Thursday, 02 February 2023

County fire plan in final weeks of public review

LAKEPORT – A public plan that took nearly a year to create now is in the hands of the public, which has the opportunity to review and comment on it until the start of July.

The Lake County Community Wildfire Protection Plan was released in late May. The full, 178-page plan plus an executive summary is available at .

The Lake County Fire Safe Council will implement the plan, which came together through the collaboration of local, state and federal agencies, fire districts and community members. It's meant to identify and prioritize Lake County's severe wildfire risks.

County officials held a meeting June 8 to give a plan overview, explain its function and some of its highlights. About 30 people attended the gathering, held in the Board of Supervisors chambers at the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport.

“This has been a long, long process to get to this point,” said Supervisor Denise Rushing.

Tracy Katelman, a registered professional forester with ForEverGreen Forestry, began working last year with the county to put the plan together.

She recounted a series of 10 community meetings held around Lake County last October and November, which gathered input about fire protection resources, where fires might start, fuels and hazards, and divided the county into 10 planning areas.

With that information in hand, a planning committee developed a draft internal plan sent out for review to committee members, and involved organizations and groups in February. Katelman said a draft for the Fire Safe Council was completed by March 1.

The plan now out for public review was released in mid-May. All public comments are due by July 1, said Katelman.

She said a final document is slated for release in August.

Linda Juntunen, coordinator of the Lake County Fire Safe Council, explained the national Firewise Program and its connection with the plan.

She said the program is meant to help provide safer environments for firefighters. “They just can't go where it's not safe for them to go.”

Juntunen said people need to take measures to protect their properties and make it safe for firefighters to work in case of fires.

She said the plan gives the Fire Safe Council a tool to seek more funding for its local programs, including education and fuel reduction.

Juntunen said plans such as this one are valuable because the community participates in crafting them.

Jeff Tunnell, fire mitigation and education specialist for the Bureau of Land Management and Fire Safe Council member, said Congress wants community wildfire protection plans driven by the community, not agencies like BLM.

“It's not our plan, it's the community's plan,” he said.

The plan will open up funding sources for both the community and agencies like his.

Tunnell said he likes the plan because it brings focus to the problems of wildfire safety in communities.

“Firefighter safety is always my No. 1 concern,” he said, and a big benefit of the plan is that it will help make sure his firefighters get to go home to their families at night.

He urged the community to look at he plan and make specific, practical comments.

“This is supposed to be a living document,” he said, explaining that it will be revised yearly.

Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown, who represented all local fire districts at the meeting, said the plan allows them to target and track fire hazards.

He said the public doesn't understand all of the problems the fire agencies have, and the plan – which includes risk assessments for different areas of the county – will help explain those challenges.

“We worked hard,” Brown said. “We had some disagreements but then we agreed to solutions on a lot of the different things.”

This year, districts like Northshore Fire are anticipating particular challenges, particularly with staffing, said Brown. Strike teams from urban areas won't be available if major wildland fires break out.

However, he said 2010 and 2011 should be better thanks to planning. “We're looking for the future in this plan.”

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Linda Green said the public brought forward good information and creative solutions in creating the plan, which is a cooperative document to which many people contributed.

Echoing Brown's sentiments, Green said, “The wildfire protection problem in this county is significant.”

Brown said this was the first time she had been involved with such a plan, which was a learning experience for her as well.

Katelman then did a brief plan overview, pointing out key points of the document, including its risk assessments in chapter seven.

Looking at factors including fuel hazards to risk of wildfire occurrence, structural ignitability and firefighting capability, the risk assessments put overall risk at “high” for Anderson Springs, Clear Lake Riviera, Double Eagle, greater Cobb area (including Loch Lomond), Harbin Hot Springs and neighboring communities, Jago Bay and Point Lakeview, Lake Pillsbury, Lakeport, Spring Valley and Long Valley.

Glenhaven, Hidden Valley and Coyote Valley, Lucerne, Nice, Riviera Heights and Riviera West all received ratings of high-medium; Clearlake, Clearlake Oaks, Morgan Valley and Scotts Valley received medium-high ratings; with medium fire risks given to Blue Lakes, Buckingham, Jerusalem Valley, the Kelseyville interface, Kono Tayee, Lower Lake, Soda Bay, Twin Lake and Upper Lake.

The plan also calls for development of alternate evacuation routes in communities around the lake.

Creating defensible space around homes is important, Katelman said. That's because 85 percent of homes with defensible space – which Cal Fire says is 100 feet of brush and vegetation clearance – survive wildland fires.

“I's all about the embers,” said Katelman, a point which she said the document emphasizes.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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