Preventing catastrophic fires in Sonoma County has been studied, discussed, and reported on many times since 2015. Below are links to some of the documents produced by the county with a brief summary of each.
This 117-page document reviewed the concerns of county residents who live in the Wildland/Urban Interface and discussed the topography of Sonoma County, its history of wildfires, and the risks inherent when people live so close to fire-prone lands. There was an overview of hazard reduction priorities and various mitigation strategies. It concluded with a review of Sonoma County fire agencies, both CAL FIRE and local battalions, but lacked a plan with specific actions to be taken to reduce the threat of future fires.
As required by the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, an amendment of the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988, Sonoma County approved this five-year plan in April 2017. It outlines the approach the County takes with regard to earthquakes, floods, and wildland fires, the types of disasters most likely to threaten the County. The wildfire hazards section of this plan references the Sonoma County CWPP (see above) as well as the National Fire Plan, the California Fire Plan, the Sonoma Lake Napa Unit Fire Management Plan, the Sonoma County General Plan, and the Vision 2020 County Fire Strategic Plan. There was no explicit plan with specific actions to be taken to reduce the threat of future fires.
(Note: Sonoma County recently announced it would update its Hazard Mitigation Plan.)
The Office of Recovery and Resiliency, established in December 2017, issued this 158-page document, which outlined possible recovery efforts over the next five years. It identified five strategic areas of recovery and resiliency:1) community preparedness & infrastructure, 2) housing, 3) economy, 4) safety net services, and 5) natural resources. The fifth area, natural resources, covers "the opportunity to identify and target priority areas for active management of vegetative structure and fuel loadings to address potential wildfire behavior, reduce wildfire losses, ensure firefighter and public safety, and improve landscape resilience to fire, flood, and drought."
According to this report, the challenge to this active management is that the forest lands are primarily under private ownership (see chart, page 124) and "Many private landowners are unaware of the techniques and the resources to implement forest health protection measures."
For Year 1 of Framework implementation, the Board directed staff to prioritize the following Top 10 Projects. These included:
2.Work with the community to identify hazards, risks, and mitigation strategies, including evacuation routes.
5.Help property owners navigate vegetation management opportunities through partnership with Fire Safe Sonoma and similar programs.
The ongoing Natural Resources efforts under the Office of Recovery and Resiliency are updated on the Sonoma County website.
Sonoma County Fire Prevention Division, Subject: Inspections and Duty to Maintain Defensible Space and Abate Hazardous Vegetation and Combustible Material-- is coordinating a program for defensible space inspections to improve compliance to the requirements of Sonoma County Code Ordinance 13A, "Duty to Maintain Defensible Space and Abate Hazardous Vegetation and Combustible Material."
This applies to parcels in Sonoma County which are in unincorporated areas (i.e., not within municipalities), whether or not they have structures.
According to the document, "Inspection Notices for Hazardous Vegetation and Combustible Material Abatement will be mailed to property owners or properties where inspections may occur. The Notice lists the basic requirements of Sonoma County Code Ordinance 13A, "Duty to Maintain Defensible Space and Abate Hazardous Vegetation and Combustible Material."
In September 2020 the Santa Rosa City Council approved its Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and in December 2020 the Council, faced with deciding what to do with $95M in PG&E settlement funds, asked fire officials to choose projects that would be most effective to keep Santa Rosa safe from future wildfires.
After nearly $150M came to the county via the PG&E settlement, it took nearly two years for the Board of Supervisors to decide to spend less than twenty percent of that ($25M) on vegetation management, the one thing most residents say is crucial to mitigating the damage of future wildfires. Instead, here how they allocated most of the rest of the funds:
$60M for infrastructure and emergency preparedness upgrades
$26.8M to backfill the county's general fund
$10M for affordable housing
After receiving a report from CLEE, the consulting company chosen by the board to help figure out how to spend the money, the board settled on a preliminary $8M spend on vegetation management, with between $2-$4M allocated for 2021.
"...a repeat of the 1964 Hanley Fire could cause catastrophic damage to the County and the City of Santa Rosa..."
April 25, 2017
Sonoma County Hazard Mitigation Plan
All property owners, occupants and persons in control of any improved or unimproved parcel of land or interest therein which is located in the unincorporated area of the County ... shall comply with the vegetation management requirements set forth in Chapter 13A.
County of Sonoma
Permit & Resource Management Department
Sonoma County Fire Prevention Division
"CAL FIRE will proactively reduce wildfire threats through prescribed fire
use, fuels reduction, ignition management, forest management, and promotion of forest resilience through Unit Fire Plans and the expansion of forestry assistance programs."
In 2019 Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-05-19, directing CAL FIRE to prepare a report outlining the steps to "prevent and mitigate wildfires to the greatest extent possible."
CAL FIRE produced a 45-day plan, called Community Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Report.
That CAL FIRE Report identified thirty five priority fuels reduction projects. No locations in Sonoma county appear in the map for this project .
This CAL FIRE map shows areas for which federal, state and local governments are responsible along with the fire hazards throughout. Note the high fire hazard shown in much of Sonoma County, with very high hazard potential in eastern Santa Rosa.