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State report: Local roadside clearing a top wildfire prevention priority

 

Clearing vegetation from the side of Kings Mountain Road in Woodside above Huddart Park is ranked as the second most important project in California to reduce the risk of wildfires, according to a report issued on March 5 by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

CalFire has already begun preliminary work on the project, according to Richard Sampson, a chief forester for the San Mateo-Santa Cruz counties division of CalFire.

The recently released Community Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Report was prepared after an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom, made soon after he took office in January, ordered CalFire to recommend immediate, medium and long-term actions to prevent wildfires. CalFire was asked to prioritize projects that would affect the most people and the most vulnerable communities.

Sampson said that over the coming year, CalFire will create a "shaded fuel break" on both sides of Kings Mountain Road as it winds up to Skyline Boulevard from the flatlands of Woodside, aiming to cut back on the now-dense vegetation for up to 100 feet on each side of the road. Instead of clear-cutting all vegetation, low-lying plants that would act as fuel for a fire will be removed along with the lower limbs of trees. Leaving the upper canopy of trees keeps the ground cooler, lessening fire risk, Sampson said.

In addition to reducing fire risk, the work will also create a safer escape route if there is a fire, he said. "It's a great path that goes all the way up to Skyline Boulevard," he said.

The work, Sampson said, is similar to what CalFire and other local fire agencies are asking homeowners to do around their properties.

In giving the project a high ranking, the report cites the number of communities close to the Kings Mountain project and the population of more than 270,000 people who could be affected.

The report says "climate change, an epidemic of dead and dying trees, and the proliferation of new homes in the wildland urban interface" magnify the threat of wildfires and place more people and property at risk than in the past.

The report warns, however, that even with actions such as forest thinning and the creation of fire breaks, "wind-driven wildfire events that destroy lives and property will very likely still occur."

While California has always had wildfires, the fire season now starts earlier and ends later than it ever has, the report says. "Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend," it says, citing warming spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack and longer and more intense dry seasons.

Other contributing factors include "decades of fire suppression (that) have disrupted natural fire cycles" and California's failure to keep up with needed forest management. "It is estimated that as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration," the report says.

Locally, Woodside Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Denise Enea says the district has been working on fuel-reduction projects in collaboration with local government agencies since 2015, including work in Huddart and Wunderlich county parks and the removal of eucalyptus along Highway 84 (Woodside Road) and other roads in Woodside. The district is currently working to make its own shaded fuel break in the Teague Hill open space above Woodside.

The district also offers homeowners advice on how to make their properties safer, and a free annual chipping program to dispose of vegetation removed by homeowners.

For more information on steps to take to make individual properties safer, visit CalFire's Ready-Set-Go website, or go to the Woodside Fire Protection District's website.

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