Three Principal Hazards
1 – FIRE
Before Covid 19, fire was the biggest threat facing towns in the California foothills. Now, as the virus threat lessens, fire season looms…
We must adapt to the new reality of fire danger.
Over the past few years, we have seen:
- The horrific fire in Paradise (2018, 86 fatalities, 18,800 structures)
- Fires in Santa Rosa (2017, 22 fatalities, 5,643 structures)
- Fire near Redding (2018, 8 fatalities, 1,604 structures)
That kind of loss of life and homes used to be a once in a generation event, but these fires happened within the last three years.
All of us are hearing about defensible space, go bags and emergency plans. But that’s just at the personal level. At all levels, towns and cities, counties, state government and even at the federal level there is the recognition that we are facing a different paradigm. We are confronting a threat that can take away our homes and our lives.
At the local level, we’ve created fire and safety councils. Counties have enacted ordinances to improve fire safety. Our emergency responders including CalFIre, local fire departments, and the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services are stepping up. The federal government, through BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation has improved its vegetation management efforts.
However, California State Parks is out of sync with our community and our first responders. Contrary to the efforts of other state agencies, State Parks has developed plans that ignore the obvious dangers their plans present to our community. It’s not just fire danger, although that’s the most serious, the plans also ignore well-known water safety issues, the drownings and swift water near-drownings that are weekly occurrences during the spring and early summer months.
It’s time for State Parks to recognize the new reality that threatens our communities. We are not opposed to recreation or development. We are opposed to endangering the lives and property of residents and visitors.
2 – EVACUATION / TRAFFIC
Current traffic at the American River within ASRA creates a hazardous condition. During the 2019 country fire along Hwy 193 (photo at right), cars were backed up all the way to Auburn, making evacuation in that direction impossible.
California law prohibits projects that worsen traffic on certain road conditions. CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) designates such conditions on a road LOS (Level of Service) scale. LOS E is a road that is “at or near capacity, with low speeds, poor comfort and frustration”. Highway 49 at the river confluence during the summer is even worse, a LOS F – “Breakdown condition. Long lines behind bottlenecks.”
State Parks’ documents skirts CEQA and El Dorado County requirements by pretending there is no traffic concern in this area. Its traffic study labels the roadway a LOS D (High density but stable). Poor Comfort.
How is this possible? Parks’ traffic study documents are riddled with errors that combined generate the false conclusion of acceptable traffic levels. Here are a few of the errors:
The study claims the most congested times are weekdays during the morning commute. This is laughable. Weekends during nice weather bring hordes of vehicles that clog local roads. Click here for an example of the traffic plan flaws.
The Cool area adjacent to ASRA has fewer evacuation routes than existed in Paradise. CalFire statistics show over 80% of fires are human caused. Providing campsites and parking for hundreds of thousands of additional visitors without additional evacuation routes is irresponsible and will lead to disaster. We must adapt to the new reality of fire danger.
3 – DROWNING
The water hazards of the American River are well known to local park staff, who have tried to keep visitors safe with signs, life preservers, and verbal warnings. In their words, the river is “fast, cold, stay out to stay alive.” In 2019, CalFire responded to over 80 swift water rescues. Their efforts limited drownings to “only” three victims that year.
If ASRA were a national park, it would have the highest drowning rate of any national park in the country.
It is irresponsible that State Parks has designed its expansion to “…bring more people to the river, that’s the main attraction”. Many of those rescued are familiar with swimming in reservoirs or pools and thus are unfamiliar with a fast moving, cold river. Safety experts say that to provide safety for waders and swimmers, they would have to staff two-person rescue teams on active watch wearing full cold water (think wet suits) gear.
Note: Licensed activities such as rafting or use of the river by properly equipped and experienced persons such as kayakers is a historically safe activity.