San Mateo County gears up for wildfire season


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The majority of San Mateo County is in a red zone, meaning it is at a high risk for wildfires.

Audrey Boyce, Scot Scoop Editor

As September approaches and temperatures are well into the 90s, Californians prepare for the possibility of another deadly wildfire season. Local officials constantly watch the Wildland Urban Interface Zones in the county with high wildfire risk levels.

Over the past few years, the rate of destructive wildfires in California has been steadily increasing, with last year’s Paradise fire the worst in the state’s history.

PG&E is taking a new approach to reducing the risk of wildfires by focusing on preparing the community for power outages. Last month, Northern California residents received a notification that PG&E may need to turn off people’s power during extreme weather or wildfire conditions.

While large companies such as PG&E begin to take action, groups formed by community members have also emerged to address the risk of fire.

Among them is the Sierra Club, which will be responding to rising concerns about local wildfires by hosting a summit on Sept. 14, 2019. The summit will focus on topics such as evacuation planning and how the transmission of emergency alerts will work.

San Mateo County contains a large red zone, indicating a high-risk wildfire area. Because of this, trees are required to be a certain distance away from telephone lines and houses.

“There are many fuel sources in the area that need to be thinned to prevent a large fire from developing should ignition occur,” said Graig Clements from the Fire Weather Research Laboratory.

Sandra Green, who lives near a high wildfire risk area in San Carlos, joined a San Mateo County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) so that she could be better prepared in case of a fire. 

“I live on a cul-de-sac with limited exit routes. You can’t be sure if you’ll be able to drive a car out. You need to have a backpack ready in case you need to hike out. The bag should have some food, water, medicines, and dog food,” Green said.

Red zone areas surround Carlmont, making wildfires a possible danger to students and staff on campus. The school communicates closely with the Belmont Police Department to make decisions in the case of an emergency.

“We will be doing drills throughout the year to help develop a team of personnel responsible for carrying out their duties and communicating our expectations to the student body as we go forward. Safety is our priority,” said Gregg Patner, one of Carlmont’s administrative vice principals and the administrator for the Comprehensive School Safety Plan.

Many members of the San Mateo County community have voiced their concerns, calling for a solution.

“The local fire departments are all worried. We should not be building our houses with so many combustibles, and it doesn’t help that you have trees so close around the houses,” said Harrie H. Hastie Jr., a former building inspector and current member of a CERT. “But if we get 100 mph winds and high enough temperatures, removing trees won’t stop the flames until they get to the bay.”