County of Santa Clara Ramps Up Wildfire Prevention Efforts

With devastating 2020 megafires in mind and a third drought year looming, County leaders and fire officials look to bolster wildfire prevention

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— The County of Santa Clara and the County’s Fire District are ramping up wildfire prevention efforts, just as the region heads into another fire season plagued with severe drought conditions. With the devastating 2020 megafires – the Santa Clara (SCU) and Santa Cruz (CZU) lightning complex fires – still fresh in mind, firefighters and emergency officials have been working over the past year to create new wildfire prevention strategies. 

Fire officials on Tuesday presented a comprehensive plan to the County’s Board of Supervisors, which unanimously greenlighted the new efforts.

“There’s an obvious need for urgency as we continue to experience larger and more damaging wildfires each year. Unfortunately, fire season is no longer a season. It seems almost constant,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian. “We have to keep looking for opportunities to improve fire prevention year-round, and to give local communities the help they need to keep their homes, businesses and families safe.”      

Firefighter cutting a tree down with a chainsaw
A Santa Clara County firefighter works to improve a fuel break as part of wildfire prevention efforts in western Santa Clara County

The new initiatives include:

  • A pilot Community Wildfire Program with the addition of a specialist who will conduct inspections for residents living in high fire hazard areas and provide guidance on creating defensible spaces around properties;
  • A new fuels reduction crew to support existing (or establish new) community programs to bolster evacuation routes, create defensible space around critical infrastructure, and create fuel breaks around communities;
  • Community education webinars for wildfire preparedness; and
  • The use of an online data tool to run training simulations and to alert the public of evacuations with real-time information.

The new efforts will be funded, in part, by State grant money requested by the County and local jurisdiction partners after the SCU and CZU lightning complex fires two years ago. Of the $7 million awarded to the Town of Los Gatos for the West Valley Cities, the County’s Fire District will receive $2 million. Additional funding from other grants is also pending.

“We are lucky to live in a natural landscape surrounded by scenic mountains, but that also means we must contend with an ever-changing wildfire environment,” said Mike Mathiesen, the County’s Battalion Chief of Pre-Fire Management and Wildfire Resilience. “This program is a phased approach that focuses on collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies to develop critical preventative measures, so we’re better set up for the increasing risk of catastrophic fires in our area.”

“Over the last few years, we have experienced several disasters, both locally and across the State of California, that have had terrible impacts to life, property, and the environment – this includes the SCU and CZU Complex Fires in 2020,” said Darrell Ray, the County’s Deputy Director of Emergency Management. “Disasters always entail a great deal of uncertainty, but one thing we can be sure of is that they will occur again. We cannot control natural disasters, but we can prepare for them.  This means we must focus much of our efforts on prevention and mitigation. An essential piece of that is bringing our residents into these programs so that, as a community, we are resilient on all fronts.”

The County encourages residents to prepare for the unexpected and stay informed about safety actions to take before, during, and after disasters. For emergency preparedness information, visit www.PrepareSCC.org. Community members can also sign up for free emergency alerts to mobile devices, landlines, and/or email at www.AlertSCC.org.

 

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ABOUT THE SANTA CLARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT

The Santa Clara County Fire Department is a California fire protection district serving Santa Clara County and the communities of Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, and Saratoga. For more information, please visit www.sccfd.org.

ABOUT THE COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA 

The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, California, making it more populous than 14 states in the U.S. Santa Clara County is home to the second largest population of Vietnamese residents outside of Viet Nam. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.

Visit the County of Santa Clara at: https://www.sccgov.org

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Media Contact: María Leticia Gómez / Quan Vu,  Office of Communications and Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119, [email protected]; Fire Capt. Justin Stockman, Santa Clara County Fire Department, (408) 335-8897, [email protected]Kia Xiong, Office of Emergency Management, (408) 808-7838, [email protected]

Posted: May 3, 2022

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