Free Compliments of our Advertisers
Sonoma County Gazette
Gregory Simon

Book Review ~
Flame and Fortune in
the American West

Jan 30, 2018
by Teri Shore, Greenbelt Alliance


REVIEW by Teri Shore

I heard Professor Gregory Simon on KPFA radio talking about his book Flame and Fortune in the American West as I was evacuating to my sister’s in Petaluma due to smoke and encroaching fire near my home in Sonoma Valley. The interview got my attention as he explained that firestorms are not entirely due to overgrown brush, drought or a hotter climate. The devastating fires that ravage communities and the landscape are also a direct result of where and how we build, why, and the influence of underlying politics, planning and profit-making. His book has helped me start to make sense and talk about what happened here.

In Flame and Fortune, Simon uses the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 as a case study to explore the complex history, crisis and aftermath of fires that sweep in from the urban edge. Simon was a teenager home alone when the Oakland Hills fire forced him to flee with whatever he could grab, like so many in the North Bay and across California. His family home survived.

In his book, Simon delves into the “complex social and environmental underpinnings” of fire on the urban edge. He reframes the wildland-urban interface as the affluence-vulnerability interface to describe how lucrative development in the hills gets prominence over fire risk. Building flammable homes in steep canyons and fire-prone landscapes creates a manmade “incendiary.”

Gregory Simon and Teri Shore a fire, Simon points out that the rush to rebuild by fast-tracking design review and building permits, like we are seeing in Sonoma County, can lead to inadequate oversight of rebuilt structures and homes that are bigger, leading to a higher fire risk in the long term. He explains how property tax revenues and the related impacts of California’s Proposition 13 factor into the rush to rebuild.

Simon also recognizes that fire-prone neighborhoods will be, and need to be, re-built and gives examples where homeowners banded together to get power lines put underground and reduce fire risk. He supports urban growth boundaries and greenbelts as good policies to keep people out of fire zones.

As soon as I started reading the book, I recognized that we needed to bring him to Sonoma County to help us understand what had happened, what to watch out for, and talk about as we recover and rebuild.

Simon recently toured some of the burn areas with Greenbelt Alliance and Sierra Club, then held a brown bag session with about 30 environmental leaders, city and county officials, architects, housing advocates and community leaders. He returns on 7 pm, Saturday, March 10, for a free public event at Copperfield’s Books at Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa.




Login to Make a Comment

Please support our sponsors:

Cloverdale Performing Arts Center - True West

May 17*, 18, 19, 25, 6 @ 7:30pm
May 20 & 27 @ 2pm
Tickets: 707-894-3222
TICKETS *Pay-what-you-can preview on May 17 at 7:30 pm

BeeKind of Sebastopol
Bike Logo

Call 855-483-3732 to find out about Folding, Cargo & BionX Bikes. Perfect for a SMART Train Ride!

Fine Tree Care - Sonoma County Tree Services
Sonoma County Bicycle Shops and Groups

Sonoma County Bike Shops and Groups. Find LOCALLY-OWNED Bicycle Shops for NEW, Used and Rental Bicycles as well as REPAIR. Look for a bike-riding group that suits your needs and style.

Please use the Gazette's Guide to find LOCALLY-OWNED Garden Businesses to support Sonoma County's environmental and economic health and vitality.

Flower Shops and Florists of Sonoma County

Please support locally-owned businesses and tell them the Gazette sent you - THANK YOU!

Locally-Owned Jewelry Businesses in Sonoma County

Find Goldsmiths and Jewelers who create custom designs, offer jewelry repair, estate appraisals, and gems.