by Helen Sedwick
What’s changing? CAL FIRE is in the process of updating its Fire Hazard Severity Zone map for all areas of the state. The proposed draft map puts much of Bennett Valley in the Very High Hazard Severity Zone (red).
This image depicts an overview of proposed Hazard Severity map for Bennett Valley. To find your property, use this link, scroll down to the FHSZ Viewer, and enter your address in the search box in the upper left corner.
This is a significant change from CAL FIRE’s 2007 map. Under the 2007 map, Bennett Valley was designated as High (orange) or Moderate (yellow) Hazard Severity, and no portion of Bennett Valley was designated as Very High Hazard Severity (red).
What does Hazard Severity mean? Under CAL FIRE’s terminology, Hazard Severity is determined by physical conditions that affect the likelihood of fire and potential fire behavior over a 30 to 50-year period. It considers fire history, predicted flame length, embers, terrain, and typical wind and weather for the area. The new CAL FIRE model tries to predict potential fire intensity in the most extreme fire weather conditions.
Hazard assessment does not consider fuel mitigation efforts or home hardening because those factors may change over time.
Information and videos about the mapping process and methodology can be found on the California Fire Marshal’s website.
How will a Hazard Zone designation affect homeowners? The most significant impact is that sellers of properties in High or Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones must disclose this information in writing to potential buyers. The proposed map may also affect future building standards, development planning, defensible space clearance requirements, and State safety regulations such as road widths, water supply and signage.
Will this affect the cost and availability of insurance? The following information comes from the California Department of Insurance:
CAL FIRE’s maps are intended to drive local planning decisions, not insurance decisions. Under Commissioner Lara’s new regulation finalized in October 2022, insurance companies must provide discounts for wildfire safety actions such as community mitigation and home-hardening, which CAL FIRE’s maps do not assess. In addition, insurance companies are already using risk analysis tools and models that go beyond CAL FIRE’s proposed maps in determining what properties they will underwrite… Therefore, a change in designation on the maps for a single homeowner is unlikely to affect their insurance.
What can I do? The proposed map has not been finalized. CAL FIRE is taking public comments through February 3, 2023, via email to FHSZcomments@fire.ca.gov.
CAL FIRE will hold a Public Hearing on Thursday, January 12, at 2 pm in the chambers of the Board of Supervisors, 575 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa.
It would be most effective to submit comments that address the factors used in CAL FIRE’s modeling. As noted, they do not consider fuel mitigation efforts because those can change in a few years. They model for the worst possible fires over decades. However, they do consider climate and topography.
Much of Bennett Valley enjoys cooling sea breezes and fog which may not have been considered. The model treats oaks and conifers as possessing identical risks, which seems mistaken because oaks are far less combustible.
If you want to comment, please attend the Public Hearing, or submit your written comments by February 3, 2023.