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Wildfire safety hot topic at Paradise council meeting

Screenshot of the March 12, 2024 Paradise Town Council meeting
Angel Huracha
Screenshot of the March 12, 2024 Paradise Town Council meeting

The Paradise Town Council voted in several actions earlier this week to address wildfire safety and help people evacuate during an emergency. Staff also reported progress on wildfire resiliency projects.

The council voted unanimously to approve Paradise’s new “Safety Element,” which is a set of recommended actions to reduce wildfire danger and improve climate change adaptation to meet statewide and regional standards.

Some of the broad recommendations included in the element are: creating wildfire buffers, improving road infrastructure, community outreach about disaster preparedness and improving the town’s early warning messaging.

The town will also apply for disaster mitigation grants to improve its evacuation protocols, as well as other infrastructure projects.

The council voted to approve an application for Community Development Block Grant funds specifically earmarked for disaster mitigation and resilience administered through the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Among other things, Paradise wants to use the money to fund signs. These changeable message boards would be located on all major evacuation routes and display helpful information about traffic flow and direction during an emergency. Another project would buy street signs of different colors that indicate whether a road is a viable throughway or a dead end.

Additionally, the money would fund stormwater drainage infrastructure improvements for major flooding and storm events.

Why the funding is necessary

All in all, the town will ask for $7 million, far more than the $2.5 million cap. The funding entity will allow the request so long as the town can prove its need.

Town Engineer and Public Works Director Marc Mattox said the price tag is worth it.

If the town’s application is rejected or under-awarded, the town could save money by moving funds around to address one or two projects and leave the others behind. But Mattox warned against that idea.

“What if we pick the wrong one to leave out?” Mattox said.

He believes these projects might have saved lives if they had been implemented comprehensively during the deadly 2018 Camp Fire. Mattox wants the town to implement the projects no matter how the application turns out.

“I get asked this question … will this fix the next Camp Fire? No. There’s no one thing that will fix it or make it better,” Maddox said. “But if we were to have done everything, collectively … they would have completely made a difference.”

Council member Rose Tryon agreed, saying the projects would have made a difference for the 85 people who died in the fire.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that I look at with many of our decisions, it would have made a difference for their lives," Tryon said.

Not the first evacuation message signs project in Paradise

Last year, the Paradise town council approved a project to erect road signs telling drivers which evacuation zone they are leaving or entering. Now, some of those signs – including one in Bille Park – are already standing, said Mayor Ron Lassonde.

The signs will help drivers and others habitually learn the names of the evacuation zones they frequent throughout town, Lassonde said.

“Say you’re at a Save-Mart. What zone is that? When you’re shopping and you hear that alarm going off, I wouldn’t know. I’m supposed to know and I don’t sometimes,” Lassonde said.

Staff said all signs should be complete in a few days.

The town council is also working on other projects to improve wildfire resiliency. After this week’s vote, the town will hire 3 full-time staff to reduce hazardous fuels in the area.

Additionally, all 21 towers of the town’s early warning sirens system are now up and operational, and awaiting some final aesthetic and traffic camera additions.

Staff say there will be a training and handoff for emergency management officials in June, after which the system will officially be in use.

Jamie was NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covered all things fire, but her main focus was wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as a podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.