SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - Santa Clara County fire officials hope to combat deadly and destructive wildfires before they begin. The agency seeks funds, personnel, and equipment for a special unit dedicated to mitigating this type of natural disaster.
As acres, lives, and property burned in the North Bay last year, Santa Clara County officials took note. Santa Clara County has over a half-million acres of wilderness that are now green and growing from continued spring rains.
“In my mind, it’s just a matter of time before we’re faced with the same challenges,” said Cindy Chavez, the Dist. 3 representative on the county board of supervisors.
County fire officials recently submitted a mitigation plan of action to the board of supervisors, determined to identify wildfire risks and eliminate them before a fire starts.
“One of the primary things is just recognizing the complexities of different land ownership that exist with those open space areas. One of the recommendations was to approach this similar to how we approach other emergency planning functions,” said county Fire Captain Bill Murphy.
He said his department is recommending creating one team within county fire, to manage and prevent wildfires in all county communities. Currently, multiple municipalities and agencies tackle a patchwork of land stretching from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the East Foothills.
“Ultimately, wildfires don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries. A wildfire that starts in one community frequently will spread into an adjacent community,” said Murphy.
The new team would coordinate increased materials and extra staff to reduce the risk ahead of fire season. Forecasters point to new research showing temperatures are on the rise, not only during the day, but more so at night.
“The extra carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere slow down that cooling. So it just doesn’t get as cold at night,” said Dr. Alison Bridger, chairwoman of the San Jose State University Dept. of Meteorology and Climate Science. “That overnight dying down of fires doesn’t work quite as well as it would have used to.”
Officials say identifying and addressing risks ahead of time could mean the difference between brown zones erupting into burn zones this fire season.
“We have to look at what are the pieces of equipment we want access to? Some of those we’ll need to purchase,” said Chavez.
The county fire department will ask the board of supervisors for $1.2 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July, and $1.3 million for the fiscal year that begins in July 2020, to purchase equipment and add full-time staffers. Supervisors lament those needs will need to be balanced with other spending priorities, when the allocate funding, possibly as soon as next month.