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Mar 10, 2014
Update 6/2/22 Old FireOn May 29, 2022 a fire started near the ruins of the Soda Springs Resort, eventually burning over 600 acres in two days before it was brought under control. No buildings were burned. More here.
Update 8/20/20 Hennessey FireBeginning on Aug 17, 2020 we experienced the second major fire during our quarter century at the top of Soda Canyon Road. This one came within a half mile of the house, blackening once again the Atlas Peak ridge on the north side of the Foss Valley plateau. One house at the end of the road burned. The Hennessey Fire became the largest Napa County has ever experienced.
Update 12/12/17 Atlas FireOn Sunday Oct. 8th 2017 a fire started on Atlas Peak Road that was immediately blown by fierce winds across the ridge to Soda Canyon Road. On the first night of the fire, within the first few hours, much of the lower portion of Loma Vista Road and Soda Canyon Road up to the pass burned including most of the houses located there. Sadly 2 residents on the road, unable to flee their home, perished. A tree-fall on the road came close to trapping many cars making the escape. A truck was able to budge the tree enough to squeeze by, avoiding a much greater loss of life by a matter of minutes. As the lower part of the canyon became completely engulfed in flames, residents on the upper parts of the road had to evacuated by helicopter.
The upper part of Soda Canyon Road, the plateau of the Rector watershed beyond the pass (Foss Valley), escaped fires the first night. The fire continued to spread as the winds changed direction, but slackened with decreased winds and increased humidity. By the 10th, the slow moving fire had pushed into the southern, eastern and western edges of the Rector plateau, but eventually burned only 3 houses on the plateau.
By the 14th at the point of containment, the Atlas fire had consumed 51,000 acres, 125 homes and 6 lives. It was one of several fires occurring simultaneously in Wine County which eventually consuming 250,000 acres. 8900 structures and 44 lives.
3/10/14Soda Canyon Road has witnessed and continues to witness many fires. When we first arrived in 1993 we were told by neighbors of their experience of the great fire that burned Soda Canyon and the Rector watershed 12 years before. Major fires had occurred on Soda Canyon Road at an interval of about 20 years, previous ones occurring in 1965 and the early forties. (There are people that have been here that long.) Soda Canyon Road, a dead end road up a narrow canyon has always been a fire trap. Anything coming up the canyon leaves no place to run.
On the flatter areas much of the wilderness, clothed in fast burning chaparral, has given way in the last 20 years to vineyard development, which, with its greener vegetation in the summer and the access roads breaking up the vineyard blocks, means that the fire danger may be somewhat lessened now in some areas on the road. But the steep sides of the canyon and of Rector gorge and the many remaining areas of bush-land and woodland remain as volatile as ever. We are now at over 30 years since the last major fire, but each year that we have been here there has been at least one minor fire on the road to remind us that the next big one could be at any time.
The proposal for a major tourist facility at the end of the road should raise some concerns, for the residents and tourists and the county alike. The more vehicles and people coming up the road the more likely some fire starting event will occur, whether from a collision or overturning or a carelessly tossed match or cigarette.
Vivian Manfree's 1981 panorama of the Rector Watershed after the fire
An important point about the nexus of fire and tourism is not just that tourists place themselves at risk congregating in venues served by small rural roads in fire prone-landscapes, which is true, but that the increase in number of people needing to evacuate in a fire puts residents at greater risk as well, residents who have often fought the development of tourism venues in their midst.
Once again we are reminded how inappropriate it is to consider increasing development and tourism in the box canyon of Soda Canyon Road. The one additional condition imposed on the Mountain Peak project following the court-ordered remand to the BOS over fire safety issues was that no events or tastings would be allowed on red flag days. The county was not on a red flag alert on the day of this fire. The only thing that kept the fire from again engulfing the road (it reached the eastern edge of the road) and moving up the canyon was the wind direction.
Road closure at Soda Canyon Road & Silverado Trail is now lifted. Evacuation Orders in the area are also lifted. Please use caution in the area as crews continue to work.
Update 6/1/22 7:00amNixel Alert 11:50pm
Napa County residents previously issued an evacuation order are permitted to return home. Only residents of the area are permitted access at this time.
Please use extreme caution when returning as there is emergency personnel still assigned to the incident.
Crosswalk Community Church evacuation center has been closed.
Due to ongoing wild-land fire activity, Napa County has opened an evacuation center for individuals and households affected by the Old Fire currently active at 2300 Old Soda Springs Rd. Evacuation Orders are still in effect for 1300 Soda Canyon Rd to the dead end.
The Evacuation Center is located at Crosswalk Community Church, 2590 First Street, Napa, CA 94558.
Evacuees in need of food, water, or charging stations are welcome to utilize the Napa County evacuation center. Accommodations for overnight shelter may be announced, if needed.
A community member also sends this information:
In case it's helpful to anyone.... Meritage Hotel has a very nice evacuation rate. they have $99 rooms and 50% off other room categories when you mention the fire and power outage rate.
SAFRR is a Sonoma citizens group that has lobbied to continue to have fire-safe road regulations apply to all roads rather than just new roads. The push to add the word "new" to all of the minimum road prescriptions in the old text was promoted by the RCRC, a lobbying association promoting the interests of governments, who knew that road prescriptions without the "new" in front of them, would apply to existing as well as new roads. This would limit the ability of governments to continue to approve new development projects at the ends of substandard roads. Slowing down that development was exactly the reason given for the revision of the regs in the first place, but until the most recent proposed update, the previous revisions were modified under developer pressure to specify minimum regs would only apply to new roads. This latest revision reverts to the text that doesn't differentiate between existing and new roads.
Update 5/17/22The latest draft of the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations are out and a request for comments has been made. The written comment period ends on Monday, May 23, 2022. Comments may be sent by email to Edith Hannigan at PublicComments@bof.ca.gov
As is obvious from the length of this post, this has been a tortuous process. Most of the verbiage that had been revised and revised again in previous drafts seems to have been scuttled in this draft and a new mini version of the regs has emerged. The markup was difficult to follow before but is impossible for all but forensic scholars to follow now.
One previous revision that was jettisoned was the word "new" that had been liberally added throughout the text. The concept that the regulations would only apply to new means of access has reverted to the more ambiguous prescriptions that might be interpreted as applying to existing roads as well. In terms of preventing development in fire zones, which is what I think the regs should do, this reversion to the original is an improvement.
Update 1/2/22The rule-making package entitled “State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations” is available on the Board's website for a 15-day public comment period following revisions to the draft rule text. The comment period begins on Tuesday, January 3 and ends at 5pm on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. Email comments, or comments as attachments to emails, are preferred. They can be sent to PublicComments@bof.ca.gov.
In a sad reprise of the APAC process in Napa County, the State decided to amend their fire safe regulations in response to an obvious public need for reform. And, as in APAC, the good intentions and proposals made at the beginning of the process were slowly pared back and then twisted by development interests resulting in a new codification of the status quo to their own benefit. In the case of the fire safe regulations, the previous regulations were phrased as applying to all roads, new and old. While the new regulations do in some cases make the regulations stricter for new roads, the most significant change in the regulations is that they now clearly differentiate between existing and new roads, and clarify that existing roads are now, in fact, subject to lesser regulation than they were before. Since most new development happens along or at the end of existing roads, the new regulations have the effect of making development in fire risk areas more likely to happen than before, in direct opposition to the initial intent of changing the regulations.
An article in The Guardian lays out exactly the development patterns, in this case Colorado, that caused the State of California to revisit their fire safe regulations. The solution to the problem is not in providing wider roads and shorter dead-ends in the developments themselves. The Colorado neighborhoods no doubt complied with similar fire-safe regulations and yet burned up in a matter of hours. The object of fire safe regulations should be to dis-incentivize the developments in the first place. Requiring existing roads serving those developments to be completely fire-safe compliant, thus adding significant expenditures to enable the developments, is one, rather inefficient, way to further that goal. A better way is to simply ban development in high fire risk areas, a sensible solution that is, unfortunately, anathema to American capitalism and the politicians and governments that are funded by development interests.
Will the Fire Safe Regulations really make any difference? Centennial, the city proposed at Tejon Ranch, will no doubt comply with and probably exceed every proposed regulation. And the urban expansion into the state's wild-lands will proceed apace.
The issue from Cal Fire's standpoint should not be whether the roads are big enough to get to the fire, but how to stop expanding the urban perimeter they have to defend. By not imposing any meaningful changes to existing roads, which would substantially raise the cost of development in wild-land areas, the regulations will do nothing to slow that expansion.
Update 6/22/21 BOF WebinarWhat had been originally planned as a Board of Forestry hearing to possibly ratify the Fire Safe Regulations they have been working on for over a year became just one more workshop in the process with more comments and letters from "stakeholders". The comments represented "diametrically opposed views" (in the BOF chair's summation) of the regulations. County governments, developers and some property owners felt that the new regs are so onerous that development would just stop. They bemoaned the lack of local control and flexibility. Environmental groups and some property owners felt that the new regs were a regression and would do nothing to improve safety or slow development in fire hazard areas. They bemoaned the lack of State oversight of the implementation and enforcement of the regs, old or new.
Napa had verbal input on both sides, though not by the County. Chuck Wagner wants more local control and development on the ridge-lines. Mr. Erickson wants more building hardening but less regulation of development location. Kellie Anderson wants all roads to be brought to new road standards. Patricia Damery felt the standards have been weakened and wants more state oversight of county exceptions (and called out the county approval of tourist attractions at the end of 6 mile dead-end roads).
There did seem to be a consensus on both sides over one issue (except for one person whose house was on hold in the building dept): more time was needed - 90 days often mentioned - and an EIR should be required (another year at least). Given the unknown impacts of such regulations on development throughout the state, an EIR, though they never seem to change anything, would seem warranted.
The BOF promised to carefully consider all letters and comments submitted before deciding a path forward, though I'm sure they are under enormous pressure to get this task finished before this year's fire season adds to the complaints about their slowness. Given that they were vigorously attacked from both sides, they may just feel that they have gotten it about right as is, and approve the regs as they are.
Update 6/15/21 BOF HearingThe Board of Forestry will be meeting on June 22, 2021 to consider and possibly approve (tho unlikely) the current markup version of the Fire Safe regulations. The hearing notice is here.
Comment letters are requested to be submitted before the end of the meeting. Send letters to Edith Hanningan at email@example.com
Revised letter to be sent to the BOF by the BOS. One further modification will be added to the letter based on the 6/8/21 BOS meeting. The expression "Declared Disaster" will be replaced by something equivalent to (for want of a better phrase) "Act of God".
The red-line indicates that the new regulations apply to development that "results in an increase of 40 average daily trips (ADT) or less". [County staff indicated that the correction has been made to read "40 average daily trips (ADT) or more"]
Update 6/3/21 County Virtual Stakeholders Meeting At the Stakeholders zoom meeting on the proposed FSR, County engineer Patrick Ryan made a presentation of the Regs to help clarify with discussion the meaning of the changes. He promised to make his PowerPoint available. It would be nice to have a copy of the zoom meeting if possible. Dir. Morrison had a couple of interesting comments. In one he indicted that the Board of Forestry seems to be ignoring the input of local planning departments in their effort to approve the new Regulations. (What he really means is that the BOF is ignoring the input of local development interests - "stakeholders" - that normally control land use policy.) County residents certainly know the feeling of being ignored by government bodies. I can't say it makes us sympathetic.
A similar presentation will be made to the Board of Supervisors on Jun 8, 2021.
Update 6/1/21 Patricia Damery has sent a copy of a letter from lawyers representing State Alliance for Fire safe Road Regulations, a group that wants to compel an EIR to assess the impacts of changes to the BOF regulations. Their contention is that in exempting existing roads from compliance in the new Regulations, more development will be facilitated. They make the case that there was never an exemption for existing roads in the previous regulations. Since most new development occurs on old roads, changing wording of provisions to apply only to new roads allows development on old roads that would have been prohibited under the old regulations.
The word "new" appears 4 times in the old regulations (none relating to roads) and 21 times in the revised ones (most relating to roads) . Until reading the letter I had lost the forest for the trees in the tangled undergrowth of the strikeouts, underlines, paragraph movements and subsection references. The revisions are a big win for developers in codifying that minimum road dimensions, radii, grades, dead-end lengths, etc., apply to "new" roads rather than all roads.
Update 5/20/21On June 22, 2021 The Board of Forestry will hold a Public Hearing to discuss and perhaps vote on proposed changes to the BOF Fire Safe Regulations. The notice for the hearing is here. Comments may be submitted up through the conclusion of the hearing. The BOF may vote to approve the proposed changes at the hearing or may propose revisions based on comments submitted with a future additional comment period and hearing to consider and vote on those revisions.
The official documents related to the hearing are linked on the this Board of Forestry webpage under the menu item "State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations".
Napa County Sup. Gregory mentioned in comments that the 5/18/20 BOS meeting that they will be discussing proposed changes to the State Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations on June 8th in preparation for the drafting of a second response letter to the Regulation changes.
I'm not sure if the claim by the Supervisors that rebuilding fire damaged homes will trigger new road construction is more than just a scare tactic to get the public involved. There was an exemption for fire rebuilding in the existing road standards and that exemption has been widened to allow increased footprints.
The notion that adding a bedroom or a minor modification to a winery should be allowed discretionary thresholds of intensity or density increase, sounds reasonable until you extrapolate it to all properties using a road and realize that a "mitigation" will always be found to exceed any threshold. Nominally "less-than-significant" impacts on each and every project being built in the County, as we have contended since beginning this blog, add up to a very significant impact on county urbanization as a whole.
Dir. Morrison's concern that the regulations would have a "dramatic effect on development" is, of course, just the point of the regulation changes: to stop the spread of urban development into high fire areas that don't have the firefighting infrastructure to defend the new development.
I was surprised to find that the Fire Safe Regulations had severe restrictions on dead-end roads. The existing regulation prevents development on dead-end roads longer than 1 mile. The new regulation prevents development on "local" dead-ends longer than a half mile. Why was this not a consideration in approving the Mountain Peak project 6 miles up a dead-end road? Because the county defines Soda Canyon as a "collector" road, not subject to the Fire Safe Regulations. As a collector, however, Soda Canyon is substandard in width, radii and slope on the grade by the county's own road and street standards. And there are sections of the road narrower than the 20' minimum required by the Fire Safe Regs for collectors. (The County also designates Monticello Rd and Hwy 128 as a "Freeway (2 Lanes)" - there does seem to be a bit of road inflation going on.)
In any case, fires don't know the difference between "local" and "collector" roads particularly in constrained high fire risk canyons. As the Atlas fire showed, a dead-end collector is still a dead-end road, and the length along which a fire can wreck havoc to block access is a significant factor in its safety.
Numerous projects have been appealed to the board on the basis of their access constraints and the fire dangers that are a result. Anthem Winery was the most recently approved despite substantial fire hazard concerns.
The Board knows, as they acknowledge in their letter, that most of the roads in the county are substandard -- they are so even under the old BOF regulations. Yet they continue to approve tourism-reliant winery projects in remote areas of the county (including the creation of a new ordinance allowing private homes to be turned into tasting rooms.) Their concern is for the promotion of "growth" (and in Napa County that means tourism growth) at all costs.
The BOF is pursuing a rapid timeline on the new regulations precisely because counties have failed to heed their old regulations, and the BOF knows that if the process is drawn out, thousands of projects in the pipeline will be rushed to approval, adding to the firefighting burden in hazardous areas in the future. The import of the new regulations is not just that their conditions will impose greater restrictions than the old regulations, but that the state is now ready to enforce their regulations in a way that they haven't before.
Update 2/15/21The Board of Forestry has sent out a new draft of the fire safe regulations. In this latest revision, existing sub-standard roads, for example those less than 20' wide or dead-ends greater than 1 mile in length, may be used for new development that doesn't exceed pre-defined numerical thresholds. Several options are proposed in the new draft as possibilities for creating those thresholds. This acknowledgement that the Board of Forestry is willing to accept sub-standard, and more dangerous roads in certain development circumstances is a divergence from the previous regulations which, in theory, would have made standards applicable all new development.
2/3/21 Original PostFollowing the California wildfires in 2017, which had major impacts on Napa and Sonoma counties (though worse was yet to come), Sen. Bill Dodd sponsored CA SB-901 in a wide ranging effort to address wildfire danger in the state. In one of its many provisions, "This bill would also require the state forestry board to adopt regulations implementing minimum fire safety standards that are applicable to lands classified and designated as very high fire hazard severity zones and would require the regulations to apply to the perimeters and access to all residential, commercial, and industrial building construction within lands classified and designated as very high fire hazard severity zones, as defined, after July 1, 2021"
Following the California Wildfires of 2020 which again devastated large areas of Northern California, State Sens. Stern and Allen introduced Ca SB-55 that would "prohibit the creation or approval of a new development, as defined, in a very high fire hazard severity zone or a state responsibility area." The bill is short with no exemptions, and seems unlikely to become law. The Board of Forestry seems to be proceeding on the basis of attempting to satisfy the requirements of SB-901 rather than the absolute prohibitions of SB-55. [Update: a subsequent revision completely emasculated the bill to the benefit of developers.]
In 1991 the State of California Board of Forestry (BOF) established Fire Safe Regulations defining road standards in state responsibility areas (SRA's are beige on this map). The regulations define minimum road widths, maximum gradients, required turnouts and turnarounds, road surfaces, dead-end road lengths, curve radii, water provision, and vegetation management. The standards are intended to insure that firefighters have adequate access for their equipment in the event of wildfires.
Following the requirements of SB 901, the Board of Forestry has begun to review its 1991 standards. In 2019 they produced a first draft of changes to the current regulations. And beginning in Nov 2020 the Board has convened a series of workshops on the draft regulations, and comments have been submitted. A new draft of the regulations will be published on Feb 8th with a request for further comments. The documents are here. A background of the issues and contacts for submission of comments, from the perspective of some concerned citizens of Sonoma, are here.
The draft regulations would expand the areas of regulation to another set of High Fire Hazard Severity Zones beyond the current SRA's into Local Responsibility Areas (LRA's). And they would strengthen certification to insure that local fire safety regulations comply with state regulations with a new emphasis on existing roadways serving new development.
The use of substandard existing roads to access new development has in the past been excused in new development approvals; since the preponderance of new development in the state has been to expand into rural and mountainous areas at the edges of its megalopolises, the impact on new development projects requiring all existing roads to be upgraded would be substantial. In the case of existing dead-end roads, or roads with non-compliant widths, curves and gradients previously mitigate-able development would become unfeasible.
State regulations allow for local governments to use their own standards in approving development projects as long as those standards are "equal or more stringent" and provide "the same practical effect as" the level of fire protection in the state standards. But seldom are the mitigations that local authorities accept as providing "the same practical effect" challenged, and counties have been free heretofore to approve developments based on local regulations often, in fact, more lenient than the state regulations.
But the recent wildfires have changed the state's willingness to allow local governments to overlook or mitigate-away state standards. In 2019 an exception for existing roads was argued by Monterey County on the behalf of a developer and the argument was firmly rejected by the State Attorney General. The Attorney General has also stepped in to join a lawsuit against the Guenoc Valley project in Lake County over fire issues.
An association of county governments that lobbies the state, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), is weighing in on the proposed BOF Fire Safe Regulation changes. The member counties, often in the grip of development interests that promise fees, taxes, jobs (and campaign contributions), are, of course, quite concerned about the regulations' impact on their construction projects. It remains to be seen how effective they will be in reducing the fire safe measures the state now seems intent on enforcing. Sup. Diane Dillon is Napa's member in the association. Napa County doesn't yet seemed to have weighed in on the draft.
It was news to me that State regulations do not allow commercial development on dead end roads longer than 1 mile in high fire severity SRA's like Soda Canyon Road. In the new draft, that distance for new roads is shortened to one-half mile. It may be news to other residents of the county facing a winery in their backyard that roads leading to the project might be required to be raised to state fire safe standards if the projects are to be approved. Such a requirement would be good news to all county residents currently fighting the county over the commercialization of their neighborhoods for event centers and tasting rooms.
A remand of the Mountain Peak project back to the Napa Board of Supervisors to revisit the fire safety of Soda Canyon Road in light of the devastation of the 2017 fire is due in the not-too-distant future. The Board of Forestry should be asked to weigh in specifically on their half mile limitation on new development in the SRA's, and the county should be asked to justify their exemption from BOF standards in approving some winery projects.
At 1:30pm in their Mar.8, 2022 meeting (agenda here) the Board of Supervisors will be considering the placement of a ballot initiative on the June 7 ballot to increase sales tax in Napa County by a quarter percent to add to fire suppression funding. It might fund measures such as vegetation clearing and other hardening of rural homes, a potential boon to residents on the wildland interface like those on Soda Canyon Road, but not necessarily to other residents of the county. Amber Manfree, no stranger to the threats faced by rural residents, has sent along her thoughts on the initiative and a call to look at two other items on the agenda:
1. Biggest question: If we had adopted this 10 years ago and done a whole bunch of fuel management before 2017, would things have gone very differently? Personally, I doubt it. That's because conditions driving megafires are the problem.
Home hardening is good, and homeowners who wish to live in the Wildland-Urban interface should take the lead. There are grant funds available to landowners. There's no need for massive fundraising through a sales tax.
What we need to be spending public time, money, and energy on is eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels, and saving what's left of our carbon-sequestering wildlands. There is no other way out of the climate crisis. Funding landscape-scale fire suppression with a sales tax will likely make things worse in the long run, because we could have been funding things that mattered much more.
2. Fire suppression is an outdated policy that can lead to more severe fires after fuels have built up over time - it is largely considered to increase overall risk by those who understand the science on fire management. While the ordinance does allow for fuel management, it does not allow for control burns of the landscape or cultural burns - both of which are critical tools for managing our landscapes.
3. Who pays, and who benefits? Asking the general public to fund a 10-year sales tax that will mainly benefit rural landowners creates an unfair distribution of resources. Climate change brings many risks. If passed, this will reduce the tolerance of voters to approve additional taxes that would benefit lower income people and the general public, like sea level rise adaptation, flood management, heat wave mitigation, and Parks and Open Space.
4. When was the last time the BOS put something on the ballot? Why this, why now?
5. Why is the BOS keen on taxing the general public to suppress fire, and opposed to protecting public water supplies and carbon sequestering forests? The BOS dismissed calls to put the Watershed and Oak Woodlands Initiative (or something similar) on the ballot after it was determined that the signatures collected were not valid because of a technicality in the way they were collected. Instead, they designed and adopted a policy that looks good on paper, but is meaningless on the ground.
6. How are the proceeds to be allocated, after they go to the county and cities? Will we get full and transparent accounting of where the money goes? If funds go to Firewise, they are not subject to Public Records Act rules, and we may not be able to track expenditures.
7. Will Volunteer Fire Departments be supported? The Ordinance states, "Under no circumstances shall revenues be used for fire departments that are not operated or managed by a public agency," so it sounds like they will not receive funds. Volunteer Fire departments respond faster and have more local knowledge than CalFire. Let's find ways to support them.
8. Will there be a "Fire Czar"?
9. Is this funding needed? The state has been pouring money into coordinated fire-related management. Why should residents tax themselves for what should be a state-wide effort?
The phony-tree monopole that now graces the intersection of Soda Canyon Road and the Trail (soon to be joined by a fenced generator) will remain a vestige of an attempt to build a series of private communications towers with a public service function added: a siren and fire detection camera. The system was proposed by Illumation Technologies and its CEO Chris Canning, who is also the mayor of Calistoga. The installation would be free to the county in return for the use of public rights-of-way for the towers which would also be commercial cell phone towers.
The problem was that the initial proposal for 32 towers would ring the valley floor, where communication towers are easy to build and reach a large number of paying customers. But the warning system is really needed in the more expensive-to-build remote areas of the county where cell phone coverage is bad to non-existant and the number of people buying into the system would be small.
Following resident protest, and a cost benefit analysis on the part of the contractor, the monopole project was retooled and the county pushed ahead with an installation by the same contractor, of 3 "IQ Firewatch" cameras located on highpoints in the county similar to the Alert Wildfire North Bay mountaintop cameras.
Since there is no siren function and no intention to add to cell phone service, it is unclear how much more effective they would be in a fast moving event than the existing Alert WIldfire cameras. While we may be getting another camera on the Atlas Peak tower, the best solution to a wildfire warning system for areas like upper Soda Canyon Road that have no cell phone reception is a government commitment to provide cell phone service to all residents in the woefully underserved remote areas of the county.
The Napa County Community WIldfire Protection Plan was presented to the Board of Supervisors on 4/7/21. The video of the meeting is here beginning at 3:21:00 on the video. The Plan website was prerepared by Napa Communities Firewise Foundation and represents an incredible amount of work portraying and analyzing the fire situation in Napa County with specific preparedness recommendations, projects and a heafty budget request to match.
Unfortunately, while the amount of data presented on the CWPP website is probably extraordinary, the site is quite wonky and disorienting and requires an up-to-date browser, a big screen and a robust amount of clicking to get at revelant information. Using the site is akin to learning a new computer program (this one) rather than browsing a website. The site designers have provided a video to show you how to use it.
Mui and I have spent the last 26 years keeping ourselves fit by clearing broom and brush and raising tree hemlines on our property just for the beauty of the park-like setting that is the result. Little did we think there might be another reason to do the work.
[Barbara Guggia, our Soda Canyon Firewise Council point person, has sent along this note about funds available for fire prevention measures on our road.]
GOOD NEWS FROM THE SODA CANYON FIRE SAFE COUNCIL:
The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation received a $130,000 fuel reduction grant from PG&E and $50,000 will be applied to work along Soda Canyon Road. We sincerely thank PG&E for funding this grant. This fuel break project will provide fuel reduction along Soda Canyon Road and will focus on roadside clearance of fuel, fuel spacing, and the removal of potential strike trees which could block access and egress along Soda Canyon Road. The work will be completed by November 2020. This is great news for the residents of the Soda Canyon community and we are extremely grateful to all the individuals from the Napa Communities Firesafe Foundation who worked hard writing this grant. Their support of our community is sincerely appreciated.
Following the Supervisors denial of the Hard Six Cellars Winery on the remote Diamond Mountain Road, George Caloyannidis has begun a discussion, in the form of a draft initiative, to codify the conditions under which winery projects and their tourism programs may be developed in the watershed areas of the county in order to protect the health and safety of county residents and visitors. Planning Commissioners, in originally approving the Hard Six project, expressed concern that they had no code justification to consider the severe access constraints on this property any differntly than a more accessable winery.
Update 4/4/20George Caloyannidis letter to Supervisors and attached articles on human-caused wildfire danger:
Dear Napa County Planning Commissioners and Supervisors,
As an adjunct to my May 18 letter to the Supervisors urging additional restrictions for commercial activities in the AW when served by substandard roads, or ones with no secondary escape routes or ones on cull-de-sacs, I attach scientific data confirming that human activity is responsible for 84% of all wild fires -- 87% in Australia.
Yet, the Planning Commission, undeterred by science, keeps approving such winery activities at an unprecedented scale by adding human activity, industrial and visitor in our fire-prone areas.
Equally disturbing is the fact that during your recent joint meeting, this subject was ignored.
I believe this continued practice to be irresponsible if not downright immoral.
Original post 5/18/20George Caloyannidis letter to Supervisors on a proposed initiative to codify road access conditions for developments projects in the watershed areas of the county:
2202 Diamond Mountain Road
Calistoga, CA 94515 May 16, 2020
RE: Proposed Firesafe Agricultural Watershed Development Ordinance
To: The Honorable Napa County Supervisors
My experience with Measure D has been cumbersome and expensive to both myself, to the generous funders who embraced its cause and to the Napa County taxpayers in defense of a subsequent frivolous lawsuit.
I attach the Draft of what at this point is a contemplated Voter Initiative for the year 2022, in the hope of avoiding this route if an Ordinance can accomplish that same objective before the end of May 2021 window of opportunity. Fully aware that the wheels of government are slow to turn, I must stress that once this time window is closed and legal and other expenses have been incurred, such window will close.
I am encouraged by the statements by all of you during the public hearings preceding Measure D arguing that a County Ordinance would have been a preferred route that such an alternative vehicle can be accomplished this time.
On the other hand, I like to remind you that in order to forestall Measure D, Mr. Frank Farella at his own expense through his law firm had submitted the language for an alternative Ordinance only to be asked by Staff to pay $1,700.00 for it just to be considered. This ingratitude caused him to withdraw it resulting in the subsequent expensive process.
It is everyone’s sincere hope that the upcoming fire season will not prove another deadly one but climate change points to the opposite scenario for decades to come.
Much organizational progress has been made since, especially by local citizen efforts in improving communications and obtaining limited public funds to minimize the quantity of fire fuel along some of the overgrown roads in the Agricultural Watershed. But as we have seen, failing communication infrastructure, power shutdowns and an overwhelmed fire personnel during rapidly spreading fire infernos do not guarantee orderly and gradual evacuations under the existing inadequate evacuation infrastructure. Major structural impediments exist. And as we have seen, they have been deadly.
The last Diamond Mountain Firewise Council meeting took place on February 29, 2020 just prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Following expert presentations by CalFire officials and Wildfire consultant Carol Rice, some 100 attendees were presented the opportunity to fill out a questionnaire as to their desired actions to improve fire safety. They could be roughly sorted into immediate and long-term actions.
The first two immediate ones - removing hazardous vegetation and creating fuel breaks - received 59 combined votes but the next four on the list were long-term actions for improved access and escape routes which received a combined 61 votes.
Access and escape routes are considered by the Diamond Mountain and Kortum Canyon communities as life and death issues during a wildfire. The same concerns have been expressed by similarly situated communities on other western and eastern hills of the county. Inadequate access concerns were also cited by you in granting the recent appeal in the Hard Six Cellars winery application.
It is my sincere hope that the Board of Supervisors will prioritize consideration of this proposal so that our group can gain timely clarity as to its future action.
Residents will make an effort to introduce issues of fire safety at the BOS appeal hearing of Hard Six Cellars on Tues, Feb 12, 2020.The fire safety report is here.
Following the fires of 2017, and the near calamity that befell residents trying to evacuate Soda Canyon Road, and the actual calamity of the blocked highway in Paradise a year later, two winery use permit applications in remote areas of the county have been challenged by neighbors with expert opinion on the fire dangers posed in these areas. The first was made before the presentation to the Planning Commission on the Anthem Winery and was essentially ignored in the discussion. The second was submitted after the Planning Commission approved the Hard Six Cellars project and appellants are trying to get it included in the appeal.
In fact, fire safety reports should be a part of every remote winery application, in the way that water availability and traffic impacts are. Following The Soda Canyon event, it is no longer acceptable for the county fire chief to rubber stamp projects based on project specific mitigations that don't address the dangers beyond the boundaries of the property.
As the Kincade Fire burns south through Sonoma County and Calistoga remains under an evacuation advisory, this Frontline documentary has concurrently given a minute by minute chronology of the Camp Fire that burned the town of Paradise one year ago. It is a vivid lesson for us all, but especially for the government officials charged with protecting public safety as they continue to encourage the commercial development of the constrained-access, rural areas of the county.
The Napa Firewise Foundation received this notice about an upcoming presentation. We, the Soda Canyon Firesafe Council, are forwarding it for your information. This should be an excellent presentation. Please share the information. Sieben is the author of "The Homeowner's Guide to Wildfire Prevention."
Robert Sieben, MD, will present a video presentation of techniques homeowners can use to protect their homes from wildfire at 3-5 p.m. November 14th, at the Montclair branch of the Oakland public library at 1687 Mountain Blvd, off the Thornhill exit from Highway 13.
Don't choose to lose your home to wildfire!
There's a lot you and your neighbors can do, starting right now, to enable your homes to stand on their own when a major windblown wildfire overwhelms firefighters and forces you to evacuate. No one else is going to make your property fire safe for you. You own the fire ignition zone, and therefore you own the fire. Nationwide, when firefighters are called upon to put out fires in the wildland-urban interface, they spend 70 percent of their time doing what property owners should have already done.
Although there have been many fires in the Oakland hills over the past several years, suppressed quickly by the fire department, none has occurred when the dry Mt. Diablo winds were blowing strongly. The inspections themselves are limited in scope-e. g. they do not cover the structure itself, which is far more likely to be ignited by embers than by the fire front. We remain at extreme risk.
You can start your fire prevention right now because the fall rains provide an opportunity to cut back dense shrubs and dead limbs with no danger of ignition. The expected el nino will lead to robust growth of undesirable shrubs and annual grasses that will have to be taken care of early and often.
The costs of suppressing a record number of wildfires has devastated the funds set aside for fire prevention. You can help make up for this by taking responsibility for your own property at your own expense. Learn more at wildfireprevention.info.
FC Dwight Good
17575 Peak Ave.
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Office: (408) 310-4654
Cindy and I had a moderately productive meeting with the Napa County Fire Chief and the Interim Fire Marshall yesterday. We discussed The Caves, Relic and MPV projects, code/ordinances, emergency evacuation plans (or the lack of them), the constant stream of dump trucks from Relic to Stagecoach the past fews weeks, and the continual parade of parked large vehicles in front of the Firehouse. Cindy has some photos as well. And we asked for a Report of Incidents for the past 5 years for the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista area.
They listened attentively and answered all our questions, until...as t the end of our meeting a call came in about a fire at the top of Atlas Peak Road, at which we adjourned.
I'm looking forward to receiving the statistics on number of incidents.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Diane Shepp
Date: Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 8:22 AM
Subject: Soda Canyon/Loma Vista
To: Scott Upton , Tim Hoyt
Cc: Cynthia Grupp
Fire Chief Upton and Fire Marshall Hoyt,
Cynthia and I appreciate you're taking the time from your busy schedule to meet yesterday afternoon. As we related, there is growing concern among our neighbors regarding the development of tourist oriented wineries on Soda Canyon Road and the potential negative effects they may and have created.
Thank you for listening to our concerns and answering specific questions about the role of the Fire Marshall in the development process of new construction, which County and State codes and ordinances are relevant, and who to speak to regarding an Emergency Evacuation Plan for Soda Canyon Road, weed abatement and abandoned vehicle enforcement.
Your support of the Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department and help with posting signs or other measures to ensure that the driveway and parking area are kept clear for emergency vehicle use only, is appreciated. We look forward to receiving the Incident Statistical Report for the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista area for the past five years.
Thank you for helping us keep the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista area as safe as possible.
Soda Canyon/Loma Vista residents are invited to attend the Atlas Peak Firesafe Council meeting on Tuesday May 13. See attached flyer for details.
See what our close neighborhood council has done and is doing. A great opportunity for new ideas for our council and to meet the members of the Atlas Peak council.
We had a terrific turnout on Sunday, April 27, for our BBQ and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Soday Canyon Fire Station. It was fun to meet residents from both ends of Soda Canyon and from Loma Vista.
If you would like to contribute to the 50th anniversary fund for the Fire Station, you can send a contribution to me, Henni Cohen, 1044 Loma Vista Dr., 94558. Checks should be made out to "Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department". They are currently raising funds for improvements to the station building and they need 2 twin bed mattresses and a desk.
If you have neighbors who are not on the Call-'em-All list, have them contact Sue Farrell at: 707-246-0547 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Firesafe Council
Just a friendly reminder as a follow up to the flyer we recently mailed you. You and your neighbors are invited to the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Firewise Day and Bar-B-Q to be held on Sunday, April 27 from 3:00 - 6:00 PM at the Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Station No. 13. The Bar-B-Q will be served starting at 4:00 PM. So if you plan to be there for the Bar-B-Q, please RSVP to Penny Mallen at email@example.com or 255-7556 by Thursday, April 24 and be sure to let her know how many people will be attending.
Please refer to the attached flyer for more details. And let your neighbors know about this important and informative event regarding wildfire safety as our mailing and email lists are not complete. SPREAD THE WORD!!!
We look forward to seeing you there.
Your neighbors/members of the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Firesafe Council,
Henni Cohen, Chair Rick Thornberry, Napa Firewise Foundation Liaison
As you may have already noticed, work to continue what we started last year clearing brush, trimming up trees, and separating the tree canopy overhangs (tree "tunnels") on both sides of Soda Canyon Road using the CalFire Delta Cew is underway.
The Soda Canyon (SC) Firewise Council obtained an $8,000 grant from the Napa Communities Fiewise Foundation to finish the work started last year on both Soda Canyon Road and Linda Vista Drive. The Napa County Public Works Department is also graciously providing one of their crews (at no charge to us) to assist in this effort with traffic control, chipping, and hauling, and, we've been promised, a bucket truck and crew to help with the tree trimming.
The Delta Crew started working on Tuesday morning, January 21, and is expected to finish up by Friday, February 7. They will be working from about 10 AM to 3 PM on week days so you can expect some delays if you're driving on these two roads. The work started at 2210 Soda Canyon Road (about 3.4 miles up from the Silverado Trail) on the right hand side of the road and will proceed up to the end of the paved county road and then go back down on the opposite side of the road to where they started just about a half mile south of the SC Fire House.
Then they will proceed to Loma vista Drive and work on both sides of the last half mile of the paved county road starting just past the last 90 degree left turn at the narrowest part of the road. If they have time, they will then go back to Soda Canyon Road to work on thinning out/ breaking up the tree "tunnels" on the first 3 or so miles of the road.
Due to the upcoming Red Flag Warning starting at 10 PM tonight and ending by 3 PM on Thursday, it was decided to not have the Delta Crew work then in order to avoid any possibility of their work starting a wildfire.
The SC Firewise Council would like to thank you all for your patience and understanding while the Delta Crew does its important wildfire mitigation work to create fuel breaks along these roads and make them safer for evacuation during a wildfire emergency.
Please pass this information along to your neighbors, friends, and family in our SC Firewise Community.
P. S. - Hopefully, you've also noted our Firewise road signs letting people know we're involved in improving wildland fire safety in our neighborhood.