by Trevor George
At Live Oaks Ranch, there is one road that provides access into and out of the property. In order to gain access to the farmstead, and the two occupied residences within it, vehicles must cross a bridge over Bidwell Creek. During the summer and early fall, we successfully replaced the failing, eroding concrete and culvert crossing with a new free-span bridge. The environmental benefits to this project are many: reduced erosion for better water quality, improved aquatic wildlife passage, reestablishment of the natural flow and quality of the stream, and more. But what I’m writing about today is a different aspect of the project.
We built the new bridge to be consistent with the Sonoma County fire code. This meant we had to build a larger, stronger and more expensive bridge than we had originally thought. In a landscape that was shaped by fire, we knew we had to play it safe. What we didn’t know is that this new bridge would be put to the ultimate test just days after completion.
This has certainly underscored for us that those fire codes are in place for good reason.
Live Oaks Ranch is located near the start of the Tubbs fire and all 572 acres were burned. Thankfully, and most importantly, our caretakers and tenants made it to safety before the arrival of the fire. As the flames licked at the homes in the farmstead in the middle of the night, firefighters, in long and heavy firetrucks, successfully crossed our new bridge. They tirelessly fought the fire all night long and saved both homes!
The previous culvert crossing had not been built up to fire code and we don’t know if it would have supported the weight of the large firetrucks that accessed the property that night. It was also set in a turn such that the turn radius was most likely too tight to have permitted safe passage to the long trucks and equipment essential to fighting a fire like the Tubbs. This has certainly underscored for us that those fire codes are in place for good reason.
We did lose several outbuildings on the ranch in the fire and we are continuing to assess the natural resources that make this property so beautiful. The land will recover, but we are grateful to the first responders who worked so hard and risked so much to protect our communities and our homes.
Watch: Trevor examines fire damage at Live Oaks Ranch
Trevor George is a stewardship project manager at Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.