Cal Fire recommends aggressive plans to reduce fire risk in California, Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- With as much rain that has fallen recently in the Bay Area, that's going to foster tree and vegetation growth. That, in turn, could lead to higher fire risk later in the year.

Cal Fire has proposed an aggressive plan to reduce fuel loads in 35 high-priority areas, including several in the Bay Area. They include the Highway 17 corridor in the Santa Cruz mountains, the Kings Mountain Road area west of Woodside, and Aptos.

The proposal goes now to Governor Gavin Newsom for review.

Cal Fire Division Chief Rich Sampson says there are three projects in the San Mateo-Santa Cruz unit with a preliminary projected cost of $950,000. The goal is to have all of the 35 projects completed by the end of the year.

He characterized the work as both to reduce the risk of wild land fires and forest management.

To achieve the completion by year's end, the work would have to be fast-tracked to identify funding, to comply with permitting and possible environmental impact review, and to find private contractors to do the work in conjunction with Cal Fire crews, including seasonal firefighters and Department of Corrections crews.

Along Highway 17, a major concern is keeping the four-lane road open, even during a fire event.

By removing brush and trees along the road and clearing access roads, the work would prevent fires from burning adjacent to Highway 17 while providing fire crews reliable access to fire zones and providing escape routes for residents.

The Santa Cruz mountains have a history of wild land fires, including the Bear Creek Fire and the Loma Prieta Fire in recent years.

The Santa Clara County FireSafe Council has been working on reducing fire risk for several years but has had difficulty with funding. Local FireSafe Councils will work with Cal Fire as the 35 priority projects proceed.

Cal Fire developed a rating system to determine a fire risk score and a sociologist-economic score. It also was able to determine the number of communities and the population that would be affected by each of the proposed projects.

Patty Ciesla, program manager of the Santa Clara County FireSafe Council, told ABC7 News that the work will likely create some inconveniences on the Highway 17 project, such as a lane closure when crews are doing work along the roadway. However, the result will be a fire-safe highway that will not be vulnerable to closure in the event of a major wild land fire.

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