Sonoma County is updating its community wildfire protection plan and seeking community input

By Katherine Minkiewicz, Sonoma West Times & News, May 3, 2021

evacuation route sign

The County of Sonoma is seeking public input on the update of its Community Wildfire Protection Plan, a detailed document that creates plans — such as installing reflective road signs and identifying evacuation routes like this one pictured on Mill Creek Road — to help reduce hazard risks associated with wildfire. (Photo Katherine Minkiewicz)

Fire Safe Sonoma is hosting a set of workshops in early May to solicit input on the update of the Sonoma County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), which was last updated in 2016.

A CWPP is a detailed document that measures wildfire risks specific to an area and identifies ways to mitigate that risk in a comprehensive plan.

The virtual public workshop for District 5 — which encompasses west Sonoma County, the entire Sonoma County coast, the lower Russian River, Sebastopol and the west and southwest Santa Rosa areas extending to Highway 101 — will take place on Thursday, May 6 at 6 p.m.

People can register for the May 6 meeting here: https://sonomacounty.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUrdOGvrjkrGdJNQTCSQhKZHIkbG5NuGqTb

“Sonoma County residents are invited to join us to learn from local experts about wildfire risks and what you can do to better prepare as individuals and communities. There, residents will have the opportunity to identify community values, risks, hazards, and potential projects for the CWPP,” according to a statement from Fire Safe Sonoma.

Each workshop will run until about 7:30 p.m.

During the workshop, residents will learn the basics of a CWPP, how a home burns, CWPP values, an introduction on risks and hazards and risk assessment, how to prepare for a wildfire and how to engage in the CWPP process.

From there, participants will go into break out rooms to discuss local fire department capacity and needs and to identify local values, risks and hazards. Folks will also identify an initial list of risk mitigation projects for their area.

Following the break out room session, there will be a summary of the discussion and information on next steps for the CWPP process.

CWPP’s are useful for neighborhoods and jurisdictions because they act as a preparedness tool, but they’re also helpful in helping groups secure grants for wildfire mitigation projects such as vegetation chipping, prescribed burns or the implementation of fire danger warning signs.

“It allows folks to be more organized,” Healdsburg Fire Department Division Chief and Fire Marshall Linda Collister told The Tribune in early 2020. She said it also helps educate people on vegetation management and home hardening.

The effectiveness of CWPP was recently displayed during the Walbridge Fire in 2020 when the Mill Creek Road neighborhood in unincorporated Healdsburg were able to put their preparedness plans in action and evacuate everyone safely through a pre-identified evacuation route.

Between the creation of the Mill Creek Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies Program (COPE) organization in 2018 and the completion of their CWPP in 2020, the group was able to organize their neighborhood into seven zones with one or more residents leading each zone, they were able to create and maintain a database with contact details of the over 300 landowners and residents in the area, they distributed reflective street address signs, and the community identified an alternate evacuation route, created a neighborhood network with an improved communication platform, and practiced their evacuation plan.

Fire Safe Sonoma and Mill Creek community members completed the CWPP in early July prior to the Walbridge Fire, which hit the Mill Creek area hard, in August.

Two hundred and ninety-eight structures were destroyed and Mill Creek’s two historical landmarks — the Daniels School and the Venado Post Office — were lost to the fire.

Roberta Macintyre, board president for Fire Safe Sonoma said the Mill Creek CWPP was the conclusion of many hours of volunteer work by Mill Creek residents and their COPE.

To learn more about CWPP’s and the upcoming Fire Safe Sonoma workshops, visit: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/PRMD/Fire-Prevention/Community-Wildfire-Protection-Plan/Calendar/ .

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com