Considering the tremendous loss of life, property, watershed, timber, wildlife, etc., which occurs from fire every year in California, considering the vast amount of time and energy spent fighting them (at risk of more life) it seems to me that a great amount of money could profitably be spent on prevention.
I suggest that the traditional firebreaks of denuded land be replaced with sprinkler-irrigated "greenbelts." The advantages would be manifold. In addition to requiring less maintenance than firebreaks, they would serve as habitats for wildlife, increase the natural beauty of our landscapes, provide more recreational areas and, hopefully, spare us losses of the magnitude we have suffered this season.
Admittedly, the costs would be great, but so would be the savings. More money would be spent in a more constructive manner; i.e. on maintenance crews instead of firefighters, for pipes, pumps and sprinkler heads instead of water-dropping aircraft. While these greenbelts would not eliminate fires, they would serve to diminish losses from them.
Ranchers might be encouraged to become part of a program to establish the greenbelts with subsidies being paid to help defray the cost of their installation. The ranchers would benefit, as would the public.
As with all programs of this kind, the cost is measurable and is bound to be opposed by those who say we can't afford it. The cost from fire loss is more difficult to measure, but no less real. The only difference is who pays, and how.