Fire Safe County Roads Program Goals: FEB 2022
- Develop emergency escape routes for residents by reducing the fire risk along the Summit Road-Highland Way Corridor
- Provide access for emergency vehicles during disasters, both entering into and exiting from our community
- Improve the ISO rating (a measurement of local fire prevention and fire suppression capabilities) to avoid termination of homeowner’s insurance
The Summit- Highland Way Corridor
The first major project of Fire Safe County Roads (FSCR) is the Summit-Highland Way Corridor. This corridor is the busiest both for locals and commuters. The corridor incorporates land owners in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties. The total number of land owners that have property adjacent to this corridor is 137. Current county regulation limits the county responsibility to generally 20 feet from the edge of the roadway. However in order to create a successful fuel break and a serviceable emergency escape route will, according to CAL FIRE foresters, require penetration into the landowner’s property, from thirty feet to a hundred feet depending on fuel load and terrain.
To obtain funding for the corridor through grant applications, the Fire Safe County Roads team met with Santa Cruz County officials, CAL FIRE, the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz (RCD) and other involved organizations listed below. The grant for funding the Summit – Highland Way Corridor was written by the RCD. The RCD was awarded a CAL FIRE grant of nearly $1.3M to accomplish this work. We believe these funds will allow for the treatment of most of the entire 5.6 miles of the Summit Road/Highland Way corridor, starting at the Mt. Bache/Highland Way intersection all the way to the junction with Highway 17. This work will be administered by the RCD. If necessary, we will seek additional funding.
The task of informing the landowners and obtaining their enlightened support was taken on by the FSCR team. To gain access to the experience and tools needed for this process, the FSCR team joined with the Santa Cruz Mountain Alliance, a local volunteer organization with more than 10 years of project success in our community.
Organizations actively involved in the FSCR project:
Skyland Community Church – Gerald Alonzo, Jeremy Cole, Allan Feuerbach, Anne Evans, Larry Lopp
Santa Cruz Mountain Alliance – Larry Lopp, David Fullagar, Thomas Sutfin, June Salsbury, Lou McTamaney, Saundra Hand, Ben Abeln
Santa Cruz County Supervisor 1st district – Manu Koenig
State Senator John Laird (SD-17) Santa Cruz Office– Angela M. Chestnut, District Director
CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit – Andy Hubbs
Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County – Lisa Lurie, Matt Abernathy, Angie Richman
Santa Clara Fire Safe Council (SClaraFSC) – Eugenia Rendler
The Summit Community and Our Shared Responsibility
At this point in time our forested areas in California are at exceptional risk for wildfire. The beautiful coastal community where we live is experiencing both rapid climate change and the result of years of insufficient management of our forest biomass. The extent of the damage caused by the August 2020 CZU fire in Northern Santa Cruz County is a tragic 100-year event. The fire was ignited by very high temperatures, low humidity, and by unusual dry lightning strikes into this decades-long buildup of forest biomass. The statistics for the CZU fire are truly epic; 1,490 buildings destroyed, 77,000 people evacuated, and cost more than $68 million to fight. More than 1500 firefighters worked for weeks to achieve containment. One person died in the fire and one other was injured.
The CZU fire must be seen by our community as a neighborhood fire. It is essential that we gather information, develop plans to address the challenges and then build a safer future for our community.
At present our shared Summit Community tasks are:
- Employ Home Hardening techniques at once from our building footings outward 15 to 30 feet
- Create Defensible Space around our structures up to 100 feet where possible.
- Ensure there is an Emergency Exit if it is necessary to leave.
Item one and two are private property owner responsibility. Many organizations have plans and resources to aid the property owner.
Item number three is the responsibility of our County and State Government for public roads. The government requires consent and engagement with the land owners who are adjacent to these critical routes.
The Fire Safe County Roads Story
In 2019 Skyland Church was engaged in a reVisioning process that asked the congregation the question what is our responsibility to our community and how do we fulfill it? One of the many outcomes was the early beginning of the Fire Safe County Roads Team. Six church members began asking the question what is the most serious situation concerning fire that we can work to improve?
Now over three years later, we have added other community members, worked in-depth with former Santa Cruz Supervisor, John Leopold and his staff, received ideas and encouragement from John Laird, State Senator District 17, and joined with the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz, various parts of CAL FIRE and the Santa Clara Fire Safe Council. The original team has partnered with the community-based Santa Cruz Mountain Alliance and has twelve volunteers actively engaged in the FSCR program which has grown to a multi-year effort. Currently Skyland Community Church is hosting and maintaining these web pages for the project and the mountain community to inform and encourage fire survivability.