Looking to Reduce Wildfire Risk, Redding Seeks Community Insight

Community feedback through workshops, a survey, and public comment at city meetings will help the city evaluate how to use Redding-specific recommendations provided by grant-funded national wildfire prevention specialists. New development, building, zoning, and fire codes would emphasize the individual responsibility of community landowners to care for their properties in ways that reduce wildfire risk for the broader community.

As the 2022 fire season begins, Redding is looking to take another significant step forward to reduce wildfire risk. 

It’s the result of a grant Redding received in 2019 from the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW). CPAW’s final report, presented to the city council in June of 2021 after field visits, data gathering, and stakeholder feedback, includes recommended actions to reduce the start and spread of wildfires in Redding.

Those recommendations include updates to city code that would allow Redding to establish city-wide vegetation standards for how growth and debris accumulation are managed on private property. Doing so would increase defensible space around structures, roadways, and vacant or undeveloped parcels, slowing the spread of fire. The city could also update existing development, zoning, building, fire, and subdivision codes to strengthen fire protection, including updating the building code to require fire-resistant building materials for rural residential construction.

If the city moves ahead to update codes, Redding landowners could face enforcement or fines if they fail to create defensible space on their properties or remove dangerous combustible materials, among other violations. This approach is a way to emphasize individual responsibility and accountability as a means of protecting the larger community from wildfire risk. 

City Manager Barry Tippin told Shasta Scout by email last week that the city hopes for “robust involvement” from the community to help guide decisions on how to reduce wildfire risk through code moving forward. In addition to a city-wide survey and public workshops, including one on June 24, potential changes to the code will be reviewed by the Redding Planning Commission in the coming months and would eventually require a positive vote by the City Council to move forward. 

City staff is starting by reaching out to the community, they say, in hopes that local insight will help guide the Planning Commission and Council. Tippin said the city will be engaging both the community-at-large and specific stakeholders over the next several months in attempts to find consensus for the path forward on wildfire mitigation.

CPAW is a partnership between Headwaters Economics, Wildfire Planning International, and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station that provides high-level technical assistance to integrate wildfire prevention and reduction into local planning and development processes. The organization is focused on community-based solutions and has emphasized from the beginning that it’s up to the local community to review professional recommendations and decide what will work best to meet Redding’s needs. 

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Have more questions? Read on for highlights on understanding Redding’s wildfire risks, how CPAW assessed risk locally, and what three primary recommendations the organization gave for reducing Redding’s wildfire risks. Plus, how you can get involved.

Understanding Redding’s Risk 

In a typical year, Redding averages over 100 fires, any of which could become the source of the next catastrophic wildfire. In 2018, in one of the most destructive fires in U.S. history, Redding’s Carr Fire burned 230,000 acres and destroyed 1.7 billion dollars of  property, including 2,000 structures and 270 Redding homes.  

The risk of these wildfires rapidly spreading to cause significant damage is increased by a historic statewide drought and by rising average summer temperatures caused by global warming. Redding also includes significant areas of what is known as the Wildland-Urban Interface or WUI (pronounced WOO-EE). The US Fire Administration describes the WUI as the zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development, the area where structures and other human development meet and intermingle with wildland, or vegetative fuels. The unique conditions of WUI’s allow for fire patterns that can rapidly move from undeveloped areas into high-occupancy areas, quickly overwhelming available fire protection.

Image from CPAW’s report for Redding shows how areas along the zone between wildland and development can lead to rapid fire spread.

How did CPAW Assess Redding’s Wildfire Risk?

Redding received customized consulting services from CPAW’s team of professional land use planners, foresters, risk modelers, and researchers. Utilizing field visits, data gathering, stakeholder feedback, research, science, best practices, and national expertise in planning, forestry, hazard mitigation and wildfire risk reduction, the team worked together to provide a series of Redding-specific wildfire mitigation recommendations. 

Experts Say Reducing Local Risk Includes Wildfire Prevention, Slowing Spread, and Ensuring Safe Evacuation

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Most wildfire ignition risk comes from open camp or cooking fires started by the unsheltered community, equipment sparks, downed power lines, and fireworks, CPAW says. Reducing those risks includes mitigating against open cooking and camping fires, and ensuring power line safety.

Once a wildfire has started, both the rate of spread of the fire and the amount of property damage caused by it can be negatively impacted by the presence of material that burns quickly and easily, fueling the fire. CPAW says post-fire interviews and field observations after the Carr fire show most property losses within the city occurred because of the presence of those kinds of materials located too close to structures on private properties. That’s why the organization suggests reducing gaps between current city requirements and best practices to ensure private property owners maintain their landscapes and safely store or dispose of combustible materials.

They also said wildfire risk is exacerbated locally by evacuation concerns, including local subdivisions with only one means of exit, often because the subdivision has not yet been fully completed according to plan. Some local dirt and gravel emergency access routes out of local neighborhoods were also unknown or difficult to find in the crisis of wildfire, CPAW says, issues which could be addressed through city planning policy.

While Redding can’t change its proximity to wildfire risk or the number of locations of structures that have already been built, other factors that can influence wildfire spread could be addressed. Those include growth management plans, neighborhood plans, open space management plans, and codes and regulations that address landscape and building designs.

Image from CPAW’s report for Redding details how code can impact wildfire.

How You Can Get Involved 

Annelise Pierce is Shasta Scout’s Editor and a Community Reporter covering government accountability, civic engagement, and local religious and political movements. You can contact her at [email protected] 

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