ask neighbors how they felt about the ubiquitous fragrant trees that are a primary feature of the Midcoast town. People stopped to gaze upon his poster board, peppered with facts and figures like a middle-school science project, that outlined the fire danger. And most of them agreed that the eucalyptus had to go.

El Granada Fire Canopy

The photo at left shows an area of Quarry Park before a shaded fuel break was created; the right side is what it looked like after the work. Photo courtesy Fire Safe San Mateo County

Specifically, the concern is a canopy fire that Diablo winds from the northeast would blow through the tree tops. He notes that the land rises 700 feet from sea level to the top of El Granada Boulevard, sometimes at grades up to 70 percent. If it was hard to imagine furious winds whipping sparks and embers through tinder-dry Coastside homes when Mangold moved here in 1983, it is no longer. Now it is hard to imagine firefighters turning back such a blaze.

San Mateo County has been addressing the fire danger in the El Granada highlands. Among other things, it has been creating what is known as shaded fuel breaks in Quarry Park and maintaining those breaks by treating parts of 100 acres with herbicide to keep down eucalyptus, cape ivy and other fuel for wildfire. It’s expensive, back-breaking work designed to improve the chance of fire suppression when wildfire roars down the hill.

The key phrase being “improve the chance.” As Fire Safe San Mateo County notes on its website, “any fuel break by itself will not stop a wildfire.” It is meant to provide a “defensible landscape” that firefighters can use to their advantage when they most need one.

The scope of mitigation measures is a moving target in these times of climate change. What was once regular misting fog is less frequent; the prolonged periods of hot, dry weather are more likely. The fire break that appears adequate on paper in 2021 might not meet our needs in 2025 and beyond. Look at the photos here, included on the county’s website to illustrate the work being done and decide for yourself whether that work seems adequate even now.

Mangold had 350 names on a petition as of late last week, all asking the Board of Supervisors to do something about the risk of a wildfire spread by winds out of the northeast. He says 95 percent of the people he’s talked to in El Granada support removing as many eucalyptus as is necessary to effectively mitigate the danger. Whether anything comes of his efforts remains to be seen, but we all know fire is coming.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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