Majority of California rural communities in 'very high' fire hazard severity zones, new map shows

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Thursday, December 29, 2022
Map shows areas of California in "very high" fire hazard zones
A majority of rural communities are now in a "high" or "very high" severity zone for wildfires because of California's severe drought, according to a new map from the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

For the first time, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is developing a map showing more rural and unincorporated areas of the state could be classified as "very high" fire hazard severity zones.

It's the first such map developed since 2007.

"We have a better data that we had back in 2007," Fire Chief Steve Hawks of Cal Fire told ABC7. "Now, that really looks at climate data and particularly localized wind events, and wind being the primary reason or of the intensity of a wildfire, and how fast it spreads."

The proposed map shows nearly 17 million acres falling under the worst ranking for "very high" fire danger, Hawks said. That's a more than a 14% increase since a previous map was last updated in 2007. The culprit: Climate change.

"It's really related to the changing climate, drought, weather conditions," Hawks said. "This map is only for the state responsibility area."

The state created the map to ensure that residents are aware of how climate change could be affecting the area they call home.

"The map is really to inform the public of the hazard of the area that they are in to allow them to take the necessary measures to prepare for wildfires -- so, creating defensible space, retrofitting the exterior of their home, making sure they have an evacuation plan," Hawks said.

The study showed a national trend of people moving away from areas prone to heat waves and hurricanes but into areas prone to wildfires. Local data shows fire risk zones have also seen an increase in population.

ABC7 spoke with some Santa Clarita residents who have witnessed several fires within the last few years and are concerned that the proposed map shows more fires will hit the area sooner than later.

"I'm concerned because it happened a couple of years ago -- there was a big fire over here," Kevin Monico said. "It was blazing on the mountains and we had to evacuate."

Harry Monico said that with fire danger higher than ever, he's prepared to dash out of his Santa Clarita home without question if a blaze suddenly takes off and there's a mandatory evacuation order in place.

"I'm ready to go just pull out of the garage and go," he said."