Reflection from Napa Firewise

February 4, 2023

Napa Valley Register – Christopher Thompson and Gretchen E. Hayes

2022 was a landmark year for the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation (Napa Firewise) and wildfire resilience in Napa County. Working with our community partners, and funded by generous grants and donations from public and private sources, we were proud and grateful to accomplish a record number of major wildfire fuel reduction projects – 45, to be exact.

For those who may not be familiar, some background: Napa Firewise has been active since 2006. Founded by senior fire professionals and concerned community leaders, Napa Firewise was created to address the clear danger presented by a build-up of volatile fire fuels across Napa County. Starting with a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and Napa County Fire Department, the mission of Napa Firewise is twofold: to complete strategic wildfire fuel reduction projects and encourage residents to be proactive in making their properties and neighborhoods safer and better prepared for the next wildfire.

The heart and soul of Napa Firewise are our 20 all-volunteer, neighborhood Fire Safe Councils (FSCs) and our community and public leaders at all levels, from city and town councils and local fire departments, to Napa County, Cal Fire and our state public and private leaders. Napa Firewise provides guidance to these FSCs and leaders to assess wildfire risks, bring neighbors together to become active in fire fuel mitigation projects, aided by vegetation management experts and organizations like Napa Firewise helping to do this work. Each community leader and FSC spreads the word that we all share the responsibility for wildfire preparedness, neighbor to neighbor, block by block. To say that the hundreds of people participating in these grassroots fire safe councils and stakeholder organizations are inspiring is an understatement. Their dedication to this cause is truly transformative for this place we love.

Here’s a partial list of Napa Firewise’s accomplishments from this past year.

  • $6.3 million in grants and private donations funded completion of 45 wildfire fuel reduction projects spanning 287 acres in 17 Napa County Fire Safe communities.
  • 65 miles of roadside vegetation clearance treatments along 17 key wildfire evacuation routes, as well as expanded roadside buffers on six highly hazardous roads.
  • Created wildfire defense buffers in and around residential communities in Angwin, Berryessa Highlands, Berryessa Estates, Circle Oaks and Silverado.
  • Inspected and cleared vegetation around 218 homes to create defensible space.
  • Launched an innovative residential defensible space cost share program helping 315 property owners in high fire severity areas clear vegetation to protect their homes, families and neighbors from the spread of wildfires.
  • Reflect to Protect program: Installed 600 reflective “911” address signs to protect homeowners and guide emergency responders throughout Calistoga in a partnership with Bank of the West, Cal Fire Napa County and Calistoga Fire Department.
  • Began a 710-acre Forest Health improvement project in Angwin.
  • Hosted or participated in 15 wildfire preparedness outreach events from Calistoga to American Canyon.

2023 promises to be as busy and impactful a year for Napa Firewise. Our slate of projects and initiatives include:

  • 36 wildfire fuel reduction projects will be completed by spring 2023.
  • County-wide expansion of the residential defensible space cost sharing program for pre-approved wildfire fuel clearing work around homes.
  • Expansion of our Reflect to Protect 911 signage program to residents county-wide, grant funding permitting.
  • Up to 100 miles of ridgetop fuel modification in various strategic locations throughout Napa County.
  • Launching up to five new Fire Safe Councils in high wildfire severity regions.
  • Hosting in-person and virtual outreach events, such as educational field trips, wildfire preparedness workshops, town halls and fire safe fairs with community leaders and partner organizations.

Napa Firewise’s long-term plan to improve wildfire resiliency and safety in Napa County — a massive undertaking given the scale and complexity of terrain in the wildland-urban interface with 138,000 residents — requires a sustained effort on everyone’s part. Much like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, we’re never really finished; progress on strategic wildfire fuel breaks must be maintained each year to thwart potential wildfire spread. Our challenge for 2023 and beyond, especially as Measure L fell short, is simple: building on the support from our public and community leaders to identify sources of sustainable, long-term funding to complete the job. On any given day, our Napa Firewise team is pursuing federal, state and county grants, public and private donations, business sponsorships and more.