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Atlas Fire (copy)

The smoldering remains of a home destroyed at Silverado Country Club by the Atlas Fire. Residents are considering forming a Firewise group to better defend their neighborhood from future wildfires.

Silverado doesn’t look like a typical Napa County Firewise community, given its neighborhoods with sidewalks and fire hydrants, several hundred homes and condominiums and a sprawling, famous golf course.

Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak and other local Firewise communities are rural outposts where homeowners do such things as create 100 feet of defensible space around homes. Silverado is a slice of upscale suburbia where nearby rural residents threatened by wildfires might flee to for safety.

“Except we lost 134 homes last year,” said Silverado resident Bill Senske, whose own home was spared.

The October 2017 Atlas Fire raced through parts of Silverado, in some cases incinerating a home while sparing the neighboring home. That same night, the Tubbs Fire destroyed Coffey Park and other Santa Rosa neighborhoods, places that seemed parts of a wildfire-proof city.

Given all that, Senske and others are pushing to make Silverado a Firewise community. Leaf-free rain gutters and fire-resistant landscaping could become common topics of a public awareness push there in coming months.

A couple dozen residents met Tuesday in the St. Andrews room of the member’s clubhouse to learn more about Firewise. Speaker Tom Vreeland of the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation dispensed with his usual preface on fire dangers.

“Considering what happened last October, we don’t need to do that with you,” he told the fledgling Silverado Firewise Council.

Still, Vreeland set the scene. He told the Silverado gathering that open space runs from Napa to the Oregon border.

“You are really on the wildland frontier, even though you might be living in a nice neighborhood,” he said.

Carol Rice is a fire management consultant. In coming weeks, she will go through The Crest, Creekside, The Highlands, The Fairways and other Silverado neighborhoods looking for wildfire safety weak points.

Her assessment will help inform a Silverado fire safety plan. That in turn could open the door to grant funding to undertake fire protection projects such as brush clearing.

“There’s really no downside to having a fire safe council,” Rice said.

But Silverado can’t simply clone the Firewise plan for Soda Canyon or Mount Veeder. Vreeland said these Firewise councils are in rural areas.

“Your needs are different,” Vreeland said. “You’re not looking at 100 feet of defensible space around your house … you’re looking at other issues.”

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Silverado homeowners can do such things as remove leaves from rain gutters and not keep flammable things under the eaves of a house, he said.

Rice talked about having a non-combustion zone next to homes, with nothing to ignite if a burning ember lands there. That includes plants that burn easily, such as the juniper bush, which she called a “poster child.”

“It doesn’t have to be ugly,” Rice said. “You can use beautiful hardscape.”

One task of a Firewise Council is to make homeowners aware of steps they can take to better protect their homes. It does that through such methods as holding an annual fire safety event.

Adhering to Firewise doesn’t guarantee success. Vreeland lost his Atlas Peak home in the Atlas Fire despite having 300 feet of defensible space, three times the state standard. He was out-of-town at the time and didn’t have to flee for his life.

But the Atlas Fire in its initial hours was fanned by winds topping 60 mph, conditions Vreeland called unprecedented.

“Nothing would stop that particular fire except luck,” Vreeland said.

He gave examples of what Firewise steps can accomplish under most conditions.

Circle Oaks caught a break in that the Atlas Fire slowed as it moved that way. Vreeland said the rural community has a firebreak around it funded by federal grants, state money and Firewise money and firefighters held that perimeter.

“There were some conditions that played to favor that we didn’t have out here (in Silverado) that night,” county Fire Chief Barry Biermann said. “But that definitely was one of those places that had been prepared to be defended and made it easier for us to get in there and hold that community.”

Andy Kirmse, president of the Silverado Property Owners Association, said the Silverado Firewise effort has the association’s backing.

“We already have a concerned group,” Vreeland said. “It’s going to take a few spark plugs here to drive it and keep the thing moving forward … that’s most of the battle.”

Napa County’s nine Firewise communities are Angwin, Atlas Peak, Berryessa Estates, Berryessa Highlands, Circle Oaks, Deer Park, Gordon Valley, Mount Veeder/Dry Creek and Soda Canyon.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.