Much of Napa County is once again primed to burn, though the local hope is that this year’s fire season has more fizzle than sizzle.
“We’ve had some fires. Nothing has been significant yet,” county Fire Chief Geoff Belyea said on Thursday.
But neighboring Solano County has seen two significant fires. One, the Quail Fire in early June between Vacaville and Winters, burned 1,800 acres.
“Which is definitely a significant fire for this time of year,” Belyea said.
Last year, California from Jan. 1 to May 31 had 1,013 wildfires. This year for the same period, the state had 1,745. That means a lot of fuels are already in a condition for fire spread, he said.
More than Napa County rural residents have a stake in what happens during fire season.
“Most of my district is in the city of Napa,” county Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “But a lot of the city of Napa is very adjacent to dangerous fire areas ... (Residents) are looking at that fuel load right adjacent to them.”
Napa County enters the summer after a particularly dry rainy season. The Napa County Resource Conservation District reported that the county for the 2019-20 water year has received only 48 percent of the average, annual rainfall. The water year is from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Rainfall has ranged from 12.5 inches in the city of Napa to 23.7 inches on Mount Veeder. Barring an unlikely large amount of summer rain, this will be the driest water year since a local system of monitoring stations was set up 18 years ago, the agency said.
Napa County in October 2017 saw the Atlas, Nuns and Tubbs fires destroy more than 600 rural homes. The fires burned heavier fuels such as brush.
But, Belyea said, that doesn’t mean these areas can’t burn again. Native vegetation adapted to fire is starting to grow back. Also, a new crop of dried grass can carry fire and burn rapidly.
Since the devastating local fires of 2017 and the Camp fire that burned Paradise in 2018, Pacific Gas & Electric has resorted to preemptive power shutdowns during dangerous fire conditions.
Last week, PG&E reported to the Board of Supervisors that more of Napa Valley should be spared this year from public safety power shutoffs during high fire danger weather and power should be restored more quickly when shutoffs happen.
Ready to try to take some of the sizzle out of fires is the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation and its 13 fire safe councils. The groups promote taking preventive measures.
Napa County has 504,960 acres and 73 percent is designated as fire hazard zones, said Christopher Thompson, president of the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation.
The foundation and councils have raised $2.7 million in grants over the past three years. They have done such things as complete a 3.5-mile fuel break at Berryessa Estates. Diamond Mountain has added a road connection to move people and bring in first responders more easily.
“The unfortunate reality though is at this point, we’ve only done 2% of the area that is in need of fuel mitigation,” Thompson told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “It’s an issue of money.”
Established fire safe councils are Angwin, Berryessa Estates, Berryessa Highlands, Deer Park, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak, Circle Oaks, Gordon Valley and Soda Canyon. New fire safe councils are Calistoga, Diamond Mountain, St. Helena and Silverado Country Club
There’s no intention to add more fire safe councils, Thompson said. Instead, the existing fire safe councils could grow. For example, the Stags’ Leap area is being added to the Soda Canyon council.
Belyea said the fire safe councils have done an amazing job managing vegetation around communities. But individual property owners must do their part by creating defensible space around their homes.
To help landowners, the county offers free chipping to residents who live in a fire hazard zone. Go to https://bit.ly/2AEJ66E for details and to schedule service.
Good defensible space around homes can make the difference between the home being destroyed by a wildfire or surviving, Belyea said.
A next step is using a $100,000 grant from Cal Fire to do a countywide wildfire protection plan. It should be completed next year and help align the county’s fire agencies, Thompson said.
“Combining those individual efforts into one large effort with a common goal of maintenance and fuel mitigation is what this all about,” Thompson said.
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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