Defense challenge

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Cindi Williams stands before the dry pasture bordering her home on Pentz Road, near Highway 70. Typically, it’d be green and trim from browsing goats.

In a typical year, the Williams family would have a large herd of goats munching down the fields surrounding their home on Pentz Road for a few reasons: meat, supplemental income and fire suppression.

Since the Miocene Canal went off-line after the Camp Fire, the family—Cindi, her mother and son—has but two sheep in its parched pasture near Butte Valley. The Williamses can’t afford to provide water to any more livestock—Cindi has shelled out more than $3,000 to install a 1,600 gallon water tank for their home and the sheep, and that doesn’t include the $200 to $250 monthly expense to have water delivered to fill it.

“We’re trying to get back a little bit of a herd because I can’t imagine going out there and weed-eating that whole pasture,” she said. Though goats are more ideal for fire suppression, the sheep help mow down the grass in the meantime—and aren’t as wily.

When it comes to Cal Fire’s abilities to respond to wildfire, Assistant Chief John Messina told the CN&R that Kunkle Reservoir, which feeds the Middle Miocene, is “absolutely” advantageous to draw from.

“If that reservoir has water in it, it makes it quick for our helicopters and water tenders to utilize it,” he said. “But if it’s not there, we will go to the next closest water source that’s available.”

The department can utilize nearby Lake Oroville or Paradise’s hydrant system on Pentz Road.

The lack of water likely will be a more significant challenge for landowners: If they are no longer able to irrigate their fields to create a defensible space, that is a fire hazard, he said. By law, they will have to come up with another plan.

The Williamses are doing their best, but fear it won’t be enough. Cindi’s son, Brandon, spoke plainly about the family’s concerns this fire season.

“We had a water source that supplied us … with approximately 16,000 gallons of water a day. And then it went away,” he said. “Not having a water source during the threat of wildfire season, it’s bad. We’re screwed. Some butthead could flick a cigarette butt in the pasture and poof, there goes the livestock, there goes the pasture, there goes the house.”