Santa Rosa, California
In 2017, Santa Rosa was ravaged by the Tubbs Fire, part of a series of fast-moving wildfires that spread across Northern California. To better plan for and reduce the risk of future wildfires, the city decided to integrate its community wildfire protection plan and local hazard mitigation plan. The community wildfire protection plan annex builds on the local mitigation plan by providing more detailed, site-specific wildfire assessments and an action plan for mitigating wildfire risk. The city developed the plan through collaborating with local and state officials, private stakeholders and federal agencies.
The threat of wildland fires is a year-round reality in Northern California. Dry vegetation and seasonal hot and dry winds promote dangerous fires. Each year, wildland fires have the potential to threaten thousands of homes in Santa Rosa’s Wildland-Urban Interface where homes are built near or inside wildfire-prone lands.
In 2016, the city of Santa Rosa adopted their current hazard mitigation plan. The community described wildfire as a “high risk” hazard with a very high probability. The plan includes information about the highest risk areas, including a City Wildland-Urban Interface zone, but the city soon realized this plan was no longer adequate. In 2017, one year following the approval of the hazard mitigation plan, the Tubbs and Nuns fires ravaged the city. Twenty-four lives were lost. The Tubbs was the more destructive, burning more than 36,000 acres. In the Santa Rosa city limits alone, the fires destroyed more than 3,000 homes, 25 commercial buildings and critical infrastructure.
Following the Tubbs Fire, the city recognized the need to update and refine its hazard mitigation plan. Despite being in the “implementation phase” or “off-cycle” for planning, the city successfully applied for funding through the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to update its hazard mitigation plan by integrating a community wildfire protection plan.
The city of Santa Rosa’s fire department understands the city’s fire risk. In addition to fighting devastating fires, it plays a key role in educating residents about wildfire safety. The fire department leads community-wide mitigation actions and implements policies designed to protect residents and structures. The department knows risk mitigation is most effective when integrated with other city efforts and supported by multiple organizations.
The fire department led the citywide collaboration to develop a community wildfire protection plan as an annex to the city’s 2016 hazard mitigation plan. This annex gives the plan more detailed, site-specific wildfire assessments and an action plan for mitigating wildfire risk. The city collaborated with local and state officials, private stakeholders and federal agencies to develop the plan.
Historically, Santa Rosa has been on the receiving end of large-scale wildfires that originate outside the city limits. During the development of the community wildfire protection plan, the city was threatened by the Kincade Fire in 2019 and directly affected by the Glass Fire in 2020. The city’s coordination with outside agencies will play a critical role in protecting it from events like these.
The plan identified and prioritized several risk reduction measures, including identifying areas for hazard fuel reduction treatments such as controlled fire, biological methods or mechanical treatments to reduce fuel sources in heavily wooded areas. The plan for reducing fire risk also included sharing steps individuals and homeowners can take to protect their property.
Integrating wildfire plans into the local hazard mitigation plan provided several advantages for the community, the region and the state:
- Coordinated outreach efforts allowed the collaboration of relevant stakeholders, especially representatives from the state and county.
- Web content was redesigned using the framework from the community wildfire protection plan.
- A more detailed and action-oriented all-hazards plan had increased clarity about the impacts of wildfire on flood and erosion risks.
- The specific details from each of the two plans that were integrated resulted in stronger individual plans and a more detailed geography.
The Santa Rosa community wildfire protection plan was made to be consistent with the objectives and policies in Santa Rosa’s General Plan and other related plans. This integrated, community-focused planning approach allows the city to take a holistic view in planning and includes businesses and residents in the risk identification process.
The city is currently a partner agency in the development of the Sonoma County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Once that plan is adopted, the city will update its own hazard mitigation plan. The plan will enhance public awareness and understanding of both local and countywide hazards, including wildfires, that threaten public health, safety and welfare.
The Sonoma County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan also provides the opportunity for inter-jurisdictional coordination of mitigation-related programming. One of the plan’s key mitigation actions is to implement all actionable items from the community wildfire protection plan, thus fully integrating the city’s wildfire protection plan into the hazard mitigation plan.
Integrating hazard mitigation planning with wildfire plans strengthens the risk assessment and mitigation actions and expands communication and coordination among key organizations.
- A plan update does not have to wait until Year 5: An “off-cycle” plan update can help ensure the mitigation plan reflects current risks and concerns.
- More detailed hazard-specific information can come from integration: Community wildfire protection plans help communities determine which areas have the highest risk for wildfire and how to mitigate those risks.
- Collaboration makes the plans stronger: Integrating hazard mitigation and community wildfire protection plans deepens the relationships between key planners and stakeholders and strengthens both plans by connecting wildfire to other hazards and ensuring the plan’s consistency with community goals.
- Integration opens the door to potential funding: Plan integration can provide increased opportunities for using grant funding.
Related Documents and Links
- Santa Rosa Fire Department
- Santa Rosa Wildfire Ready
- Santa Rosa Community Wildfire Protection Plan
- Santa Rosa Hazard Mitigation Plan
In addition, a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan is required for certain kinds of non-emergency disaster funding. To learn more about funding eligible projects, review the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the new pre-disaster mitigation program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities.