American River Watershed Institute
Fire Safety Project | Problem: Fire in California


The project team chose to approach the problem from scientific and sociological perspectives. The intent was to demonstrate the scope and nature of the wildfire threat in California, its causes, its effects on watershed and forest health, and its impact on residents of Placer County and the City of Colfax. The demonstration shaded fuel break serves a practical safety objective and provides a model of organization to benefit future fire safe activities.

These are the basic principles that formed the context of the project:

  • The nature of fire in California . . . it's a fact of life.
  • Forest fuel loads that feed fires, how those fuel loads have evolved, and how they can be controlled to reduce fire impacts.
  • How homeowners can take personal responsibility for fire safety, creating defensible spaces around their homes.
  • The added power of combining community and neighborhood efforts to enhance fire resistance and reduce risk to property.
  • Specific local fire concerns related to Placer County and the City of Colfax.
  • Fire effects on water quality throughout the watershed.

The history of California wildfires indicates that the following trends will continue:

  1. Risk from wildfire to life, property, natural resources, and firefighter safety is increasing. Population will grow and more people will live and use wildland areas, especially in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Based on population projections, the potential for accelerating loss of protected assets, especially life and property, will be greater from disastrous wildfires.

  2. More structures will be constructed in areas that are very susceptible to wildfire. The historical legacy of narrow roads, difficult entrance, insufficient water supplies, flammable building construction and location will continue to make many communities and homes wildfire-prone.

  3. Assets at risk will increase, especially watershed assets, because of the rapid rise in the demand for water to supply more people. Public demand for wildland fire protection and other services will increase.

  4. Topography and climate support ecosystems where large wildfires can be expected. Drought and fuel moisture conditions will be unpredictable but almost always dangerous in fire season.

  5. Large wildfires do not respect political or property boundaries. The ability to rapidly mobilize, effectively deploy and support large numbers of specialized firefighting resources is essential to cope with large multiple fires. Fire protection forces in California must have sufficient depth to respond to large, multiple wildfires and still prevent other small fires from becoming large damaging fires.

— Adapted from Introduction to the I-Zone (2001, PDF*, 2.1 MB)