What Can We Do As A Town?
The Town has formed an Ad Hoc committee to help prevent wildfires. I look forward to working with them on their recommendations.
The town can also encourage residents to help prevent wildfires by holding seminars and working with organizations like Woodside Fire Protection District on training courses.
Town zones are essential for managing preparedness, helping neighbors evacuate safely and reducing fire risk locally. I encourage neighborhood groups to work on preparedness so residents can share any useful assets they have like a pool and pump, chain saws and hosepipes. Neighbors can also share recommendations on fire-safe plants and vegetation.
Planning For Any Risk
We have done a good job of identifying the Fire Risk in Portola Valley, we have done a less good job of being ready, although the recent fires have made people more aware. Each household needs to have an emergency plan that answers:
The town needs to continue the work of removing brush alongside roads, maintain trails and mow grass to reduce fire risk. The town could also consider renting goats for some areas to eat brush. The town needs to consider helping low-income residents remove brush from around their house.
I took the Woodside Fire Protection District training for how to reduce fire risk. It included removing loose leaves, getting rid of growth under trees, ensuring there's nothing below balconies and removing objects close to the home like pool equipment.
Roof and building materials also need to be considered - in line with town codes. Care needs to be taken with outdoor barbecue grills. Also on hot days, garden tools that are likely to get hot or create a spark should not be used.
I'd recommend that leaders in each Zone take FEMA's Incident Command System introductory course to understand how Incident Command works. This gives people roles - whether in the family or in the area.
Some homes in Portola Valley have found fire insurance to be very expensive or unavailable. So recommendations for insurers that will insure Portola Valley residents can be made by neighbors. An annual insurance check up is worthwhile.
It makes it much easier for insurance companies if you photograph contents of the home. Adobe Scan is a quick mobile phone app for scanning documents.
All residents need to know how to receive emergency communications. This information needs to be in documents for new town residents.
The town website needs to show residents clearly their emergency communications options:
For all the benefits that trees bring - oxygen, shade, carbon absorption - some species do present a fire danger. The town needs to help homeowners who want dangerous trees removed and cannot afford it. Maybe the town could contract with lumber companies that pay for the timber if there is sufficient, rather than arborists who will charge a hefty fee to remove them. Care would have to be taken with a lumber company, as they typically are used to felling trees that are not near people and houses. For some areas they could provide affordable tree removal.
House Exterior Safety
House Interior SAfety
Codes require smoke detectors in houses. Residents also need to consider having fire extinguishers in kitchens and near fireplaces. Candles are also a risk, so need to be extinguished. Sprinkler systems may also be installed.
In the recent Santa Cruz Mountain fire, the Pescadero Creek in Portola Redwoods State Park was guarded by fire fighters to make sure the fire did not cross it. It would be good to have wide firebreaks around the town, but even they will not stop a raging inferno. However, a 300 ft wide firebreak around K&S Ranch near Ano Nuevo saved the houses of the ranch when there was a roaring fire around it. There is a real danger a fire could roar down Alpine Road, as there are some highly flammable trees and dead vegetation in the woods. Windy Hill is getting overgrown and dense chapparal represents a danger. Controlled burns might reduce risk too. Goats or grazing cattle would help turn Windy Hill into a fire break. The town needs to work with Midpen to create a plan for fire mitigation. The California Range Management Advisory Committee can also help with ranching and cattle grazing, as there used to be on Windy Hill.
Incentives and Grants
The town needs to look into grants for fire mitigation.
Angela Hey is a candidate for Portola Valley Town Council. She is an experienced technology marketing consultant who serves nonprofits, as a volunteer.