Creating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for Santa Clara Communities

With an estimated 11.8 million homes throughout California located on acres designated as Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), wildfire protection planning plays play a key role in community safety.

The Santa Clara County FireSafe Council (SCFSC) developed two Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) for wildfire-prone areas of East Foothills, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin, and south and east San Jose. These areas are ‘communities at risk’ as defined by the California Fire Alliance.

A CWPP identifies strategic sites and methods for fuel-reduction projects across the landscape and jurisdictional boundaries. A key benefit of having a CWPP is National Fire Plan funding priority for identified projects.

The plans involved local fire agencies in the wildfire protection planning process and enabled the communities to secure federal grant money for Santa Clara County.

The CWPP has three goals:

  • reduce wildfire hazards within the WUI.
  • educate the community about existing hazards to prompt homeowners and community volunteers to help reduce fuels.
  • secure additional grant funding

Plan development included modeling potential fire behavior, and assessing and prioritizing hazards.

“Modeling the assessed area was interesting because it contains many different types of fuels from light, flashy grasses to chaparral to conifer forests,” said Michael Huff, Dudek’s urban forestry services manager, who worked with the SCFSC to develop these CWPPs.

To analyze fire behavior, the team used fire modeling software and geographic information system (GIS) maps to graphically portray fire behavior and fire risk. The GIS maps illustrate the fire risk based on factors such as slope, aspect, vegetation type, and weather and the weighting of these factors according to their fire prone susceptibility.

“We worked with the SCFSC, the San Jose Fire Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to meld their area knowledge and expertise into these CWPPs,” explained Huff. “This helped decision makers by enabling them to prioritize projects based on a snapshot of the hazards, and the graphics complement the extensive written plans.”