Detection and prevention

California’s wildfire season is essentially year-round now. And with wildfires expected to get worse, residents, utilities and the state play a role in minimizing the impact of the wildfire seasons.

Residents

Residents have a responsibility to create a defensible space around their property and “harden” homes to make them fire resistant.

California law requires creating a buffer by clearing out trees, brush and grass within 100 feet around homes in wildfire-affected areas. Fire officials say it can increase the likelihood of a house surviving a wildfire eight-fold. In addition, homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed. Consider materials such as composition, metal or tile.

Utilities

Under new law, investor-owned utilities must prepare wildfire mitigation plans that describe what they are doing to prevent, combat and respond to wildfires. The three largest utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, all plan to spend millions clearing brush and trees away from transmission lines, insulate or underground power lines, install or maintain a network of remote cameras and weather stations to detect wind, smoke and other dangers.

PG&E and SCE are now following in the footsteps of SDG&E in expanding the use of public safety power shutoffs, also known as de-energization. The practice of shutting off electric power during dangerous weather conditions is viewed as a public-safety measure of last resort because it can cut off internet access and make communication difficult for hospitals, firefighters and emergency personnel.

The state

On March 22, 2019, Gov. Newsom declared a wildfire state of emergency for California and waived environmental regulations to speed up forest management projects aimed at reducing the fuel load for the upcoming wildfire season. By removing dead trees or clearing brush, the programs aim to reduce the threat of wildfires by creating fuel breaks, defensible space and safe travel corridors around vulnerable communities.

Some environmental groups, however, question whether logging would damage ecosystems and suggest it’s more effective to clear vegetation around homes.