The first draft of Santa Barbara’s updated wildfire community plan came out Friday, and it proposes expanding the high fire hazard area due to lessons learned from recent fires, said Amber Anderson, a wildland fire specialist with the city Fire Department.
Comments will be accepted through May 22 for the draft Community Wildfire Protection Plan, or CWPP, and then environmental review of the plan will start.
Anderson called the CWPP a guiding document the city can use to form policy decisions. It will update the previous plan adopted by the City Council in 2004.
Anderson said the new plan is funded by a $310,000 CalFire grant, and the city is working toward a March 2021 deadline.
“We know so much has changed since 2004,” Anderson said, and the new plan will update the community plan based on new science and technology available.
The plan proposes expanding the city’s high fire hazard area in coastal and coastal interior zones, including the Mesa and TV Hill area, Anderson said.
“What we’re looking at there is the ember exposure,” she said. “If we have a fire that’s in the foothills, like the Tea Fire and Sherpa Fire and Thomas Fire, if we get embers that blow across, that area’s at a huge risk.”
More areas are recommended for the city’s vegetation management program, too. City crews did not do clearing work in all of the areas identified in the old plan, with not enough money and time, Anderson said.
“The ones that we did were primarily funded through the Wildland Fire Suppression Assessment District,” she said.
“What we likely will do, especially with the foothill additions is go out to those homeowners who will be added into the high fire hazard and ask them to join the assessment district,” she said.
“It’s really hard to pull funding and do work outside the assessment district (in foothill and extreme foothill zones).”
The assessment district started in 2006 and includes about 3,400 homeowners. For the current year, the assessment rate is $84.86 per home in the foothill zone and $105.23 for homes in the extreme foothill zone. The money pays for road clearance, vegetation management and defensible space evaluations, according to the city.
Anderson said the new plan notable includes public outreach and structural hardening information.
While the CWPP process would usually include lots of public workshops, the novel coronavirus has pushed the fire department to host a webinar and get input through the project website and emails, Anderson said.
Last week was Wildfire Preparedness Week and as fire departments remind people to clear brush, assemble supplies and make evacuation plans, firefighters are preparing to respond to wildfires during a pandemic.
Santa Barbara County Fire Division Chief Matt Farris said the state has developed a report on how to respond to large-scale fires during the pandemic.
Firefighters will eat on the fire line more often, instead of congregating at the base camps, and social distancing will be implemented, he said.
Anderson said the city Fire Department has been considering which jobs can be done remotely to lessen the impact on fire camps.
Morning briefings, “where everybody is packed in like sardines,” are not going to happen anymore, she said. Crews will stand by their engines and equipment and the briefing information will likely be broadcast over a radio channel.
“It’s going to be much different going forward,” she said.