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Napa Co. fire department says clearing vegetation helping prevent future wildfires

PIX Now 12:26

NAPA (CBS SF/BCN) – After multiple years of massive wildfires burning up neighborhoods and choking Northern California skies, the Napa County Fire Department is being proactive about preventing future fires. 

Napa County Fire Chief Jason Martin on Tuesday updated the county's Board of Supervisors on the department's fire prevention measures for the current fire season.

To help residents living in fire hazard zones clear their vegetation that could readily burn, the department started the Chipper program and has completed 647 public requests, with 26 pending so far this year. Upon request, a designated crew would help remove dead or dying woody surfaces and aerial fuels using trucks and chippers, a process called chipping, within 100 feet of residential structures. The total area chipped this year is approximately 26 acres. 

"We're still on pace with being able to keep up with all of those requests," Martin said. "It's a sign that we still have engagement with the public and they're still looking for those services."

The fire department has also completed 2,388 defensible space inspections and started the re-inspection process for some areas of concern to work on mitigation, including avenues and estates in Berryessa Highlands and Angwin. Martin explained that the inspectors primarily look at the outside of buildings in the threat of fire coming in and also the chances of fire establishing in the building and extending into the wildland.

Based on public feedback, Martin said the department would focus more on providing consulting services to homeowners on doing defensible space and posting how-to videos rather than literal guidance.

In addition to engaging with residential homes, the fire department is also involving the local industry in fire control measures. For instance, the Chappellet Winery on Pritchard Hill has been building infrastructure such as egress routes, shaded fuel breaks and sprinkler systems on its property to protect people from potential fires.

During the presentation, Martin also highlighted a $25,000 donation from Napa Valley Vintners that helped implement a platform called IamResponding, an emergency notification and response system that links the Napa County Fire Department with volunteer fire stations located throughout Napa County.

About 83 acres burned in Napa County from Sept. 22 to Oct. 2, while the number was 290 acres last year for the same time period. The predicted significant fire potential is normal from October to January.

"Not only in the region but also in the state that we've had a fairly mild fire season," Martin said. "However, I want to remind everybody that we're still in fire season. We expect to be in fire season until December, until we get some good substantial rain."

The department held several events in September addressing the importance of getting prepared for fire issues, including the Calistoga fire safe council community meeting and an emergency preparedness workshop in Yountville. 

This month, the department will hold its 100th fire prevention week from Oct. 9 to 15. A fire escape event will educate residents on simple actions they can take to keep themselves safe from home fires.

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