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Sonoma County awarded $37 million FEMA grant to mitigate wildfire risks to life, property and the environment

SONOMA COUNTY Press Release

President Joe Biden announced today that the County of Sonoma will receive a $37 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency designed to help local, state and tribal agencies in California receive reimbursement for certain costs related to wildfire risk reduction. Biden made the announcement Wednesday at a White House briefing of governors from Western states. The grant is part of an overall $1 billion Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities funding grant and requires a local match of 25 percent, or approximately $13 million, which Sonoma County plans to finance using PG&E settlement funds, for a total amount of $50 million.

“Today I’m announcing a $37 million grant to Sonoma County, California, in support of fire mitigation efforts that are underway,” President Biden said at the start of the briefing. “Because Sonoma knows all too well the devastation wrought by fire, they are the first to apply for the mitigation funds.”

The grant funding will be used to address vegetation management and fire fuel reduction in Sonoma County, including selective thinning of certain canopies, trimming undergrowth, fuels reduction for safe ingress and egress of emergency vehicles, and the creation of shaded fuel breaks and green belts to serve as fire breaks. The funding also will be used to support private property owners to prevent losses while increasing the environmental and natural values of our wildland areas.

“Since 2017 we have focused on innovative wildfire risk reduction strategies in Sonoma County. The approval of this project, which is the first of its kind in the country, validates the hard work and innovation in fire risk reduction that’s been underway for the last four years,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “These funds will help us implement ‘house outward’ strategies such as cost-share incentives for private property owners who need help with hardening structures or creating defensible space. Our goal is to get to 100 percent of at-risk homes having defensible space. This grant will also facilitate ‘wildland inward’ strategies to create protective buffers around our communities, including landscape scale management strategies like grazing greenbelts and shaded fuel breaks.”

County officials intend to distribute the grant funding as part of an integrated, innovative cross-agency “systems” methodology designed to work simultaneously at large wildland scale and neighborhood scale beginning with specific project areas in the Mark West, Lower Russian River and Sonoma Mountain areas. The “Inside-Out, Outside-In” approach includes structural hardening and defensible space to the inner core, while applying hazardous fuel reduction techniques to the outer core to create an overarching wildfire resilience zone that reduces the risk of catastrophic losses in the Wildland Urban Interface.

From 2017 through 2020, fires have burned more than 300,000 acres in Sonoma County, destroyed nearly 7,000 structures and killed 24 people.

For more information about Sonoma County’s recent fire mitigation grant from FEMA, please contact Permit Sonoma at (707) 565-1925 or Tennis.Wick@sonoma-county.org.

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Op-Ed: A better way to help Californians survive wildfires: Focus on homes, not trees

Editorial Board, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Firestorms in the West have grown bigger and more destructive in recent years — and harder to escape. Massive and frenzied, they have overtaken people trying to outrun or outdrive them.

Gridlocked mountain roads prevented many Paradise residents from fleeing the Camp fire, which killed 85 people in 2018. This year, more than 30 people have died in the fires in California and Oregon, and again, in many cases, people were trying to escape fast-moving blazes.

There’s much work to be done on how we protect people amid a wildfire, including how and when we advise them to evacuate. But fire experts also are considering different ways to protect communities, and some of these ideas haven’t been given their full due as options for states that increasingly find themselves under siege.

One approach, seen in a bill proposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), is to log more dead trees and dig more firebreaks, among other things. But it’s outmoded and environmentally problematic; environmental groups have attacked the bill for allowing the fast-tracking of logging permits, bypassing the normal review process, in areas far from any towns that could be threatened.

Beyond that, trying to prevent fires can lead to overgrown forests that set the stage for more catastrophic blazes. Rather than going down that road, or cutting trees and brush in order to make fires smaller and slower, the better, more scientifically based approach is to focus more on houses and less on trees.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: A better way to help Californians survive wildfires: Focus on homes, not trees”