Santa Clara County and the County’s Fire District are ramping up wildfire prevention efforts, just as the region heads into another fire season plagued with severe drought conditions. With the devastating 2020 megafires – the Santa Clara (SCU) and Santa Cruz (CZU) Lightning Complex fires – still fresh in mind, firefighters and emergency officials have been working over the past year to create new wildfire prevention strategies.
Fire officials on Tuesday presented a comprehensive plan to the County’s Board of Supervisors, which unanimously greenlighted the new efforts.
“There’s an obvious need for urgency as we continue to experience larger and more damaging wildfires each year. Unfortunately, fire season is no longer a season. It seems almost constant,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian. “We have to keep looking for opportunities to improve fire prevention year-round, and to give local communities the help they need to keep their homes, businesses and families safe.”
The new initiatives include:
- A pilot Community Wildfire Program with the addition of a specialist who will conduct inspections for residents living in high fire hazard areas and provide guidance on creating defensible spaces around properties;
- A new fuels reduction crew to support existing (or establish new) community programs to bolster evacuation routes, create defensible space around critical infrastructure, and create fuel breaks around communities;
- Community education webinars for wildfire preparedness; and
- The use of an online data tool to run training simulations and to alert the public of evacuations with real-time information.
The new efforts will be funded, in part, by State grant money requested by the County and local jurisdiction partners after the SCU and CZU Lightning Complex fires two years ago. Of the $7 million awarded to the Town of Los Gatos for the West Valley Cities, the County’s Fire District will receive $2 million. Additional funding from other grants is also pending.
“We are lucky to live in a natural landscape surrounded by scenic mountains, but that also means we must contend with an ever-changing wildfire environment,” said Mike Mathiesen, the County’s Battalion Chief of Pre-Fire Management and WildfireResilience. “This program is a phased approach that focuses on collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies to develop critical preventative measures, so we’re better set up for the increasing risk of catastrophic fires in our area.”
“Over the last few years, we have experienced several disasters, both locally and across the State of California, that have had terrible impacts to life, property, and the environment – this includes the SCU and CZU Complex Fires in 2020,” said Darrell Ray, the County’s Deputy Director of Emergency Management. “Disasters always entail a great deal of uncertainty, but one thing we can be sure of is that they will occur again. We cannot control natural disasters, but we can prepare for them. This means we must focus much of our efforts on prevention and mitigation. An essential piece of that is bringing our residents into these programs so that, as a community, we are resilient on all fronts.”
Santa Clara County encourages residents to prepare for the unexpected and stay informed about safety actions to take before, during, and after disasters. For emergency preparedness information, visit www.PrepareSCC.org. Community members can also sign up for free emergency alerts to mobile devices, landlines, and/or email atwww.AlertSCC.org.