Parkway Fires, 53 Since May 1

That is according to the Parkway Rangers, who, being there every day, would have the best estimate, as reported in this column by Marcos Breton in the Sacramento Bee.

The staggering lack of responsibility or even knowledgeable conjecture from public leadership regarding causation or resolution, as gleaned from this column, is, unfortunately, par for the course.

The situation does not appear to be heading toward any type of improvement under the current County management; which is why we propose management by a nonprofit organization able to provide the dedicated management our Parkway deserves.

An excerpt from Breton’s column.

Fires have been burning all summer on the American River Parkway, decimating large swaths of Sacramento’s 23-mile urban forest while putting nearby residents at risk.

Are the fires being caused by illegal campers on the parkway? Are they being caused by people who want the campers out of the parkway and are lighting fires to bring attention to the illegal camping? Or are they being caused by something else?

The primary agencies to answer these questions are the Sacramento Metro Fire Department and the Sacramento City Fire Department. They’re the experts. They are trained to investigate fires. They are neutral parties that could bring clarity to a public health issue that’s rife with politics.

What politics?

When you’re talking about illegal campers on the American River Parkway, you are talking about homeless people. That reality has caused community-wide paralysis as much of the parkway has gone up in smoke.

Suggesting that people need to be moved off the parkway is viewed by some as hating the homeless. Meanwhile, residents of Woodlake and other north Sacramento neighborhoods are furious about the slow destruction of a prized natural resource.

On Friday, I went looking for clarity from Sac Metro Fire and Sac City. I wanted to know what the experts thought, what they suspected and what they have seen.

According to Chris Harvey, spokesman for Sacramento City Fire, they’ve seen encampments, which are often located in wooded areas next to heavily used bike trails. “It’s pretty bad,” Harvey said. “You see human feces, needles, every manner of garbage.”

Common sense tells you that homeless encampments could be a source of fire in a bone-dry parkway. Cooking stoves could provide the spark. So could cigarettes. Used needles suggest that people high on drugs could cause a conflagration – by accident or on purpose.

So what’s the answer from the experts?

They don’t have one.

Officials from both agencies were not prepared to say anything definitive on why so many fires have burned on American River Parkway. They say it’s hard to determine arson in parkway fires because of a lack of reliable witnesses within transient homeless communities.

So we have a fire epidemic with no official answers. We have a public health hazard and no clarity on what’s causing it.

This is hard to believe and completely unacceptable. We’re beyond the point where the Sacramento City Council and the Sacramento County supervisors need to demand answers for why the parkway has been burning.

What is it going to take? Are houses and apartments going to have to burn with people in them before somebody demands answers? Is a firefighter going to have to get killed on the parkway?

Already this summer, firefighters have had to battle blazes by shooting water cannons from boats on the American River. In these instances, they chose to fight from the water, fearing falling branches or trees weakened by previous fires.

It’s been hard to keep track of the number of fires in the parkway. Often it’s difficult to determine where one fire ends and another one begins. You also have firefighters from two different agencies responding and keeping their own statistics.

For now, the most comprehensive accounting comes from county park rangers, who say there have been approximately 53 fires since May 1.

Jeff Leatherman, the county parks chief, said on Friday that he has heard nothing definitive from fire officials on the causes of the fires.

Read more here:

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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