The climate crisis is among key factors in a new assessment that shows more than 85% of California’s rural and unincorporated land is now in zones of “high” or “very high” severity for wildfire danger, according to the Department of State Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) was recently announced.
California’s newly proposed fire hazard zone map, which analyzes only the country for which Cal Fire is responsible and which is used primarily for insurance purposes, is based on long-term data and was created for a lifetime of a decade or more. The previous version from 2007 was considered obsolete.
The amount of land in “very high” severity zones saw a significant jump, up 14.6% in the new analysis. If the proposed map is approved, nearly 17 million acres — an area larger than the state of West Virginia — will lie in Cal Fire’s worst designation.
“A lot has happened since 2007,” Cal Fire said in a press release announcing the update. “Using the best available science with academic researchers and others, this updated map reflects the effects of a changing climate and includes a variety of other key factors.”
About 98% of California was under drought conditions this week, according to the US Drought Monitor, as the state continues to be gripped by a multi-year mega drought fueled by warmer temperatures and drier conditions.
As recently as 2018, California experienced the largest, deadliest, and most destructive wildfires in state history. For the past five years, California has averaged more than 7,000 wildfires per year, consuming an average of over 2 million acres, according to the governor’s office.
The proposed map only includes rural and unincorporated areas – cities and large urban areas are excluded, but are expected to be added in an updated version next year.
Dozens of meetings to discuss the findings are planned over the next few weeks to allow for public comment before the map is officially adopted.
“CAL FIRE fire scientists and wildfire response experts developed the map using a science-based and field-tested model that assigns a hazard score based on the factors affecting fire likelihood and behavior. Many factors are taken into account, such as B. Fire history, existing and potential fuel (natural vegetation), predicted flame length, blowing embers, terrain and typical fire weather for an area. These zones fall into the following classifications – moderate, high and very high,” the agency said.
Cal Fire says the new map should help communities tailor their wildfire planning and preparedness to the most vulnerable locations. The zones are also used to determine where defensible space standards are required, building codes for the wildland-city interface, and the state’s minimum fire safety regulations per Cal Fire.