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California Wine Country Is Preparing for 2018 Fire Season

The spring rains have come and gone, and a fresh crop of grass and brush has (true to the name) sprung up all over the hillsides of Napa County. Residents and fire safety officials aren't enjoying the views, however—the brush means something far more sinister.

As the wind becomes hot and dry, the green brush with invariably dry and brown—becoming the kind of fuel that creates and sustains wildfires. Determined to prevent another fire season like last year's—which destroyed 600 homes and killed dozens of people—both resident volunteers and firefighting officials are taking extra precautions on behalf of residents.

Napa County has 9 designated "firewise" communities that create plans for fire protection. These communities include:

  • Angwin
  • Atlas Peak
  • Berryessa Estates
  • Berryessa Highlands
  • Circle Oaks
  • Deer Park
  • Gordon Valley
  • Mt. Veeder / Dry Creek
  • Soda Canyon

A tenth firewise community may be made of out of the Silverado / Coombsville areas east of Napa. Fire Chief Barry Biermann takes it as a sign that every community recognizes their vulnerability in the face of a serious wildfire. "People even down on the flats now, in the valley, are interested now," he said.

Meanwhile, volunteers in Angwin are working to make the mountain roads into a safe evacuation route in case a fire occurs again. The efforts include removing dead underbrush from the sides of the roads, which serve as a "fuel ladder" to ignite trees. Removing the underbrush will prevent trees from catching and collapsing on the roads, which could be deadly for local residents.

Roadside brush removal is not enough, however.

Chief Biermann believes that homeowners need to take extra precautions when building their fire buffers. The law demands a 100-foot distance between structures and the buffer, but Biermann believes homeowners ought to increase that distance to 200 or even 300 feet. Larger buffer zones would ensure structures remain safe, even if firefighters never make it to the scene.