Home News Bay Area contestant inspires bill to protect California schools from wildfire

Bay Area contestant inspires bill to protect California schools from wildfire

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Max Edwards believes there should be a state law that requires all schools to create evacuation and “shelter in place” plans if they are in areas at high risk of wildfire.

“Everyone assumes that everyone has figured it out,” said Edwards, a Fairfax resident and former National Park Service ranger.

Edwards and his wife helped create fire safety plans at their children’s San Anselmo preschool. During that time, he spoke with an administrator of a school in Paradise that was devastated by the 2018 Camp fire.

“The fire moved so quickly from its point of origin to the school they did not even get an evacuation notice from the fire department,” Edwards said.

He added that lives were saved because students were being dropped off at school when the fire arrived and they were able to quickly evacuate.

“It got me thinking, ‘What if that happened two hours later? What might that have looked like?’” Edwards said. “What would happen if more schools in California, God forbid, had fires move through and they didn’t have time to evacuate?”

His idea for improving fire safety in California’s schools caught the eye of District 12 Assemblymember Damon Connolly. He chose Edwards’ pitch as the winner among 300 submissions for his second “There Ought to be a Law” contest.

The San Rafael Democrat then drafted Assembly Bill 2968, which he hopes will be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom this legislative year.

“It’s common sense; it’s practical,” Connolly said. “It addresses two critical areas: One is protection from wildfires and two is keeping our school sites safe given our children are there, and making sure that faculty and staff are kept safe.”

If passed, AB 2968 will mandate three requirements for public and private schools in areas identified as high-risk wildfire zones.

Schools would be required to have evacuation plans and must have a shelter if authorities issue a shelter-in-place order. There is also a mandate for schools to work annually with a local fire department to make sure there is a space within 100 feet from campus buildings cleared of potential fire fuels, and to have buildings that are more resistant to flames.

Edwards said that school buildings could have non-flammable siding and gutters that have leaf guards.

“All of our schools in Marin have been good in making defensible spaces, but it’s all voluntary at this point — there are no citations being issued and it’s not mandated,” he said. “That’s what I was hoping to change, to really force the issue.”

As written, AB 2968 would require the defensible space mandate for schools by the 2026-27 fiscal year.



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