Why some fire departments are turning down neighbors’ calls for help

Good morning, Bay Area. It’s Tuesday, Nov. 30, and one cheese for sale in the Mission District is becoming an LGBTQ icon. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

In rural Northern California, fire departments are forced to stand aside even when their communities need help.

Fire chiefs are sidelined not only by waves of COVID infections but fewer inmate firefighters, early retirements and a shrinking pool of applicants. Part of it is the physical toll of the job. Another part is the draw of better firefighting jobs where employees have good benefits and make as much as $50,000 more than their rural peers.

The lack of local help could be dire in the future: Without nearby departments to contain the edges, brush fires could explode into massive conflagrations in hours.

As one fire chief put it after seeing a third of his staff leave: “My answer is brutally honest: There’s a high likelihood we won’t save your home.”

Take a hike

A family starts a hike near Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley.

A family starts a hike near Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

What’s one thing that won’t be left behind after the pandemic? The great outdoors.

For more than a year, the Bay Area regularly escaped to local, regional, state and national parks to see something other than another round of reality TV on Netflix. Greenery was a welcome escape from working at the kitchen table, allowing people a breath of fresh air and the chance to see others from a distance.

Both veteran and newbie hikers populated trails throughout 2020. At one Santa Clara County park, officials recorded nearly triple the number of visitors usually seen in a year. As indoor dining, gyms and movie theaters opened again, has the COVID hiking boom showed signs of letting up?

Read more from Michael Cabanatuan.

Climate updates

Hiking through snow in the Sierra Nevada may not be possible in 25 years.

Hiking through snow in the Sierra Nevada may not be possible in 25 years.

Max Whittaker/Special to The Chronicle

• Scientists say snowpack in the Sierra Nevada could disappear, leaving California without the snowmelt it needs to fill rivers and devastating the skiing industry. And they’re now putting a timeline on when it’ll happen.

• One unforeseen fallout from the wildfires? California’s timber industry is struggling with an oversupply of salvaged logs from burned forests.

• A warm weekend in the Bay Area broke one high temperature record and tied two others. One day this week could break other daytime weather records.

• Track water shortages and restrictions across the region with our Drought Map.

Around the Bay

Lesbian feta is a specialty at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.

Lesbian feta is a specialty at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.

Francesca Tamse/Special to The Chronicle

Cheesy thoughts: Is it possible for a cheese to be queer? At Rainbow Grocery in the Mission, Lesbian feta is an icon of LGBTQ pride.

Immunity: What do scientists know about the COVID vaccine’s effectiveness against the omicron variant? Plus: Here’s when experts expect omicron to surface in the Bay Area.

Other targets: In Oakland, cannabis merchants say thieves are smashing into their shops and grabbing their wares. Now, they want a tax break.

Reversing gear: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf suggests reversing a plan to freeze hiring, instead putting more police on the street to fight crime amid recent shootings and thefts.

Jack Dorsey out: The Twitter CEO has resigned from his company, leaving behind a legacy of political maelstroms and profitability. Plus: Here’s what to know about incoming CEO Parag Agrawal, previously the company’s chief technology officer.

Packed like sardines: San Francisco may be small compared to other U.S. cities, but it’s one of the most crowded in the country.

Got questions? Chronicle transportation reporter Ricardo Cano has answers to your frequent asks about the region’s transit projects.

What to gift

Affinage Boards offers collections of charcuterie, cheese and fruit.

Affinage Boards offers collections of charcuterie, cheese and fruit.

Lauren Segal/Special to The Chronicle

If you find yourself on the verge of panic, Chronicle Food and Wine team has plenty of holiday gift recommendations for the gourmand in your life.

Splurge on a nice bottle for a loved one with critic Esther Mobley’s guide to buying a splurge-worthy wine or spirit this year. Or if you’re about the experience, restaurant critic Soleil Ho has you covered with a list of the best fine dining in the Bay Area.

And if your friends or family prefer to cook more than they prefer to dine out, there’s also the top cookbooks of 2021.

Plus: If you want the perfect cheese to pair with your vino, Ho also has some exquisite dairy products to recommend.

Bay Briefing is written by Gwendolyn Wu and sent to readers’ email inboxes on weekday mornings. Sign up for the newsletter here, and contact the writer at gwendolyn.wu@sfchronicle.com.

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