Pre-Fire Management

Jason Weber, Chief, Fire Department

Born from the State Board of Forestry's 1996 California Fire Plan, Marin County Fire Department implemented a Pre-Fire Management program in 1998.

Dramatic and damaging fires like the Mount Vision and the Oakland Hills occur nearly every summer in California. Within the state from 1984 to 1993, over 7000 homes were destroyed by wildland fire, 75 lives lost, with a cost of 3-billion dollars for damage and suppression. The goal of the Fire Plan is to reduce these wildfire related losses to citizens and government.

To accomplish this goal, the Marin County Fire Department hired a fire captain specialist to assess wildland fire hazards in the county. The four factors that make up the assessment are: hazardous fuel loading, severe fire weather, assets at risk, and past levels of service. Using new computer technology, each of these factors will be mapped to indicate areas of high risk and high hazard.

The primary goal of fire protection in Marin is to safeguard the wide range of assets found across wildland areas. There are several categories of assets listed in the state’s Fire Plan, such as: structures, air quality, water quality, infrastructure, etc. Some of these categories are tangible such as "structures" while others are harder to evaluate such as "air quality." Each category was compared to fuel loading to indicate overall risk.

With the completion of the assessment that identifies high-hazard areas in Marin County, vegetation management projects will be designed to reduce the hazard. Prescribed burning, chipping, and focused public education are a few examples of projects aimed at protecting assets at risk. The assessment identifies Marin County stakeholders, defined as any person, agency or organization with a particular interest (a stake) in fire safety and protection of assets from wildland fires. Stakeholders will play a vital role in designing and implementing fire hazard reduction projects.


Hazardous Fuels

Hazardous fuels are the vegetation that feeds a wildfire. Due to the aggressive fire suppression policies during the last fifty years in America, fuels have been allowed to accumulate to dangerous proportions. When fires ignite in these tinderboxes, they burn more rapidly and with greater intensity. Through the assessment process, the location and density of these fuels will be evaluated.

Weather Effects

Weather is the biggest factor of the fire equation. Since weather is a dynamic process, little can be done to alter its effects. This assessment is aimed at a better understanding of effects weather has on fuel and direction of fire spread as it relates to asset damage. The department intends to determine which locations suffer extreme fire weather with the most frequency based on aspect, historical weather from five fire weather stations, canopy sheltering, and marine inversion layers.

Level of Service (LOS) Assessment

The Level of Service (LOS) is an assessment that focuses on identifying areas with the potential of unacceptable loss and high-cost fires. For this assessment, the department created a new model. There are several components that define an unacceptable loss and high suppression cost fire. The department narrowed down four components that are common factors with damaging-costly fires. They are potential structure loss, travel times to the fire, historical fire occurrence, and resistance to control.

The assessment was performed using advanced mapping analysis using Geographic Information Systems or GIS. GIS is a method of analysis that allows the end user to overlay maps. To verify that projects are valuable, models of fire spread are created.