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California's fire hazard severity maps are due for update. Here's what you need to know




NAPA, CA -OCTOBER 11: A construction site American flag hangs partly melted among houses in Soda Canyon that were destroyed by the Atlas Fire on October 11, 2017 near Napa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, more than 2,000 homes have burned and  at least 21 people were killed as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread with little containment in eight Northern California counties.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA -OCTOBER 11: A construction site American flag hangs partly melted among houses in Soda Canyon that were destroyed by the Atlas Fire on October 11, 2017 near Napa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, more than 2,000 homes have burned and at least 21 people were killed as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread with little containment in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images

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Firefighters are getting the upper hand on the blazes in Napa and Sonoma counties, but new fires have broken out since, including one in the Santa Cruz mountains. All the fires are making it more critical that we understand where they're more likely to break out.

And for that, there's a map on the Cal Fire website that shows what parts of the state are subject to the most severe fire hazard.

The current fire hazard severity zone map hasn't been updated since 2007. The maps are redone every 10 years.
The current fire hazard severity zone map hasn't been updated since 2007. The maps are redone every 10 years.
Courtesy Cal Fire

The goal of these maps is to provide Californians with information about the level of wildfire dangers their homes might face.

Still, one neighborhood in Santa Rosa—Coffey Park—is about five miles outside of a fire zone. Yet it was almost completely leveled in last week's firestorm. 

Daniel Berlant is Assistant Deputy Director of Cal Fire. He described three criteria for determining fire zones: "weather conditions for that area, vegetation type/topography and fire history. That's typical when we're using our mapping for the fire hazard severity zone."

But there's more to it than that. Here's what you need to know about fire hazard zones.

1. Even if you're not in a zone, you're still at risk

One thing Berlant was adamant to reiterate is that "even in urban areas, wildfires can impact you."

"No matter where you live in California, you have the potential to be impacted by wildland fires...we've seen major fires over the decades that do destruction in urban areas. Oakland Hills in 1991, the San Diego communities back in 2003 and 2007. Now, Santa Rosa in 2017."

These zones are based on stagnant conditions and don't take into account the unpredictability of fire. If you're living in California, you should always be prepared for the possibility of flames.

2. These zones influence how structures are erected

If your living area has a fire hazard severity designation, it may have an effect on how your home was built.

"The biggest thing that it does, that the fire hazard severity zones dictate, is the building code. Within the state responsibility area, all homes that are built are required to be built to a much higher standard than other homes in California, specifically due to wildfires."

The "higher standards" include building materials that are ember resistant, windows that are double paned, screens over vents on homes, etc. But don't just count on these standards to keep homes safe! Clearing dry vegetation from your yard and surrounding area plays a big role in keeping your house safe, says Berlant.

3. The zones are being remapped next year

The fire hazard severity zone map that's currently utilized is from 2007. These maps are updated once every 10 years, which means, it's due for an update.

"We're beginning the process. The fire hazard severity zones will be going under a complete reevaluation."

Berlant also said the major wildfires in Northern California will play a role in how these maps are overhauled.

To hear more about fire hazard severity zones and how you can prepare your home against fire, click the blue play button above.



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