Mill Valley makes bold move to prevent fires

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- In Mill Valley, Fire Battalion Chief Michael St. John spends every day walking through terrain where fire has burned again and again.

That it hasn't happened here since 1929 worries him.

"So we lost 100 homes in 1929 and in the same footprint, today, we would have a thousand homes lost."

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In hilly, thickly forested with narrow streets Mill Valley, fire is always in the back of residents' minds.

"I know if a fire starts and goes over the ridge top, Mill Valley is toast," said one resident.

All true in this city where three of every four homes sit on a wildfire urban interface.

In response, the City Council made a bold move, last night, with a three-year plan requiring residents to hardscape the areas around their homes, and remove fire-prone, ornamental plants like bamboo, acacia, and junipers.

"This juniper could put off 20-30 foot flames when it goes," said Battalion Chief St. John, pointing to a plant.

Those remedies could cost residents thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. The city intends to enforce this ordinance, so they will have no choice.

For some that's a sticking point and a case of government overstepping its authority.

"I still have a lot of questions," said Mill Valley resident Andy Mecca.


"Cost. And what is the long-term plan?"

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Mill Valley Mayor Jim Wickham admits that is unusual for a city government to tell residents how to handle their properties.

He says the city does not have an answer for all questions, but hopes that for some residents who can prove economic hardship, the city would be able to provide assistance.

"It is a compromise in protecting the community as a whole as opposed to individual properties," said Mayor Wickham.

If you live in Mill Valley and wonder how your home may fit into this plan, call the Fire Department. They will be happy to visit and, for free, do an assessment.

"This is going to take education," said Battalion Chief St. John. "It's a culture change. They can be difficult."
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