Planning for Wildfire: What Dangers Exist in Your Neighborhood and How Can You Prepare?
After fires raced across California’s Wine Country last month leaving a wake of destruction and a record number of fatalities behind, a series of workshops held across Humboldt County seek to prevent a similar disaster here.
The Community Wildfire Protection Plan is getting its five-year update currently, and a workshop, hosted by Cybelle Immitt and Julia Caballi of County Public Works, at the South Fork High School Monday sought input from the public on what fire dangers need to be addressed in their neighborhoods. Similar scoping meetings are scheduled in other parts of Humboldt County.
In recent years, Cal Fire has abandoned the Smokey the Bear fire suppression model and has adopted a fuels reduction model of Living with Fire as a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem. Cal Fire informed residents they must expect fire and prepare for it proactively. Landowners should “[m]ove all flammable materials (such as firewood or propane tanks) at least 30 feet from homes or structures…Provide a minimum 100 feet of clearance of flammable materials around [their] home.”
Cal Fire wants landowners in the “urban wildland interface zone” to have these two zones of clearance at 30 and 100 feet, to have an escape plan with a pre-determined route out of the area mapped, and to have a plan to deal with animals and important items. Cal Fire said it works to protect homes because it supports the State’s economy to do so, but ultimately homes are a landowner’s responsibility.
Cal Fire wants landowners to reduce fuel on their property. Homes catch on fire by three possible mechanisms: direct contact with flames, flying embers, and by radiated heat. The two zones of 30 and 100 feet of defensible space aim to reduce these threats. Additionally, Cal Fire recommends we “harden” our homes to fire. Recommendations include metal or composite roofing materials, enclosed eaves that prevent embers from getting into the attic and soffits, stucco or other less flammable exterior materials reduce risks, and barriers at the base of the home and decking to prevent embers getting underneath to ignite the home.
Living with Wildfire in Northwestern California provides guidance on how to be prepared for fire season. It also highlights the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council formed in 2009. This collaboration of fire management agencies, tribes, non-profits, and others works to connect local landowners to fire as a prevention tool. Hot burning fires destroy the ecosystem but cool fires benefit it and prevent uncontrolled fires which are dangerous, costly, and very damaging to the ecosystem as well as property investments.
Brian Lee of the Humboldt County Sheriffs’ Office of Emergency Services wanted everyone to know that OES has a new reverse-911 system and that their number is very likely not in the new system. If residents want to be alerted to fires, floods, and other life-threatening situations, they should call OES at 268-2500 or go online to the Office of Emergency Services and sign up. Residents need their physical address for the system to work.
At the workshops, after the educational portion, people broke into groups according to their neighborhood to look at fire prevention projects that still need to be accomplished since the last plan was written and to identify new projects that require planning.
Some of the suggestions included:
- Miranda Fire will work with Cal Fire to ask the Redwood Parks to reduce fuels along the river and other places that adjoin the Miranda Fire Districts services boundary.
- As an example of the situations the planning process wants to address, residents from the Salmon Creek Road area identified a potentially serious situation there. Along Salmon Creek Road, below Thomas Ranch Road, Sudden Oak Death has killed dozens of trees right along the road and the potential for ignition is reasonably high. If ignited, this fuel could prevent residents trying to leave the area safely, and its location at the bottom of the grade leading up to Thomas Ranch means it has a high likelihood of fueling a runaway fire toward a large neighborhood of rural residences that have only this one route out.
In planning for situations identified as hazards, Cybelle Immit said resources are identified to help landowners pay for needed work, landowners are contacted to identify their willingness to have prevention work completed, ability to be involved, and potential barriers to getting the work accomplished. With this information, cooperative planning is initiated so that projects can be complete before the next five-year update, and more importantly, before the next wildfire ignites the fuel and endangers the neighborhood.
Few residents from communities along the Avenue of the Giants attended the community fire planning workshop at South Fork High School. Only three people not associated with fire departments or other responding groups were present. The one in Redway a few days later saw 70 residents in attendance, according to Cybelle Immit of the Humboldt County Public Works who coordinates the planning sessions and the Plan’s publication.
For residents in eastern and in northern Humboldt, workshops are scheduled for
- Thursday, November 16, from 5:30 to 7:00 pm. REDWOOD CREEK at the Green Point Elementary School at 180 Valkensar Lane,
- Saturday, November 18, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. HUMBOLDT BAY REGION at the D Street Neighborhood Center at 1301 D Street, Arcata. The Humboldt Bay Region is a large geographic region that includes Blue Lake, Freshwater, Kneeland, Humboldt Hill, Ferndale, Fortuna, Carlotta, as well as Rio Dell and the Humboldt Bay area.
Cal Fire’s State Responsibility Area (SRA) fees pay for the county-wide fire prevention plan that is written by the Humboldt County Public Works Department. For more information, contact Cybelle Immit at (707) 267-9542 or firstname.lastname@example.org. humboldtgov.org/FireSafeCouncil