By Debra Moore
Remember those Fire Hazard Severity Zones maps that were released by the Office of the State Fire Marshal and lambasted by county officials and residents in early 2023? Well, after receiving thousands of comments, those maps have been updated and the public will be able to comment again.
But not much has changed. Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson told the supervisors during their July 18 meeting, that only 405 acres were moved out of the very high severity zone. Comparing the new map issued on June 15, with the earlier map, it’s very difficult to tell where the changes have been made. Ferguson said it appears that an area of Chester north of Highway 36 near the airport is one such location, while the other is some land in the Graeagle/Clio area.
“They are very small areas,” Ferguson said, adding that it might take assistance from the State Fire Marshal’s staff to pinpoint the exact acreage.
The public has until Aug. 9 to comment on the new map. More information can be found here. Comments can be sent to:
Office of the State Fire Marshal
C/O: FHSZ Comments
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
P.O. Box 944246
Sacramento, CA 94244-2460
A little history
Presentations were held across the state early this year (January in Plumas County), with representatives from Cal Fire explaining the map process. According to the information shared, Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ) maps are developed using a science-based and field-tested model that assigns a hazard score based on factors that influence fire likelihood and fire behavior. Many factors are considered such as fire history, existing and potential fuel (natural vegetation), predicted flame length, blowing embers, terrain, and typical fire weather for the area. There are three levels of hazard in the State Responsibility Areas: moderate, high, and very high.
Fire Hazard Severity Zone maps evaluate “hazard,” not “risk,” which is where the presenters and the audience seemed to part ways. According to Cal Fire, “Hazard” is based on the physical conditions that create a likelihood and expected fire behavior over a 30- to 50-year period without considering mitigation measures such as home hardening, recent wildfire, or fuel reduction efforts. “Risk” is the potential damage a fire could do to the area under existing conditions, accounting for any modifications such as fuel reduction projects, defensible space, and ignition resistant building construction.
So, for example, though Greenville is considered a “hazard” due to physical conditions that indicate it could burn (which it did), the “risk” that it could happen is unlikely in the near future because of the existing conditions.
The presenters stuck to a script as they presented the background information as to how the maps were produced and showed a short video from one involved in the production. It can be viewed by clicking here.
Following the presentation, audience members were invited to comment and their remarks were recorded as part of an official public hearing.
Later, the Board of Supervisors approved a letter on March 21 that was submitted prior to the initial deadline.
The last letter
County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero briefly discussed the seven points included in the letter. Following are excerpts from each point:
- The public hearing was disappointing. “Plumas was disappointed with the format being a generic written statement read out loud, in addition to the video that was shown, as it was very difficult due to the speed at which the speaker spoke.”
- Transparency. “Plumas questions why the geospatial data files to develop the FHSZ map are currently not available during the adoption process. … Open access to data is critical to ensuring the accuracy of the information.” The letter added that Plumas would have collaborated with Cal Fire in local data gathering.
- Recent fire history not included. “It’s stated the latest technologies will be used in the mapping and will include new factors now available including land use changes, recent fire history, new significant wind event data, as well as a model that is more spatially detailed.” The maps do not include the 2021 fire information (which includes the Dixie Fire). “Plumas County cannot stress enough that the 2021 wildfires recent fire history must be included in the model to account for existing conditions and lack of vegetation cover for much of Plumas, thereby changing the outputs when it comes to the fire hazard severity zone assignments.”
- Insurance issues. “As part of the FHSZ map update process, Cal Fire explains insurance companies use risk models, which differ from hazard models, because they consider the susceptibility of a structure to damage from fire and other short-term factors that are not included in hazard modeling. … Plumas is skeptical that insurance companies won’t be looking to the updated FHSZ map as a tool in evaluating and underwriting fire insurance, which will likely affect Plumas County residents’ ability to obtain and/or maintain insurance.”
- Zone size needs re-evaluating. “Plumas suggests Cal Fire re-evaluate the minimum size for a wildland zone, where 200 acres is too large of an area. A smaller scale would be better suited to capture varied wildland fire hazard conditions.
- Update map more often. The map evaluates hazard not risk. “’Hazard’ is based on the physical conditions that create a likelihood and expected fire behavior over a 30 to 50-year period without considering mitigation measures such as home hardening, recent wildfire, or fuel reduction efforts. ‘Risk’ is the potential damage a fire can do to the area under existing conditions … Much shorter time periods must be established to analyze, review and revise the FHSZ map.
- Additional regulatory burdens. “With a change in parcel zone designations from Moderate to High or Very High, Plumas knows the expansion and reclassification of those FHSZ mapped areas will cause additional burden and regulatory requirements under the AB 38 real estate disclosures.
The board will have the opportunity to send another comment by the new Aug. 9 deadline.