PARADISE, Butte County (KPIX 5) — Six months ago, the Camp Fire began tearing through the Butte County town of Paradise. But along with all the devastation came some important lessons; Wednesday morning, state regulators toured the area to see how fire preparation and response can be improved.
But while the state wants to be better prepared for wildfires, firefighters say nothing could have been done to stop the Camp Fire that night. It was a perfect storm of dry fuels and high winds that led to the destruction of 92 percent of the town’s structures. Cal Fire Chief David Hawks grew up in Paradise and says he didn’t think it was even possible.
“I never envisioned that fire would sweep through the town as it did,” he said. “Never, ever thought that would occur.”
Members of the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection embarked on a listening tour Wednesday to find out how firefighters think forestry policies could be changed to better deal with wildfires.
“You know, what is the best way to both protect the environment and keep people and communities safe?” said Board Chairman Keith Gilless.
The buses rolled through burned neighborhoods and past the remains of homes and businesses. But they also saw a retirement complex that firefighters were able to save because a 200-foot wide swath of vegetation had been removed earlier.
“I’m a forester and I love trees but not every single one needs a hug,” said Cal Fire Butte Unit Forester Dave Derby. “And so, having too many on the landscape is a problem.”
Often, well-intended regulations get in the way of fire suppression and recovery. Normally, homeowners can’t remove trees, even burned trees, from their property without an environmental review, so Butte County had to get a special exemption so homeowners could begin the process of rebuilding.
“It would be beneficial to have this regulation in place for the whole state so we don’t have to do it on a county-by-county basis,” Derby said.
The board will review its regulations, from building standards to fuel reduction to evacuation procedures. The chairman says, with a growing risk of disaster, Sacramento is eager to develop a more effective wildfire protection plan.
“Let’s re-look at everything we’re doing and see what needs to change,” Gilless said.
The board will use the information it got from the tour to help create a comprehensive statewide plan to deal with wildfire. The objective won’t be to prevent a wildfire but to figure out what to do before, during and after the fire to lessen its impact.