Resources for Protecting Californians Against Wildfire

These groups help residents preserve their property, health and life.

PUBLISHED DEC 2, 2021 12:48 A.M.
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  Michael Vi

Every year, more and more California land burns as wildfires grow increasingly more and severe and difficult to fight. What can an individual do to take part in the effort to prevent or at least slow the ever-expanding wildfire season—or even to protect oneself against the damage to property, health and life posed by out-of-control wildfires? Due to its unwelcome familiarity with fire, California is rich with private and public organizations dedicated to just that: helping the population of the country’s most populous state defend itself against the threat of fire. Here are several prominent groups that are deep into the fight against wildfire.

1. Cal Fire

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known by the shorter, snappier moniker Cal Fire, has been the state’s top force in fire prevention since its establishment in 1905. The agency has changed with changing times, and now offers online resources to help citizens take the necessary steps to protect their own property from fire, as California’s wildfire seasons get worse and worse thanks largely to unchecked climate change. On its website, the organization offers information on creating a wildlife preparedness plan. Cal Fire’s main responsibility is to prevent and fight fires on land that falls within the State Responsibility Area, which is most any area outside of incorporated cities, agricultural areas or land that comes under federal jurisdiction. That’s about 31 million acres of land, or roughly 30 percent of all the acreage in California. The agency is also in charge of setting training standards for all California firefighters. | Facebook

2. Office of the State Fire Marshal

A part of the broader Cal Fire organization, the Office of the State Fire Marshal focuses on programs and regulations to prevent both wildfires and structure fires. The office enforces fire codes in buildings and regulates hazardous substances that can cause fires. If you live or own property in a high-risk fire zone, the fire inspector must carry out a “defensible space inspection” any time the property changes hands. The OSFM website offers a defensible space “self assessment” that homeowners can use to make sure they’re complying with state law, which requires 100 feet of space to buffer fires around homes in vulnerable areas. In a new provision, however, the law also requires an “ember resistant” zone that extends from the house to five feet out. The OSFM site offers plenty of tips and instructions on how to clear and reinforce the required “defensible” zones.

3. California Fire Prevention Organization

Based in Santa Rosa, the California Fire Prevention Organization is a statewide nonprofit that carries out educational programs focused on community risk reduction—that is, programs and services that aim to minimize the loss of life and property due to fire. The group has installed smoke detectors in private homes and otherwise helped educate families, including schoolchildren, in what to do if a wildfire evacuation order comes down, as part of its “Ready, Set, Go” initiative. The group also runs, among several other programs, FireSmart:California, which provides detailed instructions on how families can create their own fire-response plans, even plans to protect their pets as well as homes and children. | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

4. California Prescribed Burn Association

Fire safety organizations are usually designed to help prevent fires, but another type of fire protection group is literally fighting fire with fire—under highly controlled conditions with meticulous, science-based planning. Such deliberately set fires are called “prescribed burns,” and the California Prescribed Burn Association website will help you learn how to take part in just such a managed fire in your local area. The site includes a directory of local PBAs all over the state—because starting a “controlled” fire without training and supervision by expert professionals is not exactly recommended. But when conducted properly, prescribed burns can clear out hazardous vegetation that would otherwise serve as fuel for dangerous wildfires, as well as reinvigorate natural habitats and resources for local wildlife. The CPBA site also takes visitors through a step-by-step planning process for staging a controlled fire.

5. Tahoe Living With Fire

Living With Fire has operated out of the University of Nevada–Reno Extension since 1997, providing resources and recommendations for preventing and preparing for wildfires to residents of the region around the Lake Tahoe Basin. The program works in concert with numerous regional groups, including Cal Fire, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, and the Tahoe Fire & Fuels Team. The TFFT works on forest management in the Tahoe area, to both reduce wildfire risk and preserve the natural environment of Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Living With Fire website includes information of fire preparation, as well as listings of community events—including prescribed burns—in which community members can take part, to help mitigate the fire dangers in the Tahoe region. | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

6. California Fire Safe Council

A nonprofit group that has been in existence since 1993, the California Fire Safe Council originated as a Cal Fire project and has since become a free-standing organization. The council has shifted its emphasis from fire prevention education to become what its own site calls “an online, ‘one-stop shop,’ Grant Clearinghouse mainly for the four primary federal agencies: the US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and the Department of the Interior agencies the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service.” Those organizations give grants to CFSC, which then redistributes the funds in the form of localized grants to community-based fire prevention groups and local government agencies. Since 2004, CFSC has distributed more than $100 million in the form of about 900 grants to those local groups for fire preparedness. | Facebook | Twitter

7. Nevada County Coalition of Firewise Communities

Firewise USA is a national organization—sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters—devoted to providing fire prevention and preparation on a community-by-community basis. Individual communities can sign up to become “Firewise Communities” by agreeing to follow a set of guidelines that include forming a local committee to maintain and track the implementation of the FIrewise fire safety program, and investing a minimum of $27.20 per residence annually. But that money is not a membership fee or dues. Instead it can be paid in the form of volunteer hours worked, money sent on home hardening or clearing flammable vegetation, or any one of several other fire protection steps. Nevada County has about 60 certified Firewise Communities and another 40 on track for certification. The Nevada County Coalition of Firewise Communities, formed in 2017, is an all-volunteer group that represents the interests of those communities and holds monthly meetings to share fire-prevention ideas and information.

8. United Policyholders

Californians who lose their homes to wildfire have too often found themselves in a new battle—with their own insurance companies. Since 2015, insurers have kicked nearly 1 million homeowners off their fire policies. And even fire victims with active policies are likely to find themselves wrestling with insurance companies to get coverage for reparing and rebuilding their houses. Those frustrating problems in California are what led lawyer Amy Bach and insurance industry veteran Ina Delong to create United Policyholders in 1991. The nationwide 501(c) (3) nonprofit—staffed by an all-volunteer crew of more than 200 legal experts, construction professionals, financial advisers and other specialties—provides advocacy and information for insurance customers who find themselves in an adversarial relationship with their insurers after not only wildfires but any type of disaster, accident, illness or other misfortune. The group also provides guidance for insurance shoppers, as well a wide range of other services for people who must deal with difficult insurance companies.  FacebookTwitterYouTube

9. County Offices of Emergency Services

Though firefighting duties in most California counties are spread across a complex melange of fire districts and departments, each county maintains an office of emergency services that oversees preparation for fire (and other emergencies) as well as overall response. Here are links to the OES in each of several counties.

El Dorado County Office of Emergency Services

Monterey County Office of Emergency Services

Ready Nevada County

Placer County Office of Emergency Services

Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services

San Benito County Office of Emergency Services

Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Management

Santa Cruz County Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience


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