State updates fire hazard severity zone map — and gives stakeholders little time to respond

Jan 18, 2023

Cal Cities and others are urging Cal FIRE to extend the public comment period an additional 60 days.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal released a draft of the state’s Fire Hazard Severity Zone Map for the state’s rural, unincorporated areas (State Responsibility Area). Stakeholders were given just a few weeks to respond.

The draft map comprehensively ranks the State Responsibility Area based on the likelihood of wildfires. It does not include cities or large urban areas. However, the methodology and data behind the map will inform the upcoming Local Responsibility Area map, which deals entirely with cities.

Both maps will impact local land use policies and wildfire management, as certain areas have been recategorized into different severity levels.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is a program under the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal FIRE). CAL FIRE spent the better half of a decade developing both maps using publicly unavailable data. However, stakeholders were only provided a 45-day window to review the State Responsibility Area map.

The draft map was released on Dec. 14, just a week before major holidays. Some of the related 57 public hearings were held 48 hours after the map was released or during holiday weekends.

The League of California Cities and a robust coalition — which includes the California Chamber of Commerce and California Building Industry Association — are urging Cal FIRE to extend the public comment period an additional 60 days beyond the current Feb. 3 deadline. The coalition is also seeking more information about the modeling, including inputs and algorithms.

Local agencies have decades of relevant and meaningful data. They need adequate time to review the new map and related studies, as well as their own data. Without a more forgiving timeline, agencies will likely be forced to “data dump” enormous amounts of information without the requisite analysis. This will likely further slow this process or result in inaccurate map designations.

Overall, the new map shows increased fire hazard, reflecting California’s increase in wildfire occurrence and severity. The change is the result of many factors, including a changing climate. This will have potentially significant insurance implications.

The Local Responsibility Area map will be updated this spring. Cal Cities will continue to advocate for the release of appropriate data and information to ensure collaboration and success with other stakeholders.