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Sonoma County hazard plan foresaw deadly Wine Country fire

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by Joaquin Palomino and Kimberly Veklerov October 27, 2017 read full SF Chronicle article here

On a hot September night in 1964, 70-mph winds pushed a cascade of flames through the dry vegetation of Mark West Canyon and into the outer edges of Santa Rosa, destroying more than 100 homes and burning 52,000 acres. Until this month, that blaze, known as the Hanley Fire, was the worst in modern Sonoma County history, and the path it carved was remarkably similar to the one the devastating Tubbs Fire would follow a half century later.

….As recently as last spring, a Sonoma County report on potential hazards facing the region cautioned that a fire comparable to the Hanley blaze could cause “catastrophic damage to the county and the city of Santa Rosa.”

If multiple blazes broke out around the state during fire-weather conditions, firefighting resources in Sonoma County could be stretched beyond their capacity, the Hazard Mitigation Plan said. “It is not inconceivable,” it stated, “that a large uncontrolled wildland fire could overwhelm resources and cause significant damage.”…

…The report also notes that parts of Sonoma County most prone to wildfires are heavily reliant on a shrinking number of part-time, volunteer firefighters, a problem seen across the county.

To reduce the potential loss of life and property from a natural disaster in Sonoma County, the plan includes action strategies. Mitigation measures completed in recent years include:

•A vegetation-abatement program in unincorporated areas that inspects properties and requires owners to remove dead plants, weeds and other potential fuel for fires. A pilot effort is in place in two areas that were not directly affected by the recent fires.

•Stricter safety standards for new homes, particularly those built in high-risk wildfire areas. These include additional building restrictions on venting, roofing and siding materials.

•Providing a free, roadside wood chipping service to help residents create or maintain a buffer around their homes, also known as a defensible space.

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