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  • Jeffrey Siegel

Firewise Glenridge Park/LG - the newest Firewise USA neighborhood in America!

Firewise USA is a nationwide program, created by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), that empowers residents to take property-specific actions that reduce vulnerability to wildfire risks. In California alone, there are over 300 Firewise USA communities that have embraced the program, growing to over 1,700 communities across the country. Glenridge Park/LG is joining communities that across the state and country have recognized the rising threat that wildfires pose to their safety and have taken actions to better protect their neighborhoods. Marin has set a great example of what can be achieved with this program.

The highly respected Firewise USA program working in tight sync with all of the states’ fire departments, calls on homeowners to become active agents in the safety of their families and neighborhood, working closely with fire professionals from CalFire and in the case of Los Gatos, also with Santa Clara County Fire. Both CalFire and Santa Clara County Fire have now assigned Battalion Chiefs to assist us in executing our Firewise Glenridge Park action plan. The Firewise USA program was conceived because the NFPA recognized that elected officials and town staff rarely have an in-depth understanding of wildfire safety nor do they act with the needed urgency required when imminent danger is at hand. And according to Governor Newsom’s Wildfire Emergency Proclamation, people living in the wildland urban interface zone (between inner town and mountains), like us, are at extreme and growing risk with each successive ever-longer and hotter wildfire season.

Firewise Glenridge Park is also working in alignment with the Governor’s Office Wildfire Emergency Proclamation to bring added resources and focus towards creating a safer California, particularly for residents whose homes are situated in the wildland urban interface (WUI). The WUI in California has been officially declared an ‘extreme risk’ area and the first priority for where proactive actions can and should be taken to prevent loss of lives and property. Did you know that roughly 50% of Los Gatos geography encompassing several historic neighborhoods including all of Glenridge Park sits in the WUI?

In the case of Los Gatos, the Glenridge neighborhood on the Southwest side of Town was the logical place to begin Firewise USA participation because it represents the ‘perfect storm’ of wildfire conditions leaving us particularly vulnerable – more so than other close-in sections of Los Gatos.

More than any other part of historic Los Gatos, the neighborhood of Glenridge Park is particularly vulnerable to the existential threat from wildfires due to seven factors:

1) the howling winds that blast through during the wildfire season that can easily carry fire embers several miles to ignite new vegetation and structural fuel

2) the high structural ignitability of the many historic homes in our community some of which have wood-shingled roofs to this day

3) the presence of an abandoned home stripped of windows, doors, and exterior siding that is the perfect fuel source for fire

4) the close proximity of lots making it easier for a fire to spread to adjacent properties

5) high-flammability vegetation such as the two rows of massive eucalyptus trees along Overlook and Laurel avenues

6) our close proximity to the Santa Cruz mountains where multiple wildfires burn every year

7) our wildfire evacuation routes get blocked each summer and into fall due to the Waze-directed beach-going traffic through our neighborhood bringing 4-wheeled mobility at times to a complete standstill.

Glenridge Park serves as the fire line between the mountains and the rest of town on the Southwest side. Not only would this neighborhood be the first to get hit, but if Glenridge Park burns, it brings the fire into Almond Grove as well further multiplying the risk factor to Los Gatos.

Unlike most of Los Gatos, Glenridge Park sits perched above the town making it subject to strong winds that can exceed 60 miles per hour tearing town trees and quickly carrying a fire ember several miles in distance. This means a wildfire several miles into the mountains can easily and swiftly spread to Glenridge Park and burn through our entire neighborhood in a matter of minutes as was evidenced in the town of Paradise.

It’s important to note that Los Gatos has a higher wildfire risk score than that of Paradise which is a town two hours north of Sacramento and roughly the geographic and population size of Los Gatos. Due to a raging wildfire, the entire town of Paradise fell prey to the flames that in its wake brought complete and utter destruction. That’s what happens when a perfect storm hits. The same perfect storm conditions that Glenridge Park now faces with the impending wildfire season. Imagine an entire community vanishing within a matter a couple of hours – that’s how fast a wildfire spreads given the right conditions. And with winds so strong they create their own micro-climate, with intense heat that quickly melts metal, it limits what a local fire department can do to fight back.

This is why we have decided to partner with NFPA (the National Fire Protection Association), CalFire, and Santa Clara County Fire to ensure that collectively we take neighborhood-specific actions that will keep our neighborhood better protected from the rapidly growing threat of wildfires.

To become a Firewise USA neighborhood, which gives us access to additional wildfire safety resources, we are required to create and execute an annual wildfire safety action plan. This plan reflects the collective participation and commitment from each and every one of us, because when we commit to creating a fire-safe property, we protect both ourselves and our neighbors. We are in this battle against the threat from wildfire together, and together we can significantly lower our collective risk.

This will also matter to your insurance company as they have recognized the positive impact that Firewise USA neighborhoods have on lowering their insurance risks as well, and hopefully in lower your future insurance costs. And by making our neighborhood a model for wildfire safety, we set the example for all of Los Gatos while ensuring the long-term value of our homes. Future prospective buyers will want assurances that they are buying into a safe neighborhood for their families, and fire safety is clearly growing in importance as a home buying factor.

California-state Assembly Bill 38, recently passed, institutes new rules that will require property owners to explicitly disclose to prospective buyers what fire-safe measures have and have not been taken. We directly increase the value of our homes and of our neighborhood when we can establish a high level of compliance with the new state-defined measures for wildfire safety.

Modern building codes as stipulated by the state of California have gone a long way to protecting newer homes from the threat of wildfire, and indeed it is primarily those code-compliant homes that survived the Paradise fire. While newly built or rebuilt homes in Los Gatos adhere to these standards, most historic homes in Los Gatos do not. And it is largely historic homes, built before the 1930’s that populate the roughly 50% of the town’s geography that is defined as wildland urban interface.

Firewise Glenridge Park’s action plan aims to lower the risk to life and property by having the neighborhood work in concert together to undertake collective Firewise actions, many of which are addressing ‘structural ignitability’ for older homes We welcome you to come to the neighborhood educational workshops being scheduled to learn more about the Firewise USA Program, to hear directly from Santa Clara County Fire, and to learn about the wildlife threat assessment that was recently completed, and the neighborhood action plan that we will work to execute together, beginning before the 2020 wildfire season is upon us.

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