Fuel Reduction Programs
Free Chipping Program for residents of eligible communities and Special Assistance Program for qualified seniors, disabled and low income applicants.
The Countwide Community Wildfire Protection Plan is ready for your use. Please visit our CWPP page for more information.
Please follow link for more information. https://t.co/sYgaLP9ADI
An Evacuation Warning is in place for Empire Creek Rd and Dutch Creek Rd.
Have you ever wondered what a 9-1-1 dispatcher does or have you ever thought about it as a career? Ask a 9-1-1 Disp… https://t.co/SwOa4E76JH
RT @forestservice: Although language, customs, and culture can separate us, the issues and challenges we face in managing wildland fire are…
Several hundred California-based U.S. Forest Service firefighters continue to support fires in Arizona, New Mexico… https://t.co/JPuMuuyF2k
Our newest member to the CAL FIRE team is finally being announced tomorrow! Check back for the big reveal!… https://t.co/YGtqoUL9T1
RT @forestservice: The U.S. Forest Service has been managing wildland fire for more than 100 years. As the world's premiere firefighting ag…
Here is a highlight reel of the new and improved Southern Region headquarters! This facility will provide the techn… https://t.co/bxszTamvgk
U.S. Forest Service firefighters continue to train & conduct readiness reviews in preparation for increased wildfir… https://t.co/SkblodDRPC
Recruit Academy 19-01 is finishing up week two today, with some basics of securing and hoisting tools. They’ll hav… https://t.co/3G1pNuV3y7
E7 and County Ambulance are on scene of a motorcycle vs a car on The Alameda at Emory St. Fortunately the rider on… https://t.co/kExr4sRasp
With hot weather across California, it is the perfect time to start preparing and practicing your evacuation plan i… https://t.co/0MRGOEy5nB
Multiple agencies responding in to fight the simulated wildland fire. https://t.co/SMwrsSwZLb
The interactive, National Fire Situational Awareness map is just one way to track wildfires in California & across… https://t.co/s8ku2ZqHRf
E19 and T2 are on scene of a dryer fire. Fortunately this was contained just to the dryer, but it’s a good reminde… https://t.co/zbiCkJbE6d
Follow your local National Forest on social media. Official accounts for all 18 forests in the Pacific Southwest Re… https://t.co/5YJ37IxjaG
by Eric Johnson
Ed Orre, chief forester for Cal Fire’s Santa Clara County Unit, has been haunted by images of the main thoroughfare connecting Paradise with the outside world. He can’t help but imagine a similar scenario unfolding on Highway 17 in the hills above Lexington Reservoir.
Skyway Road was engulfed in flames on the night of Nov. 8, 2018. Car tires melted in the maelstrom as their owners tried to escape the worst wildfire in California history; some did not survive. Orre does not want the folks who live in Redwood Estates and Chemeketa Park or up on Summit Road to face such a catastrophe. That’s one reason he’s glad that Gov. Gavin Newsom last month declared a state of emergency to deal with California’s wildfire threat, freeing up $50 million for the immediate implementation of 35 fire-protection projects, including more than $2 million for the Highway 17 Fuel Reduction Project.
Work will start within a few months, as crews will be clearing brush, cutting down small trees and removing deadfall on both sides of Highway 17 between Bear Creek Road and Summit Road.
Patty Ciesla, executive director of the Santa Clara County Fire Safe Council, has been working with Cal Fire on the plan and reports that the firebreak will range from 30 to 150 feet from the edge of the highway, depending upon conditions. The result, which could be completed before the end of this year’s fire season, will be a “shaded” firebreak, meaning that most of the bigger trees will be left in place.
“We leave almost all of the trees,” she says. “There will be some thinning of small trees, but mostly it’ll be pruning and shrub removal, and cleaning up the dead wood that’s on the ground.
“It’ll be shady and cool, not full of brush, not full of dead branches. So if a fire goes through there, it’ll be a ground fire rather than a forest fire.”
That means 4-foot flames instead of 100-foot flames.
“The whole point of the project is we want the highway to be safe if there’s a fire, so you can use the highway as your escape route,” Ciesla says. “And the fire is burning cool enough that people aren’t going to get incinerated in their cars.”
Orre believes the Highway 17 plan addresses one of the highest-priority wildfire dangers in the state. Along with the others on the list of 35 projects, it was identified by local Cal Fire units as projects that meet the governor’s criteria to treat large areas in numerous communities, protecting as many lives and as much property as possible, and trying “to do what we can as quickly as possible to benefit the most people.”
“The communities in and around highway 17 are very vulnerable to the effects of a wildfire,” Orre says. “And should one start, the motoring public is in danger.”
As most folks who live there know, the hills above Lexington have burned many times. The Austrian Gulch fire burned 8,670 acres in July 1961. The Lexington Fire burned 14,000 acres and destroyed 42 homes in July 1985. The Summit Fire burned 4,270 acres and destroyed 35 residences in May 2008.
The most recent wildfire in the neighborhood was the Bear Fire, which burned 391 acres in October 2017. Ciesla, who lives off Bear Creek Road, remembers that one.
Because her home is just across the county line, she received an alert on her phone from the Santa Cruz County’s Code Red system (in Santa Clara County it’s called AlertSCC) on Oct. 16. The alert reported a vegetation fire.
“So I looked at the address and I’m like, ‘Whoa, it’s really close to me.’ And I went outside and I could hear sirens, and saw that it’s really close and it’s really big. And so I just started calling all my neighbors, ’cause I had every phone number.”
The Fire Safe Council offers wildfire evacuation workshops, which Ciesla strongly recommends.
Forest task force
The Highway 17 project is a tiny piece of a massive California government effort to deal with dangerous conditions spurred by climate change in forests statewide. The push began with an executive order, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in May of last year, immediately implementing the Forest Carbon Plan, which was released simultaneously. These actions together were aimed at protecting the state’s 33 million acres of forestland and brought together multiple state, federal, local and tribal agencies into a new entity branded the Forest Management Task Force.
Brown’s order also set aside a whopping $1 billion to pay for a five-year effort to deal with a hazardous buildup of fuels in the forest, including almost 130 million trees killed by drought and bark beetles.
The task force began meeting in August with a mandate to completely overhaul century-old practices, driven by a growing consensus that forests must be managed for ecological health. This will involve expanding the use of prescribed burns and reducing regulatory barriers to fuel-reduction projects such as the Highway 17 project.
In September, the governor signed a bill authored by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) immediately releasing a down payment on that $1 billion of firefighting money, including the $2-plus million for the local Fire Safe Council.
On his first day in office, Newsom issued an order giving Cal Fire, the Department of Natural Resources, California EPA and a dozen other agencies 45 days to deliver a plan. That plan was released on Feb. 22, and exactly a month later, the governor declared a state of emergency.
Ciesla says the conditions that drove this sprint of government action can be seen locally.
She describes winds from the Central Valley flowing over the Diablo Range, across the Santa Clara Valley and up into Santa Cruz Mountains.
“This is not cool marine air,” she says, “It’s hot, dry air that dries the vegetation even more. And so what’s scary is those red-flag days when we have the potential for a wind-driven fire in the wildland-urban interface.”
Orre, who started with Cal Fire in 2000, has firsthand experience of how the changing climate makes wildfire much more dangerous.
“The very first out-of-county fire I went to was the  Poe Fire, which started at virtually the same place” as the Camp Fire, he recalls. “But it was under very different weather conditions. We didn’t have the winds at that time. I remember it very vividly because I was there on 9/11, so we lost all of our aircraft. That was a devastating fire, but nothing like the Camp Fire.”
According to Scott McClean, who works in Cal Fire’s Sacramento headquarters, we are witnessing the beginning of some kind of forest-management revolution.
“This is not a one-shot deal,” he says of the governor’s state of emergency. “This is going to go on basically forever, because we’re going to have to circle back into these areas and maintain them. And it’s not just about life-safety in these 35 projects. We have to look at the 30 plus million acres Cal Fire’s responsible for, and we need to make sure and bring them back to health.”
Which part of Highway 17 will be covered in this project?
The project covers the Highway 17 corridor between the Main Street bridge in Los Gatos and the Summit Road overpass.
When will the project begin?
Work will begin once the environmental and archeological surveys have been completed.
How will it work?
The planning process involves multiple partners including CAL FIRE, Caltrans, SCCFSC, public land owners, private property owners, contractors and stakeholders. Permits, traffic control and additional precautions such as avoiding work on red flag days (high fire danger) as well as protection of sensitive species will be included in the project plan.
There is a bidding process for the work.
Which communities will be protected by the project?
Lexington Hills, Ben Lomond, Los Gatos, Lompico, Monte Sereno, Zayante, Saratoga, Scotts Valley. (Note: Lexington Hills census designated place includes the communities of Redwood Estates, Chemeketa Park, Aldercroft Heights and several HOAs in the vicinity). All communities listed are in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties.
How much vegetation will be cut?
Species listed on state and federal endangered species list will not be removed unless they are designated hazard trees. Hazard trees -- trees that are on steep slopes leaning at angles that could fall and block roadway, trees with decay, etc. -- will be removed. Shaded areas will retain most of the tree canopy; this shade is important to retard regrowth. While it is not possible to shade along the edge of the highway because the light comes in from the side, the shade will remain further away to shade and protect the forest ecosystem. The area will not be completely cleared; it will still remain a forest, but you will be able to see through the tree trunks after all the debris below the trees is removed. When vegetation is managed, the area surrounding a car fire is less likely to ignite. Also, in the event of a wildfire, a highway where defensible space has been created is more likely to remain cooler, allowing for more people to use their evacuation routes.
Which species of vegetation will be removed?
Mostly brush: French broom, toyon, other understory shrubs, and low branches on trees will be pruned off. Smaller trees such as bay will be targeted for thinning. We will try to protect large healthy oaks, and large strong conifers like Douglas fir and redwoods. Redwoods are fire resistant and will be mostly retained, but we will remove some of the smallest ones to create spacing between trees.
What kind of treatment methods and equipment will be used?
All vegetation shall be cut with hand tools to minimize ground disturbance. A crane and bucket trucks will be required to access difficult sites. Most of the cut vegetation will be dragged to the nearest roadway where it will be chipped on site or loaded into dump trucks for chipping off site. All supporting vehicles and heavy equipment will remain on roadways. The key constraints for this project are the need to minimize soil disturbance to prevent soil erosion and to minimize traffic disruptions.
Will public information sessions be held?
We will have public meetings to provide info and listen to comments and concerns. The Governor’s emergency declaration suspended the public noticing requirements of CEQA.
How will I know when the project is going to affect my commute?
Residents will know implementation is getting closer when they begin to see notifications to attend community meetings held in the Highway 17/Santa Cruz Mountains neighborhoods. Residents will also start to see signs about future lane closures for the roadwork before the work begins.The project will be done in a series of stages, with all work being done on weekdays, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. Public and neighborhood updates will be made availble through LED roadway signs, websites, newsletters, HOAs, and standard messaging tools.
Are side streets included within the scope of the project?
The focus of the project is for fuel reduction along the main highway corridor. There is consideration for adjacent homeowners (see the link below). We will contact every property owner or resident that is directly adjacent to the highway as well as some that are nearby. Private and county roads that connect to Hwy 17 will also be treated to create defensible space along those roads. Examples include Brush Road, Idylwild, Madrone Drive. We will work with County Roads as well as road or homeowner associations, or private property owners to coordinate and get permissions CalFire report discussing scope of work can be found here. (http://www.fire.ca.gov/general/45-DayReport)
Ecological, cultural and archeological considerations:
Project activities are designed to avoid significant effects and avoid taking special status species that are listed as rare, threatened, or endangered under Federal law; or rare, threatened, endangered, candidate, or fully protected under State law; or as a sensitive species by the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. A California Natural Diversity Database search has been completed and appropriate field review conducted to detect species prior to project disturbance. If protected species are found within the project boundary, a CAL FIRE or DFW Biologist will be consulted for appropriate protection measures.
In addition, a current archeological records check has been completed. An archeological field review will be conducted by qualified personnel. A Registered Professional Forester or designee will be onsite sufficiently during operations to evaluate the presence of cultural resources and ensure cultural resource protection through avoidance.
Santa Clara County FireSafe Council
14380 Saratoga Avenue
Saratoga, CA 95070-5953
Telephone: (408) 975-9591
Fax: (408) 624-9316
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