By Devin Fehely

LOS GATOS (KPIX 5) — Cal Fire has launched an ambitious project to trim trees and clear brush from a 6.5-mile stretch of Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains from the summit north to Los Gatos.

Cal Fire says Highway 17 is both an important evacuation route and in its current condition a potential problem — hemmed in on both sides by overgrown and largely untamed forest.

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“People are going to get stuck and they’re not going to be able to get out. And they’re going to have to shelter in their vehicles,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mike Mathiesen. “And like we saw in Paradise, if you’re sheltering in a car in an area that’s not been treated or you’re right up against the vegetation that’s on fire, it’s not a very tenable situation.”

Segment of Highway 17 where Cal Fire is undertaking a brush-clearing and tree-trimming operation.

Mathiesen described the project as complex and challenging because it involved getting permission from hundreds of public and private property owners before the work could begin.

“We know that in an emergency it’s going to be a good thing that all of the combustible materials have been removed,” said Alice Hoagland who hesitantly agreed to the removal of a few shade trees in her backyard. “So, we’re fully in favor of it. But I’m biting my lip a little bit about the loss of a couple of trees.

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The $9 million project is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide effort to reduce the risk of the devastating wildfires that have ravaged California the past two years.

Cal Fire says it hopes to have the work along Highway 17 completed by December.

Most neighbors say they’re thankful for Cal Fire’s effort even if it meant losing a few trees; a willing sacrifice in the name of safety.

“We are enthusiastic about them coming in and trimming up,” said neighbor Dorice Piraino. “We have been nervous about a fire coming through here with all of the recent fires that have happened.”


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