Fire Issues

Mar 10, 2014

Update 6/2/22 Old Fire
On 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 Fire
Beginning 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.

Its impact on Soda Canyon Road is documented here.

Update 12/12/17 Atlas Fire
On 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.

The events of the fire on Soda Canyon Road as it was happening are here
The aftermath of the fire is covered here

Soda 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

Napa County Road and Street Standards 2023
State SRA Fire Safe Regulations 2021
Atlas Fire Maps(2017)
Napa County General Plan Safety Element (2008)
State SRA Fire Safe Regulations 2016
Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council 2012
Calfire SCR incident reports 2007-15
Grand Jury Report on the Napa Fire Department 2007-8
SCR fire hazard map
Soda Canyon-Montecello pre-attack fire plan & map
1981 map of burned homes on SCR and Atlas Peak roads

NVR 8/3/21: California’s 2020 fire siege: wildfires by the numbers
Valery Wolf LTE 8/13/20: A better approach on emergency warning system
NVR 7/25/20: Proposed emergency sirens will get deeper Napa County look from Board of Supervisors
George Caloyannidis LTE 5/31/20: Immoral policies in our fire-prone zones
NVR 4/24/19: Fleeing fire common in California; evacuation plans aren't
Raymond C Martinez LTE 4/23/19: It's a question of life and death (his experience of the 1981 fire)
NVR 12/30/17: Top 10 Stories of 2017, No. 1: Historic wildfires besiege Napa Valley
Forbes 10/11/17: The Science Of 'Diablo Winds' Fanning California Wine Country Fires
NVR 10/9/17: Wind-whipped wild fires bookend Napa, army of firefighters grows
NVR 10/9/17: Wind-blown fires in Napa and Calistoga prompt major night evacuations, school closures
Yeoryios Apallas LTE 10/5/17: Soda Canyon fire was wake-up call
NVR 10/3/17: Soda Canyon Road reopens after vegetation fire north of Napa
NVR 5/26/16: Firefighters contain fire at Soda Canyon Road in Napa
NVR 2/1/16: County rural road regulations take confusing turn
Napa Historical Society 8/6/15: Atlas Peak Fire
2014: Napa Firewire Bulletin
Patch 11/24/13: Silverado Fire 100% Contained
NVR 11/22/13: Fire on Loma Vista
NBC 11/21/13: 300 Acre Grass Fire Burns in Napa
Patch 5/2/13: Third Napa Valley Fire Sparked off Soda Canyon Road
NVR 5/1/13: Winds heat contribute to fires around Napa County
NVR 2/24/12: Soda Canyon Fire fully Contained
NBC 2/23/12: Crews Fight Vegetation Fire in Napa
CalFire: Report on Feb. 23, 2012 Fire on Soda Canyon Road
NVR 2/24/12: Soda Canyon Fire
NVR 2/23/12: Fire on Soda Canyon Road
NVR 11/2/11: Fast moving fire scares Soda Canyon Residents
NVR 11/2/11: Soda Canyon Fire
NVR 6/22/06: Fire on the Mountain 1981
NVR 5/20/06: Article on Soda Canyon Road Fire Danger and Rick Thornberry
NVR 10/8/05: Wildfire history in Napa County
NVR 6/23/1981 Entire issue devoted to the 1981 fire


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Fire events

Daniel Mufson - Jul 12, 2023 9:58AM  Share #2308

Atlas Peak Road 10/8/17

[Email below sent to District 4 Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza on 7/9/23. A Zoning Administrator Hearing will be held on 7/13/23 to review and possibly approve an application for a temporary event license for the Blue Note Jazz Festival (up to 12000 people/day) at the Silverado Country Club.]


All of us who live on Atlas Peak Road (APR) or Soda Canyon Road well remember the horror of October 8, 2017-The Atlas Fire. It was a hot, dry night with lots of wind. And then about 10 PM all hell broke loose as one by one, and with phone calls from neighbors, we realized the need to evaluate our homes.

Not all were lucky. In particular we will never forget the couple on Westgate Drive who could not move fast enough to be saved. The real tragedy was that there were two fire trucks parked just around the corner at Old Soda Springs sitting in the dark and smoke “awaiting orders.” They had arrived in position without alerting residents with a siren or horn.

The attached video shows the situation on Atlas Peak Road about the time we evacuated. Note the embers all over the road and the terrific wind blowing at the William Hill Winery and the parked car engulfed in flames. This area is adjacent to where parking is proposed for the Blue Note Jazz. There was no evacuation plan for residents and we all scrambled our way to safety. Some had to be evacuated by helicopter as downed trees blocked the roads. I hope that there is an evacuation plan currently in place. But if so, I’ve never seen it. I hope that the planners and Zoning Administrator-and you-are going to take the seriousness of a catastrophic fire in your deliberations about this permit.

This history is relevant to the determination as to whether there ought to be a series of summer concerts at Silverado with up to 12,000 attendees each. I have reviewed the permit documents filed by the sponsors, who operate from downtown New York City, but do no see where the County of Napa has determined/approved the safety plan for residents and attendees if another catastrophic fire event in this Fire Hazard Safety Zone were to occur during a concert. Presumably the disaster planners : Napa County Fire Department; the California State Fire Marshall; and the Napa County Executive Office-Risk Manager have been alerted to the filing of this permit but I do not see where they have made the determination that the plan is acceptable.

Who has the responsibility, and authority, to cancel these events during a Red Flag conditions?

I was encouraged to attend the Public Hearing on Thursday to solicit the opinions of the sponsors. Why do I need to do that? I thought the County Government had that responsibility. Where is the adult in the room that will make the hard decisions on behalf of Napa’s citizens?

Why is the event being advertised and tickets sold when the permit has not yet been issued? Is it already a done deal?

What are the security preparations for the advertised “after parties” that are to run from 11PM-2AM? Are there decibel limits?

I find fault with the proposed size of these events which in turn requires numerous car parking facilities to be set up. Several of these parking lots are planned on Atlas Peak Road which is exactly where fleeing residents would drive if necessary to evacuate. As can be seen in the video above those parking fields were engulfed in flames early in the Atlas Fire. What do those visitors do when they are running in fire and smoke and can’t access their cars? Does it make sense to have thousands of visitor cars trying to enter narrow APR or Hardman (after a day of enjoying adult beverages)?

I recommend:

  • The size of the event be reduced so that no parking lots are required on Atlas Peak Road;
  • That CalFire sign off on the permit and evacuation plans; the plans to include rules to allow emergency vehicles in and cars out;
  • That the Sheriff and CHP have sufficient force to direct traffic out of the area, and emergency vehicles into the area, including at APR-Westgate, APR-Hillside, Hardman-Silverado Trail...

Daniel and Naoko Mufson

Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations & the NCRSS

Bill Hocker - Mar 6, 2023 11:29AM  Share #2177

Napa County State Responsibility Area in which Regs apply
Update 3/6/23
NVR 3/4/23: County works on fire hazard road standards
Video of 2/28/23 BOS meeting
Adopted NCRSS 4/27/23

Contrary to rumor, the county has not backed off their stance that that existing roads need not be improved to NCRSS/MFSR standards to accommodate new development. Patrick Ryan did say that for CEQA projects the totality of access from the nearest 'through" road would be looked at. But this iteration of the 2023 NCRSS still begins it's scope with "These Standards are not applicable retroactively to existing roads, streets and driveways or facilities." The emphasis again in this meeting was about what would happen with new development on private property or existing private subdivisions.

Conversely, the MFSR Regs do not differentiate between existing and new roads. And the State has already made itself very clear that they think the Regs should apply to existing roads when considering new development as in this letter to Monterey County and this letter to Sonoma County (see page 6). It is an issue which the County still seems to be fudging.

At the end of the meeting, ICEO Morrison conceded that, since county regulations are no longer being certified by the State, "the concern that staff has had is that others [i.e. the public] can bring litigation against the County for not being consistant with the State." They should be concerned.

Update 2/27/23
Here are the final, but still "unofficial" (until 4/1/23), Board of Forestry and Fire State Protection Minimum Fire Safe Regulations. This link is to a pdf. The BOF continues to publish only a link to a MSWord document here.

The regulations are certainly much clearer without all of the strikeouts, addition and existing text jumbled together for the first time. And it is still clear that the plain language of the text and the County's convenient interpretation of that language to enable continuing development in hazrdous fire zones are miles apart.

Update12/2/22 State response to inquiries
The County has received notification that the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations have not yet been approved and may be under additional review. So the "final" MSFR may not be so final after all.

There is a clear difference in code between State Board of Forestry Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR) as presently proposed and Napa County's Road and Street standards as proposed. Though the State regulations and County standards are for the most part identical, the NCRSS definitively exempt existing roads from having to comply with other provisions of the standards. The MFSR explicitly make no difference between existing and new roads, and, in fact, the BOF specifically rejected, in their "final" redline, language that would have limited their regulations to new roads only.

So what happens when local regulations, like the NCRSS, conflict with the MSFR? The difference in implementation of the two codes would result in a huge difference in the amount of new development occurring in wildfire areas of the state going forward. Limiting that development was one of the principal reasons for the review of the MSFR in 2020-22 and the retention of language that did not differentiate between new and existing roads in the regulations.

Several concerned citizens asked Edith Hannigan, Executive Officer at the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, what happens when local standards and state regulations differ. This is one such email exchange:

    From Bill Hocker to Edith Hannigan 11/14/22:
    I would be very happy to know how the BOF feels about local jurisdictions exempting existing roads from having to comply with the MSFR.

    From EH 11/15/22:
    The Board cannot offer interpretations on other governments' codes and ordinances.
    Thank you for your understanding.

    From BH 11/15/22:
    So what is the recourse if local codes contradict the BOF Fire Safe Regulations? Doesn't that render the BOF regulations meaningless?

    From EH 11/15/22:
    I would consult a lawyer to explore your options for legal relief.

In looking at this response, it would seem that the State will treat MSFR as they do CEQA standards. That is, it is not up to the State to enforce the code, but rather it is up to individuals or organizations to challenge non-compliance with State code in court on a project-specific basis. In fact, discontinuing BOF certifications of local codes, as the BOF has now done, eliminates one barrier to lawsuits against local jurisdictions over their codes. It is perhaps one more example of how, in such a litigious society, governance can now only occur through the courts.

Update11/17/22 Community Outreach Meeting
On 11/17/22 Napa County Staff held a community outreach meeting to present the the County's revised Road and Street Standards in response to the State's newly approved Minimum Fire Safe Regulations.

Notice of the meeting
2023 Draft NCRSS redline version
2023 Draft NCRSS FAQ letter
Approved 2021 State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR)
BOF Statement of Reasons behind Approved 2021 MSFR
2019 "certified" Napa County Road and Street Standards (NCRSS)
Video of the 11/17/22 hearing
Deborah Eppstein Letter to planner Patrick Ryan and County

Deborah Eppstein, representing the Sonoma group SAFRR concerned with local interpretation of the MFSR, has sent this list of issues that she wishes to bring up at the Outreach Meeting:

    "1) Napa’s prior certification is no longer valid as any time an ordinance is amended to update it as is required anytime the state regs are updated, the prior certification is no longer valid. That is spelled out black and white in the current regs (see § 1270.04(d) of current 2020 regs). All local ordinances must be amended to comply with the new regs. Furthermore, BOF is no longer doing certifications (moratorium started Nov 4, 2020) and they accordingly beefed up language in the new [2021] regs (§ 1270.05) spelling out that local ordinances must fully comply with the corresponding minimum standards in the state regs, and that no exemptions could be applied that were not in the state regs.

    2) The state regs apply to all public and private roads (see definition of Road), so the Napa regs cannot exclude the public access roads.

    3) Separately, the Napa 2019 certified regs actually did not exclude the public access roads as Patrick Ryan has stated
    [SCR notes they are exempted in Scope of Standards section ] - sections 12 and 13 of the Napa regs rather provide the requirements for road and driveway standards within a parcel, but they do not state that the road standards outside the parcel are no longer applicable.

    4) Exceptions can only be granted under the limited conditions listed in Section 3 (p3) and then only within the development parcel as specified. Exceptions must provide for the same practical effect as the state regs, which includes concurrent fire apparatus ingress and civilian evacuation, and unobstructed traffic circulation (see BOF regs, § 1273.00), consistent with the technical details specified in Article 2 of the state regs (20 ft wide roads, 16% grades, dead-end road length limits, etc). Exceptions are not for entire roads, but for specific obstacles- eg heritage oaks, recorded historical sites.

    5) The state AG has written that exceptions cannot be applied to change the dead-end road length limitation (2019 letter to Monterey County)

Deborah has also supplied this highlighted 2020 Letter from the BOF to the County of Sonoma during Sonoma's attempt to certify their road standards. Pease note the highlights on p. 6. The BOF makes clear that the exemption of existing roads from compliance with local ordinance " is a legitimate basis for determining that the ordinance does not equal or exceed the Fire Safe Regulations." The NCRSS exemption of existing roads in its Scope of Standards clearly violates the MSFR.

She also calls attention to the 8/17/22 BOF Statement of Reasons that accompanied the BOF approval of the 2021 MFSR. Beginning on page 5 they enumerate their "General Response to Comments Regarding Existing Roads:" That response makes crystal clear that their intent is that the regulations apply to existing as well as new roads. Any attempt by local jurisdictions to exempt existing roads from the application of local standards would clearly indicate that those standards do not "equal or exceed" the MSFR.

After the meeting she sent this letter to county officials to further clarify the issue.

NVR 10/21/22: Napa County grapples with controversial state fire safe standards
Video of BOS 10/18/22 meeting
Staff Agenda Letter
Approved 2021 State Fire Safe Regulations
Napa County 2019 Road and Street Standards

Following a year and a half haggling over the revision of the State Board of Forestry's Fire Safe Regulations for development in the fire-prone wildland areas, and the significant development restrictions that strict enforcement of the regulations would entail, county staff has decided to take the most minimalist interpretation with little change in their policies and practices, based on the County's own Road and Street Standards that had been certified by the BOF in 2016 before the county began burning down. The State will no longer certify local road standards, and that lack of certification means that localities are responsible for defending their standards when it comes to litigation.

Despite a slew of proposed markups over that year and a half, the final regulations remained mostly as they were, but there was a committment that the State would be more involved in vetting projects and applying their regulations more diligently.

The most significant of the proposed markups, desired by developers and jurisdictions, was the insertion of the word "new" when referring to roads in the regulations. The State's ultimate decision was to leave the Fire Safe Regulations as they are, making no distinction between existing and new roads when it came to the application of the regulations. Napa's own Road and Street Standards (RSS) explicitly state that "These Standards are not applicable retroactively to existing roads, streets and driveways or facilities." County staff has chosen to consider all of the Fire Safe Regulations, also closely mimicked in the RSS, as not applicable to any public road in the county! Firefighting "access" to new building projects would only become an issue from the nearest public road in their reviews. But they are now proposing that, in conformance with the BOF regs, driveways on private property would be considered roads when serving commercial and industrial uses and more than 4 residential units. Those roads would have to conform to the RSS but mitigating execptions would be allowed that provided the "same practical effect", defined at the discretion of local fire authority. The county has always found a mitigation that would allow substandard roads to be approved. (Anthem is the most egregious example.)

The most contentious of the BOF Regulations relates to the length of dead-end roads. The MFSR specifically do not allow new building projects on dead-ends longer than 1 mile (even less for dead-ends serving properties less than 20 acres). For those of us concerned about the urbanization of the rural areas of the county, this was an important revelation. Soda Canyon has some 200 properties beyond the 1 mile mark, with the potential for hundreds of housing units (3/property), dozens of wineries and 1 mega resort adding to the evacuation traffic on a road that has already proven inadequate in a major fire. But most of the speakers throughout this process have had the opposite concern: the enforcement of this regulation would limit their development rights on their properties, a financial taking. The county was no doubt concerned about their lawsuits as well.

The intent of the BOF review of their regulations, in the wake of the devastating wildfires that occur every year now, was to limit development on substandard roads in State [fire] Responsibility Areas which add to the likelihood and destructiveness of the fires. The county, in deciding that the access constraints of existing roads would have no bearing on their approval of new development has essentially thumbed its nose at that intent.

Update 10/11/22
Napa Vision 2050 has sent a letter to the BOS expressing concern that the County Staff may not be planning to enforce BOF Fire Safe Regulations on access roads beyond property boundries. Given the staff statement below, it almost seems that nothing has changed in the County's approach to approving projects in hazardous fire zones, despite the clear effort by the State over the last year and a half to impress upon jurisdictions the need to rein in development in such areas.

Update 10/6/22: Staff recommendations
The County Planning Commission Clerk has sent out the recommendations that County Planning Staff will be presenting to the Board of Supervisors on October 18, 2022 regarding its interpretation of the State Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations that will be enforced beginning on 1/1/23. The recommendations are here.

Regarding Access
    "Access Staff Recommendation: Access will be evaluated for each project on only the private driveway, from the nearest public right of way to the new building. This is consistent with the County’s certified 2016 Ordinance, the adopted 2022 Fire Safe Regulations, and the California Fire Code. These same standards would be applied to both ministerial and discretionary projects.

    However, discretionary projects, such as Use Permits, are also subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In those cases, County Fire and Public Works Departments would determine whether access to the site (including both public and private roads) provides sufficient emergency evacuation for the proposed use. Where existing emergency evacuation is inadequate, Fire and Public Works would make recommendations for improvements to be included as conditions of approval."

Beyond fire rebuilds, which the county says it will allow, the County has made no comment on the regulation that most concerns the future of Soda Canyon Road: whether or not they will permit development of new projects beyond 1 mile on dead-end roads. The language of the Regulations is quite clear: dead end roads serving parcels of 20 acres or larger cannot have new construction of residential, commercial or industrial buildings beyond one mile from their connection to a through road. My interpretation of the state Regs is that the county must approve an alternative that provides the same practical effect as the regulation. The proposed statement to the BOS seems to say that the County rather than the state will decide, as it did on Mountiain Peak, whether building on a dead end road beyond 1 mile is safe, and whether a mitigation provides the same-practical-effect as the regulation. It will be interesting to see what that mitigation is.

Update 9/8/22: County discussion of Final Regs
The County presented their interpretation of the Final BOF Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (8/19/22) that are anticipated to take effect on 1/1/23. Video of the Zoom meeting is here.

I've had to go through the zoom video a couple of times to understand how the county thus far interprets the new regulations. The year and a half drafting process (see previous updates below) despite the active additions and consternation of stakeholders throughout the state, are more restrictive than when the process began. The regs on their face will have such a significant impact on future development in the county (and the state) that there seemed a sense of disbelief on the part of Mr. Ryan and Dir. Morrison in their interpretations. But perhaps these are the unbelievable changes that we will have to make to confront a changing climate.

My Selective takeaways:
  • All projects that receive final approval, whether planning or building permit, after 1/1/23 must comply with the new Fire Safe Regulations.
  • the regulations apply equally to new and existing roads.
  • Driveways (10' wide with turnouts) can only serve a maximum of 4 residential units.
  • Anything over 4 residential units or any industrial or commmercial use must be accessed by a road (2-10' lanes and 2' shoulders).
  • no new construction on ridgelines (beyond some utility buildings).
  • no new construction (including fire rebuilds!) allowed on dead-end roads beyond 1 mile (less for parcels smaller then 20 acres).

The last is a really big deal. For those of us not interested in further development in our remote neighborhoods it is very good news. The built environment of most of Soda Canyon Road, like that of many of the dead end road throughout the state, is frozen in time - diminishing perhaps as buildings burn. The profound implications of this limitation seemed to generate that sense of disbelief in the presentation. It goes beyond just the homes or businesses that people can no longer build on their properties. The value of the properties (and the taxes they generate) have just taken an enormous hit, a regulatory taking, and there will be an eternity of lawsuits.

The county is surely anticipating a period of negotiation with the BOF to soften things up. But right now, many of the battles over rural land use fought over the last 8 years may be history.

There was one little issue that I still had a question about. Mr. Ryan indicated that in talking to the BOF "access" meant from the fire station to the property. His interpretation was that the 1 mile dead end would begin from a fire station. A commentor asked about the Soda Canyon Road fire station. Yes, construction could occur up to 1 mile from the station. Does that mean that the entire road below the station can have construction? If the fire station were located at the end of SCR would construction be allowed on the whole road? The Soda Canyon fire station is the size of a 2 car garage, has one engine and isn't manned all the time. If such a fire station eliminates the problem of long dead-end roads won't developers or communities simply provide such a structure and truck to enable their development plans to proceed? The issues of ingress and egress on a dead-end road are the same whether there is one additional fire truck on the road or not.

Update 9/1/22
The County is having a public meeting to discuss the implications of the State's renewed commitment to enforce its Minimum Fire Safe Regulations. There will be a webinar on Thurs, Sep. 8, 2022 from 8 to 10am. More information about participating may be found here.

Dir. Morrison has responded to a request for information from George Calyonnidis with the above link which contains further links to the text of the Regulations as well as the BOF reasons for the decision. Dir. Morrison also writes (music to my ears):

    "The rules have already been adopted by the State and are final. To be clear, the upcoming meeting is not an opportunity for the public to comment regarding any changes to the rules, as it would be for a draft ordinance before the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors. The meeting being held by the County is primarily to help people be aware of and explain how these new rules will affect future building permit applications. For many areas in the county, the changes will be significant for many property owners wishing to build homes or businesses."

Update 8/29/22
NV2050 Eyes on Napa Newsletter 8/25/22: Hard Won Victory For Fire Safety

After numerous revisions back and forth in proposed rules changes over the last year plus, the Board of Forestry has apparently voted to retain existing wording in the regulations that do not specifically designate that Fire Safe Regulations shall apply only to new access roads rather than existing roads. It was the most contentious and significant debate in the discussion because, under existing regulations, it is implied that access roads to new development whether existing or new, should comply with the minimum Fire Safe standards. For new projects at the end of sub-standard roads, the entire road must be brought up to standard to be approved, a cost that developer-dominated jurisdictions throughout the state argued would kill development in fire-prone, wild-land areas. That disincentive was, of course, the purpose in revisiting the regulations after so much fire damage in the last few years.

The cleanest version of the adopted Regulations (8/19/22) is here
BOF Final Statements of Reasons behind the BOF decisions (8/17/22)
County's map of State Responsibility Areas where the Fire Safe Regulations apply

For residents of Soda Canyon Road, one condition in the existing regulations has always stood out: the prohibition of new development on dead end roads greater than 1 mile. In that regard I was sent a 2019 determination by the State Attorney General in reviewing the FEIR for a development project at the end of a dead end road in Monterey County. The Attorney General's finding regarding road length was unequivocal: there are no exceptions for existing roads in the regulations nor is there any mitigation that would provide the same practical effect on a road exceeding the length specified in the regulations. The County has made the argument that because Soda Canyon Road has been defined (by the County) as a "collector road" that it is exempt from the dead-end requirements of the regulations. This was not the reading I got from the AG decision in Paradiso Springs.

Update 5/23/22
Patricia Damery sends this SAFRR 5/23/22 ananouncement: SAFRR Initial Victory Announcement

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 5/17/22
The 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

Latest draft of "State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations" (markup of text 5/10/22)
Latest "Statement of Reasons" (description of changes 5/10/22)
County comments on proposed revisions

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 1/14/22
NVR 1/14/22: Proposed state wildfire rules worry Napa County

Update 1/2/22
The 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

Napavision 2050 on the new Regulations
Comment letter from Wildfire Professionals opposed to the regulation changes

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.

The Guardian 1/6/22: 'Urban fire storm’: suburban sprawl raising risk of destructive wildfires

Update 6/22/21
The Guardian 6/29/21: California developers want to build a city in the wild-lands. It could all go up in flames

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 Webinar
What 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 Hearing
The 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

George Caloyannidis Comments
Deborah Eppstein LTE 6/17/21: Proposed regulations will promote fire safety?

Update 6/7/21 BOS Meeting
NVR:6/10/21: Napa County says proposed state wildfire safety regulations threaten fire rebuilding

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.

Virtual Meeting Notice (Quite odd that it is at the same time as the Planning Commission meeting.)
County webpage about meeting

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 5/20/21
On 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.

Update 4/26/21
NVR 4/26/21: Napa County worries that proposed state fire rules could trigger costly road improvements

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.)

[added 5/23/22: The State does not consider SCR a collector. In their Functional Classifications of Roads widget Cal Trans considers it a "local" road. (Dry Creek Rd, e.g., is considered a "minor collector".)]

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 2/15/21
The 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.

The revised (2/8/21) Draft is here.
PRN comments on the draft
Napa Vision 2050 letter to the BOF

2/3/21 Original Post
Following 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.

Sonoma County has tried in the last year to certify their own Fire Safety Ordinance. An article in the Sonoma County Gazette gives an overview of the effort so far. The State has not been persuaded. The BOF responded to the Sonoma Ordinance in this letter. The Board has suspended certifying any local ordinances until the revision of the state regulations are finalized.

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.

What this means for Napa County

Wine and Water Watch take on NapaVision2050 article: PLAYING WITH FIRE Is Napa County Ignoring Forestry and State Road Standards for Fire Safety?

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.

Board of Forestry education campaign

Bill Hocker - Jan 11, 2023 12:24PM  Share #2298

The California State Board of Forestry, following a 2 year effort to update their Minimum Fire Safe Regulations for fire safe development in State Responsibility Areas, has rolled out an education process to help governments, fire authorities, developers and residents understand the new normal in building in fire-prone environments. (An announcement was just received for training seminars fo rrelated professionals.) There are links to the national non-profit Community Wildfire Planning Center, a wildfire mitigation think tank, to encourage and illustrate fire safe planning and strategies. Their Wildland-urban Interface (WUI) Planning Guide for California is here. (Including a case study on Napa's Fire Hazard Abatement Ordinance). The Guide is in addition to the State's Fire Planning Technical Advisory

There are now layers of documents relating to design in the WUI such as this one: Building to Coexist with Fire: Community Risk Reduction Measures for New Development in California

I will update this post as I find more information about the program and its implication for planning decisions in Napa County including the General Plan Safety Element.

Napa County questions Cal Fire services

Bill Hocker - Oct 26, 2022 12:51PM  Share #2285

NVR 10/25/22: Napa County looking at how to run county fire services
Video of BOS 10/18/22 meeting

For 90 years Cal-Fire has provided fire protection services to Napa County in both the State Responsibility Areas (wildlands) of the county as well as the unincorporated areas of the county not in the SRA. The protection outside the SRA is separately contracted and that contract is up for renewal. The county has done a study to determine how much it would cost for the county to have its own fire department and not rely on Cal Fire. The study determined that there would be over $5 million/yr in extra personnel costs. The costs of additional fire stations and fire equipment was not calculated.

Not addressed in the study or the discussion with the BOS was why the county would be considering the change after 90 years. Is the county miffed that Cal-fire wants to limit future development in much of the county? The change seems to have been supported by the Napa Valley Vintners. Did Cal-fire let them county down in the Glass Fire?

Barry Eberling, in his article, highlights one quote from a report that was not among the documents presented to the BOS in their Oct 18 meeting. The quote was, to me at least, telling: "Recent catastrophic fires in Napa County and the popularity of our community bringing countless visitors to our majestic valley have influenced the need to ensure that our fire protection services are able to provide the highest level of service possible." Tourists, apparently, need more protection than residents. It is, of course, one more specific example of the transition from an agricultural to a tourism economy and, to my mind, from a rural to an urban county as ever more tourist attractions are built needing an ever increasing supply of patrons and workers. The fact that the NVV is supporting the change is also one more indication that it is now as much a lobbying organization for the tourism industry as the wine-making industry.

Tourism at what cost?

Bill Hocker - Jul 26, 2022 10:57AM  Share #2278

SF Chronicle 7/26/22: 'That’s how people die in wildfires': How Wine Country’s fancy new resorts could increase fire risk (pdf version)

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.

This article was also published in the Register.

5/31/22: Old Fire at Soda Canyon

Bill Hocker - May 31, 2022 5:33PM  Share #2271

From Sugarloaf Ridge 5/31/22 5:18pm

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 catastrophically up the canyon was the wind direction.

Update 6/3/22
NVR 6/3/22: Cal Fire investigating whether PG&E power line potentially sparked Old Fire

Update 6/2/22
Nixel Alert 11:50am
    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 7:00am
Nixel 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.


Update 9:00pm
SR Press Democrat 5/31/22: Old fire grows to 570 acres north of Napa, evacuation center opens

From the 7:40pm Nixle alert:
    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.

NVR 5/31/22: UPDATE: Mandatory evacuations orders issued for all of Old Soda Canyon Road due to fire activity

Quarter percent sales tax to fund fire suppression?

Bill Hocker - Mar 5, 2022 10:23AM  Share #2251

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:

7I. A drought emergency declaration - will this have any effect on new project approvals or expansions, or is it business as usual?

9:30am 13A. Napa Schools for Climate Action presents "Fossil Free Future." Something to support and encourage.

1:30pm 13C. Consideration of a June 7th ballot measure to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund fire suppression (would raise ~$10M/year).

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 Monopole on Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Aug 31, 2021 8:28AM  Share #2215

Update 10/13/21
NVR 10/12/21: High-tech fire cameras to make Napa County debut

NVR 8/25/21: Napa County moves ahead with early wildfire detection system

8/24/21 BOS agenda and documents (page 10)
Napa County monopole project page

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.

Valery Wolfe LTE 7/16/21: A better approach on emergency warning system
NVR 6/6/21: Napa County takes deeper look at cell towers, early fire warning towers
NVR 5/25/20: Illumination Technologies pitches emergency sirens to Napa County

Napa County Wildfire Protection Plan

Bill Hocker - Apr 7, 2021 3:53PM  Share #2192

NVR 4/8/21: Napa County asked to spend $42 million to reduce wildfire threat

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.

Napa County Community WIldfire Protection Plan(CWPP)

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.

Glass Fire

Bill Hocker - Sep 29, 2020 1:51PM  Share #2170

Glass Fire 9/29/20: Click for current Caltopo fire map
Update 10/31/20
George Caloyannidis LTE 10/28/20: Cooperation with firefighter should be countywide model

George writes to say that "The fires came to within 20 feet from my own home on Diamond Mountain. Two other homes were lost.."

Caltopo Map to chart fire progress
AlertWildfire Live North Bay Web Cams
Nixle Alerts Napa County (inc city alerts)
Twitter #glassfire
Napa County Road Closures

Hennessey Fire and Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Aug 18, 2020 3:54AM  Share #2113

from Shelle's house looking north from the end of SCR 8/18/20 3:40pm
This post now has its own page here

Soda Canyon to receive fire safety funds

Bill Hocker - Jul 17, 2020 8:23AM  Share #2105

[Barbara Guggia, our Soda Canyon Firewise Council point person, has sent along this note about funds available for fire prevention measures on our road.]

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.

FIre-Safe Watershed Development Initiative

Bill Hocker - Jun 4, 2020 11:01AM  Share #2092

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 4/4/20
George 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.

George Caloyannidis

Articles on prevalance of human-caused wildfires
George Caloyannidis LTE 5/31/20: Immoral policies in our fire-prone zones

Original post 5/18/20
George Caloyannidis letter to Supervisors on a proposed initiative to codify road access conditions for developments projects in the watershed areas of the county:

George Caloyannidis
2202 Diamond Mountain Road
Calistoga, CA 94515 May 16, 2020

RE: Proposed Firesafe Agricultural Watershed Development Ordinance

To: The Honorable Napa County Supervisors

Dear 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.

George Caloyannidis

Napa County Fire-Safe Ag Watershed Development Draft Initiative
Napa County Road and Street Standards (General Minor Road profile on pg.26, Cul-de-sac pg. 27)

Remote Winery Fire Safety Analysis

Bill Hocker - Feb 10, 2020 4:25AM  Share #2073

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.

The reports are here:
Anthem Fire Safety Report
Hard Six Cellars Fire Safety Report

Fire in Paradise

Bill Hocker - Oct 29, 2019 11:35AM  Share #2045

PBS Frontline 10/29/19: Fire in Paradise

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.

Documentaries on our own Atlas Fire are here

Wine Country Fires 2015-19

Bill Hocker - Oct 1, 2019 4:37AM  Share #2046

In the Wake of the 2019 Kincade fire, the Sonoma Press Democrat published this map of all of the wine country fires that have occurred since 2015. It is worth saving.

Updated satellite image of burn areas

Bill Hocker - Oct 20, 2017 12:01PM  Share #1770

Satellite image of Napa-Sonoma burn areas as of 10/18/17

Also, the Google Earth application currently has clear, and most sobering, images of the fire damage.

Protect your home from fire

Henni Cohen - Nov 12, 2015 9:32AM  Share #1077

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

FC Dwight Good
Fire Marshal
17575 Peak Ave.
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Office: (408) 310-4654

visit us at:

Napa Firewise Foundation Spring Newsletter

Henni Cohen - Mar 20, 2015 5:28PM  Share #722

Spring 2015 Napa Firewise Newsletter (click here).

Thank you for helping us save money by receiving this online.

The first time you click it may take a moment to load, so be patient.

We appreciate your help. Donations to Napa Firewise are tax deductible.
If you wish to donate, please (Click to DONATE)

-or- send a check to

The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation
P.O. Box 4151
Napa, Ca 94558

Meeting with Fire Chief and Fire Marshall

Diane Shepp - Aug 1, 2014 8:42AM  Share #292

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, 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.

Onward, Diane

---------- 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.

Best regards,


Soda Canyon Firewise

Henni Cohen - May 5, 2014 9:16AM  Share #160

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

Henni Cohen
Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Firesafe Council

more information is here

Soda Canyon Firewise Meeting

Henni Cohen - Apr 17, 2014 10:43PM  Share #126

Greetings, Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Neighbors:

Just a friendly reminder as a follow up to the flyer we recently mailed you. ​Y​ou 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 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, Chai​r Rick Thornberry, Napa Firewise Foundation Liaison​ ​​

Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Firesafe Council

Firewise Update

Henni Cohen - Jan 22, 2014 5:58PM  Share #43

Greetings, Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Neighbors

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.

Firehouse BBQ

Diane Shepp - May 28, 2011 6:00PM  Share #44

A reminder:

You are invited to a BBQ
hosted by the Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department #13
Saturday, June 4, 2011
12 noon - 4pm

at the Fire House
2368 Soda Canyon Road, Napa

Meet your volunteer firefighters and see the progress on Soda Canyon Fire Station renovations.

Thanks again for your support!

Doug Christian
Volunteer Fire Chief
Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department #13

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