Wildfires and The City
Updated: May 21, 2022
Fire is an existential threat to our town. We've seen what happened in Paradise and Greenville. This weekend's Golden Fire makes us wonder if we're next, and what we can do about it.
Preparedness: Where We Are
For the past 4 years, the bulk of wildfire preparedness has been carried by our local Firewise Communities. The town is ringed by them. But these are volunteer organizations. What should the City do?
Rewrite our vegetation management ordinance. The Nevada City Fire Safety Advisory Committee has studied our current ordinance and how well we comply with it and enforce it. They recommend a new ordinance that will "promote public understanding and buy-in" through clear language and best fire science practices.
Complete a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). This is an extensive process. Work on it must begin immediately.
Publish evacuation routes. The photo above labels the evacuation zones that cover Nevada City. You can read about them on the Nevada County website. But evacuation routes aren't published.
Reduce our interface with the forest around us. Much of Nevada City is surrounded by - and some neighborhoods built right into - forested land. Even with a vegetation ordinance in place, if the trees catch fire, we're in trouble.
Steps the Council Can Take
Completing a CWPP will take resources. We should hire a grant writer to secure the funds for it. A grant writer could also help us secure funds from state agencies, such as CalFire or the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, or from private non-profits such as the California Fire Safe Council.
Thinning the urban forest on city land will reduce our fire risk and benefit our water supply, as I noted in my blog "The Future of Our Water." But we can't diminish the impact of the forest by ourselves. We need to work closely with the county and federal agencies with land adjacent to our town to reduce our risk.
We must continue to support the excellent efforts of the Firewise Communities that surround us.
Publish the evacuation routes. If I'm going to have to do something quickly and under pressure, I want to practice. Knowing in advance what will be asked of me increases my confidence in the results.
The city has relied for too long on volunteer compliance and volunteer efforts to implement wildfire safety. It's time the Council took the lead in defense of our town.
To look up the evacuation zone for your house, I recommend Zonehaven. lt lets you find your zone by typing in your address, and the maps are easier to read than the ones on the County's website.
The Nevada City Fire Safety Advisory Committee's ordinance review is brief, well-researched, and clearly worded. Read it here (it begins on page 200 of the full council agenda).