Planning for Wildfire: What Dangers Exist in Your Neighborhood and How Can You Prepare?


Lassic Fire as seen from Blocksburg area.

Lassic Fire in 2015 as seen from Blocksburg area. [Photo by Christina Lombardi]

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



  • It was interesting, especially the mapping work. There were only two of us from Alderpoint at the Redway workshop, Mary Alice and I. We identified several areas where some prefire suppression work could be done. Most importantly: brushing the banks of the Eel where the bridge is to prevent fireworks from ingniting fires.

    • Ed, I read your post about that earlier. Thank you for being at the meeting to talk about the problems from your area. I’m glad people from Salmon Creek were at this one to talk about the issues we have here. At least the County is hearing first hand about what is needed in some of the areas.

  • What do you do to prepare? Scratch the brush back around your house and pray? What do you do to prepare? What DO you do to prepare? Assist/join YOUR LOCAL FIRE DEPARTMENT. Because THAT is what you do to “prepare”.

    Of note: Random residents often save their neighborhood when the “professionals” give up and leave. Common sense goes a long way, but some formal VFF training makes doing such things *much* safer.

    • This is a great example of what you can do to prepare: This is a fantastic paper on fire hardened homes. This is my favorite brochure on defensible space. Ironically, it was written for the Sonoma area and early on warns of the possibility of what just happened last month.

      Both of these publications are well written, clear, and thorough. They go a long way towards empowering landowners and residents to take responsibility to set themselves up. Many people ask “how much is enough?” My answer to that is that no one knows if the day the fire approaches will it be 82 degrees or 102. Will the winds be calm or 40 mph? The simple answer is that the better you prepare, the better will be your protection in the more extreme threats, the upper level of extreme exemplified last month a little south of here. Particularly with the fire hardened homes, covering the details is crucial. No one claims it is easy; but I at least claim that it is worthwhile.

      Disclaimer: much of what I say on this topic can be interpreted as attempting to drum up work for myself. However, that does not change the fact that it is true.

  • Cal fire comes around Redway yearly and gives you an information sheet and advises you on potential problem areas you have. My problem is that my neighbor has redwoods and brush all over her property and refuses to touch the mess because she likes her property “natural”. It isn’t going to matter how clean my property is if a fire comes through. FYI, she’s the newby, we’ve been here 50 years.

    • It depends on your surrounding environment. Oaks, alders, firs, pines are easily burned. Redwoods less so. Salal, which is a frequent understory to coastal redwoods, is also fire resistant. Grass is a fire on the move in double time. Around Redway , I doubt there is much fire resistance to the plant life but I don’t really have experience there.

      BTW Caltrans has only left flyers with a check list and no real information. I have watched them hop out of the truck to put that on the gate then they were long gone before I could get there. Not a lot of help there.

  • Reminiscing: Forty + years ago, there were only 12 “settled” properties on our Mountain, and we were lucky to have “Tag” Tagglio as our CDF CO. Formerly city-kids, we went and asked him if he would teach us what to do, for we knew how vulnerable we were.

    “Tag” brought up a team in full regalia to teach us what to do when a fire came, and the mind-set to expect it. He taught us that we were the last ditch in protecting our end of Mendocino National Forest, and the responsibility that we bore.

    We learned how to control a loaded hose (crazed snake) and how to spread out and individually work one piece of fire at a time; how to store wet gunnysacks to drag-and-stomp; and how to scrape earth and drop trees FAST.

    We agreed upon a signal which could be heard all over the 10,000 acres of the Mountain subdivision, and how to locate the source.

    We also learned about cleaning stove pipes, and what fuels would tend to leave a pipe “clean” or harboring creosote. We learned about Mountain air currents and how our fires would tend to behave and why. And so much more… It was a 4-5 hour crash course in Fire Fighting, and in our own environment.

    When the Team left, they gave us two caches of tools to stash in mutually agreed upon spots, hidden from, but accessible by, the road.

    That next summer, we fought and controlled two potential wild fires. We deployed fast, did what we’d been taught and equipped to do, and had both fires isolated and in hand before the first bomber showed up. I will always treasure my T-shirt with the red retardant streaks, my old melted-soles work boots, and the memories of “Tag” and his crew helping and respecting us.

    The Potter Valley Volunteer Fire Department eventually showed up for the second fire, and stole our tool cache when they left. They couldn’t imagine “Tag” trusting “a bunch of hippies” to keep them (this was told to our sweat-stained faces.) We replaced them at our own expense.

    Nowadays, most of us don’t move real fast. We’ve got cell-phone service and an evacuation phone-tree; but nothing will ever replace “Tag” Tagglio and the old CDF! Thanks again, guys!

    • Wonderful story of the way it still should be.

      • Thank you Anon. I’m not sure anyone can replace Mr Tagglio, but I am working on a piece about calfire’s prescription burn and other fuel reduction programs. I should have it up within the week. There’s a lot landowners can do, and the new mindset at calfire, of living with fire as an essential part of the ecosystem, means the department is beginning to focus resources toward these programs.

        • Sounds good for Humboldt, and I’ll be looking forward to reading your work.
          Our current problem here in Mendocino is that the local “Air Quality Control Board” has the last say in designating BURN DAYS, not our Fire Agencies OR the State. These are local badge-heavy bureaucrats for whom the priority seems anything BUT fire safety. Tourism and the real estate industry have precedence now, as NO BURN days get called by this local government-by-appointment more and more often…as was happening in Lake County just prior to their Big Fires.
          Even with burn permits, no landowner here can prepare for the recent holocaust experienced in Potter/Redwood Valleys unless AQ agrees. And AQ agrees less and less.
          My information comes from a long-standing friendship with a State AQ person; we hooked up several years ago when I called to complain about a NO BURN day being called…and it was pouring rain!
          There is more to this issue than meets anyone’s eye. Especially the public eye.

  • Thanks for the story. We’re in Humboldt Bay tomorrow, Nov 18 from 2-4. Most folks in the Humboldt Bay Area assume its too green to burn. Not at all, especially with more extreme temps and winds. Here is the Facebook event.
    (We’re also at the Mattole Gramge on Nov 28.)

  • Here is the County wildfire preparedness survey as well. Great place to provide input into the CWPP.

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