Many Proposals To Make Paradise More Wildfire Resistant End Up On Chopping Block

Jun 12, 2019

John Messina, Paradise's new Fire Chief and a Division Chief with Cal Fire, makes a case to err on the side of safety, especially following the unprecedented speed and destruction of the Camp Fire.
Credit Marc Albert

Fully half of the proposals developed to make Paradise more resilient to wildfire wound up dead in the water at the Paradise Town Council meeting Tuesday evening.   

Conceived in the wake of the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in state history, twenty concepts, the vast majority fire related building code changes, were developed over a series of well attended public meetings.

Paradise Fire Chief and Cal Fire Division Chief John Messina said adopting regulations concerning defensible space and a prohibition on combustible materials within five feet of a home were probably the most important.

“It is absolutely impossible to make Paradise fire proof, it’s just unrealistic,” Messina said. “There are going to be those that do everything right and their home will burn down, and there’s going to be those who do everything wrong and their home is going to stand, but I will tell you this, with actions that are proposed will help in reducing the likelihood of another catastrophic fire.”

 

If you make it too hard to move back, we're not going to come back. - Vincent Childs, Paradise Resident

Perhaps the most controversial proposal, requiring all new manufactured homes to come equipped with sprinklers, went down to defeat. Already required for stick built homes in designated wildland fire risk areas, the idea was to eliminate a regulatory gap. The council balked after several members of the public said the expense—cited as roughly $19,000 by one speaker—could make the difference between rebuilding and returning, or not.  

Resident Josie Wheeler was one of the residents who expressed concerns.  

“Is a safer home better than no home at all?” Wheeler said. “Because, that’s going to price some people out of, it’s going to put people not able to put up their home.”

The proposals that did pass: requiring fire resistant rain gutters, requiring all structures needing a building permit to comply with stricter state Wildland-Urban Interface codes, prohibiting any flammable material other than plants within five feet of a home and banishing retaining walls made from railroad ties among others, will return to the council for further consideration. Some, like resident Vincent Childs said he feared the town will change too much.

“If you make it too hard to move back, we’re not going to come back,” Childs said. “I won’t come back to a town that has to be concreted in left and right and buried this and that, that’s not my idea of Paradise.”