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Anchor Point working wine country.

After wildfires, City of Calistoga invests in state-of-the art fire hazard mapping

In the wake of the devastating wildfires in Northern California in the past few years, the City of Calistoga is taking steps toward requiring stricter building standards in high fire risk zones, and updating its mapping of high risk zones.

On Tuesday, the city approved $80,000 for a contract with a Colorado fire management company to prepare a state-of-the-art wildfire risk assessment.

The company will create a flexible, up-to-date digital model that can identify where burning embers are likely to trigger a fire, and help predict the possibility of home-to-home ignition or urban conflagration. The data will also allow the creation of custom maps to support wildfire planning and land use decisions. The model will also allow Calistoga firefighters in the field to make on-the-spot decisions.

“We just set the bar for the county and the rest of Northern California,” said Calistoga Fire Chief Steve Campbell. “We will have more information (in addition to what) Cal Fire can provide. We can make our own plan and our own decisions (in case of a fire). Having something like this at our fingertips, we can carry real-time response plans in the trucks and implement them immediately, rather than rely on hours- or day-old information to make our decisions.”

Cal Fire last updated its high risk zone designations for the city in 2008.

Council members expressed concern for the cost of the mapping, but agreed on the necessity. “This could potentially save lives,” said Council Member Don Williams.

Based on the report from Anchor Point LLC, the city could also decide whether fire-resistant construction measures and vegetation maintenance should be required for certain neighborhoods or even specific parcels.

The risk assessment will include the city limits and the area within approximately one-half mile of its boundary. The city could then move forward by adopting the 2019 statewide building Standards Code (Chapter 7A). That includes requiring specially treated decking, exterior doors and windows, and other fire-retardant building measures.

Although initial building costs could increase by about 15 percent, insurance rates could also decrease, council members said.

“One of the ways to be prepared is with hardened structures. Once you have a fire, it’s too late,” said Council Member Gary Kraus.

In November, the city council talked about the possibility of adopting the 2019 state-wide building Standards Code, with local amendments. During that public hearing, Kraus expressed concern about the potential for a wildfire spreading through the community, citing multiple wind-driven conflagrations that quickly moved from high fire hazard severity areas into urban development, according to the staff report. At that time Kraus proposed that the city adopt stricter requirements to its building code for new construction in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.

The mapping study should be completed in the next four or five months.

UPDATE: Due to the 2020 Glass Fire, Anchor Point is assessing the burn area and regenerating the fuel and fire behavior based on this new fuel profile. The project was delayed but a current risk map is being produced.

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