Prepared by Cal Fire. Cal Fire Community Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Report.
California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018. Fueled by drought, an unprecedented buildup of dry vegetation and extreme winds, the size and intensity of these wildfires caused the loss of more than 100 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and exposed millions of urban and rural Californians to unhealthy air.
Climate change, an epidemic of dead and dying trees, and the proliferation of new homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) magnify the threat and place substantially more people and property at risk than in preceding decades. More than 25 million acres of California wildlands are classified as under very high or extreme fire threat, extending that risk over half the state.
Certain populations in our state are particularly vulnerable to wildfire threats. These Californians live in communities that face near-term public safety threats given their location. Certain residents are further vulnerable given factors such as age and lack of mobility. The tragic loss of life and property in the town of Paradise during the recent Camp Fire demonstrates such vulnerability.
Recognizing the need for urgent action, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-05-19 on January 9, 2019. The Executive Order directs the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), in consultation with other state agencies and departments, to recommend immediate, medium and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires.
With an emphasis on taking necessary actions to protect vulnerable populations, and recognizing a backlog in fuels management work combined with finite resources, the Governor placed an emphasis on pursuing a strategic approach where necessary actions are focused on California’s most vulnerable communities as a prescriptive and deliberative endeavor to realize the greatest returns on reducing risk to life and property.
Using locally developed and vetted fire plans prepared by CAL FIRE Units as a starting point, CAL FIRE identified priority fuel reduction projects that can be implemented almost immediately to protect communities vulnerable to wildfire. It then considered socioeconomic characteristics of the communities that would be protected, including data on poverty levels, residents with disabilities, language barriers, residents over 65 or under five years of age, and households without a car.
In total, CAL FIRE identified 35 priority projects that can be implemented immediately to help reduce public safety risk for over 200 communities. Project examples include removal of hazardous dead trees, vegetation clearing, 3 creation of fuel breaks and community defensible spaces, and creation of ingress and egress corridors. These projects can be implemented immediately if recommendations in this report are taken to enable the work. Details on the projects and CAL FIRE’s analysis can be found online at http://calfire.ca.gov/fire_prevention/downloads/FuelReductionProjectList.pdf , which will remain updated in the coming months.
The list of projects is attached to this report as Appendix C. CAL FIRE has also worked with over 40 entities including government and nongovernment stakeholders to identify administrative, regulatory and policy actions that can be taken in the next 12 months to begin systematically addressing community vulnerability and wildfire fuel buildup through rapid deployment of resources. Implementing several of these recommended actions is necessary to execute the priority fuel reduction projects referenced above. Other recommendations are intended to put the state on a path toward longterm community protection, wildfire prevention, and forest health.
The recommendations in this report, while significant, are only part of the solution. Additional efforts around protecting lives and property through home hardening and other measures must be vigorously pursued by government and stakeholders at all levels concurrently with the pursuit of the recommendations in this report. California must adopt an “all of the above” approach to protecting public safety and maintaining the health of our forest ecosystems.
It is important to note that California faces a massive backlog of forest management work. Millions of acres are in need of treatment, and this work— once completed—must be repeated over the years. Also, while fuels treatment such as forest thinning and creation of fire breaks can help reduce fire severity, wind-driven wildfire events that destroy lives and property will very likely still occur.
This report’s recommendations on priority fuel reduction projects and administrative, regulatory, and policy changes can protect our most vulnerable communities in the short term and place California on a trajectory away from increasingly destructive fires and toward more a moderate and manageable fire regime.