NORTHERN CALIFORNIA - The 2018 fire season was beyond what anyone could have predicted with major fires tearing up millions of acres across the state.
As the state heads into the 2019 fire season, the question becomes: Where will a fire impact next and what can be done to lower the risk?
In 2007, CAL FIRE developed the map below showing the areas highest at risk for wildfires and it is still used today to analyze risks.
Both the Carr and Camp Fires crossed through extremely high fire risk areas shown on the map in red.
To add to the analysis, almost all major wildfires across the state in 2018 took place in high-fire-risk areas.
After the Devastation of the worst wildfires in the state raging through areas like Paradise, the state needed to take a closer look at what could be done to protect the over 200 communities living in high-fire danger zones.
On January 8, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed executive order N-05-19 Tasking Cal Fire with identifying the most at-risk areas and develop projects to protect them.
To read the executive order in full, CLICK HERE.
In response, CAL FIRE along with dozens of other allied agencies released the Community Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Report also known as the “45-day report.”
The report breaks down the short, medium and long term goals of the state to decrease our fire dangers and to restore our healthy forests.
To read the report in full, CLICK HERE.
Most importantly and on the highest priority for CAL FIRE, the report outlines 35 fuel mitigation projects decided on based on risk factors.
Each location is given a Fire Risk Score (FRS) and a Socio-economic Score (SES).
The fire risk score is determined off of the earlier map and other since developed risk maps showing risky areas.
As for the socio-economic score, that looks at variables such as Families in poverty, people with disabilities, people that have difficulty speaking English, people over 65 and under the age of 5.
In the report, CAL FIRE states that “Some populations may experience greater risk to wildfire based on socioeconomic factors that lead to adverse health outcomes and their ability to respond to a wildfire.”
The 35 projects are then ranked from lowest to highest risk and priority based on the average of the two scores.
Five separate projects were chosen as a part of this risk assessment in the north state.
They rank as follows:
- #33 Elk Creek Fuel Break (Glenn County)
- #13 Forbestown Ridge (Butte County)
- #12 China Gulch Fuel Break (Shasta County)
- #10 West Redding Fuels Reduction (Shasta County)
- #1 Hwy 44 Fuel Break (Shasta County)
The Highway 44 Fuel Break ranks as the highest priority and risk project in the state.
The outlined project stretches from Midway through Shingletown to Viola and would affect around 8,800 people living in the area.
Shingletown is in a very high-fire-risk zone but other factors such as the age of the population, economic status, and ability to get in and out of the area put the Highway 44 corridor to the top of the list.
Despite the report and dangers in the area, most residents wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“I like the rural Community, you know, somewhere out - as my mother-in-law would say - out in the sticks a little bit," said Nathan Zeliff. “And so I don’t think I could live in a city anymore to tell you the truth.”
Zeliff has lived in Shingletown for 20 years and is well known in the community.
That’s why he founded the Shingletown Emergency Radio Net Plan over a three-year period that will allow people to communicate even if there is no power to the town.
“I think people are concerned and that’s part of the reason for this emergency communication system I’ve developed over about three and a half years,” Zeliff said.
Many in the community have started working with him too, breaking the area into sections so that if a disaster were to happen, all communities across the area would be covered.
Now, Zeliff has it set up so if people want to join in all you have to buy is an inexpensive radio.
“You don’t have to worry about what’s out there," Zeliff said. "You just have to use - the lowest level would be this little radio that you plug into - and you can communicate in your neighborhood and then we have people in the neighborhood that would reach out to other areas,” he said.
Just this week, CAL FIRE started the Highway 44 fuel mitigation project to lower the great risk to the area.
But they aren't doing this project alone. Crews with the National Guard have also been working on the West Redding project in Shasta County for some time.
“So, we currently have two of our three projects of the 45-day report underway,” said Cheryl Buliavac, public information officer for the Shasta Trinity Unit of Cal Fire. “The crew that you see working behind us is the California national guard supervised by CAL FIRE personnel.”
Those National Guard troops are specially trained to do fuel clearing projects and will join the effort on Highway 44 once work in west Redding is done.
Combined, those five projects in the North State aim to protect over 230,000 people and greatly help to lower the risk in those areas.
“Hazard mitigation is so important right now especially heading into these warm summer months,” Buliavac said.
With the Highway 44 corridor still listed as high risk and the need for crews to get to work, residents said that while they are worried they are optimistic that people in the community and fire officials are being proactive.
“Many times you like to be at the top of the list," Zeliff said. "This is not one we would like to be here there but we are. So, we can either worry about it or we can grab the bull by the horns and say look I’m going to be proactive.”
Below is an interactive map developed by CAL FIRE to show those hazards and graphically illustrate the 45-day report.