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Woodside, Portola Valley in the same fire-risk league as Paradise

Original post made on Sep 19, 2019

Imagine a day with temperatures in the 90s and gale-force winds blowing in the San Mateo County hills. Then imagine that someone or something ignites a fire. Are we vulnerable to the type of inferno witnessed last year in Paradise?

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 19, 2019, 7:58 AM

Comments (4)

Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Sep 19, 2019 at 1:02 pm

The original article is well-written and instructive and far more useful than this little alarm.

Web Link

I wish Almanac would publish links to background articles. Is there a reason why you don’t?

Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Sep 19, 2019 at 1:21 pm

The AZCentral article linked above above has, about 2/3 of the way into the article, the ability to look up any town's data.

In your browser, search for "risk factor data".

For PV and Woodside the actionable item of most concern is that neither town has, as of July 2019, an emergency alert system.

Posted by RickMoen
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Sep 19, 2019 at 1:48 pm

Paradise, CA suffered a truly catastrophic combination of risks that cannot possibly be matched in the Bay Area's Santa Cruz Mountains foothills. To see how unique its threats were, see the eye-opening LA Times piece 'Here’s how Paradise ignored warnings and became a deathtrap', Web Link . For starters, Paradise's location just downhill from a low saddle in the Sierra Nevada (Jarbo Gap, where CA Route 70 crosses) put it in harm's way of gale-force dry canyon winds blowing through the gap, in a place radically drier than our area's short distance from the coast and the Bay. The culpable obliviousness of town authorities, for years, to well-known evacuation and notification problems, and making those problems worse by deliberately narrowing the main road out of town (even though experts warned them this could cause mass fire deaths), set the town up for catastrophe.

How bad was the known risk just from canyon winds? Quoting the article: 'Meteorological records show 36 days since 2003 with gusts of 100 mph or more, and as high as 200 mph. Paradise sat in the path.'

Although they have significant problems (particularly Portola Valley's evacuation chokepoints), Woodside and Portola Valley are not even remotely in the same category. In that particular, reporter Rick Radin says: 'Imagine [...] gale-force winds blowing in the San Mateo County hills.' Sure, Mr. Radin, we can imagine lots of things, but tell us: When and why have we ever had gale-force winds blowing in the San Mateo County hills? We have nothing even remotely like the Jarbo Gap topological situation. The Santa Cruz Mountains slope down gradually towards San Francisco with a small dip at CA-92, and the only thing that blows through that is coast-side fog, and never at gale force.

Also, as a general observation, with due respect to the work of the Arizona Republic and USA Today reporters, I'd have greater confidence in the claims of primary authorities such as, say, CalFire. (I note with approval that CalFire was consulted for The Almanac's version of this story, though.)

Rick Moen

Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Sep 21, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Rick --

You said "I'd have greater confidence in the claims of primary authorities such as, say, CalFire."

CalFire published this report Web Link a few months ago in which Appendix C identifies the Kings Mountain area of Woodside as the second highest priority fuel reduction project in California. As both CalFire and the Arizona Republic article make clear, there is a lot more to evaluating fire risk than wind and topography.

Yes, Radin's sentence about gale force winds is, like the rest of his article, pointlessly alarmist, but what do you expect from the Almanac?

But CalFire wouldn't have put Woodside at the top of its list of 35 areas needing immediate fuel reduction if they didn't think the area was at serious risk.

Comparing one already burned high-risk area to one that has not yest burned and debating which was/is at greater risk is a pointless academic exercise. What matters is what our governments (state, county, city) do about ALL of the high risk fire areas that are threatening our homes. PV and Woodside are areas of extremely high risk and that's all that matters.

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