A woman in a government meeting

Fire Safe Council Pushes Preparedness

A woman in a government meeting

Richmond City Council member and West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council President Soheila Bana spoke on fire safety at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. (Screenshot captured by Julia Métraux / The CC Pulse)

By Julia Métraux

As wildfires become more common in California due to climate change, individuals like Richmond City Council member Soheila Bana are pushing local governments and residents to be prepared. In 2022, Bana helped establish the West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council, where she is president.

Bana and Richmond Fire Chief Angel Montoya gave an update at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on some of the progress the Fire Safe Council has made so far.

“In fact, this is on record as one of the fastest forming Fire Safe Councils in state record,” Montoya said. “The mission statement…is to provide education and exchange of information and foster wildfire prevention and foster safety within the city of Richmond…in collaboration with the county of Contra Costa.”

Montoya is also part of the West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council as an agency liaison, corresponding with important parties such as Cal Fire, California Fire Safe, East Bay Regional Parks District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Caltrans.

Prior to the establishment of the Fire Safe Council, Bana and other residents who had concerns about fire safety had trouble getting people to listen to them.

“As residents … nobody would listen to us,” Bana said. “Now, we are an agency; we are an entity.”

Some of West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council’s current projects include working on emergency fire evacuation routes and reducing weeds and other material that can fuel wildfire. Bana and Montoya both commended Richmond’s new director of public works, Daniel Chavarria, for being responsive and helpful for current projects being undertaken by the Fire Safe Council.

>>>Q&A: New Council Member Soheila Bana Stays Focused on Public Safety

Bana said creating emergency fire evacuation routes is a priority for areas such as Rancho Road in El Sobrante, where residents can be trapped if one road becomes unusable.

“​​It’s very important for communities that have one way in, one way out in case of a wildfire [in case] the road is damaged,” she said.

Part of the preparation for wildfires includes making sure that residents are prepared to evacuate when needed. The West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council has started to do evacuation drills.

“We feel very proud that we conducted the evacuation drill, and it was very effective with the neighborhoods that participated,” Montoya said.

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Montoya said that sections of Contra Costa County, including the city of Richmond, and neighboring Alameda County are at particular risk due to having zones where a wildfire could easily spread, which is “obviously a concern for us.”

This leads to several parties working on fire safety issues.

“It’s a collaborative effort, with working through the Fire Safe Council, with the state, with neighboring jurisdictions and agencies to be able to plan and especially to strategize on the fuel mitigation to reduce the danger zones,” Montoya said

In addition to raising awareness about fire safety, Montoya said it was very important to establish a communication network, which is now in place.

“We feel very comfortable where we’re at in terms of our communication network with our surrounding agencies in case of one of these emergencies,” he said.

People can learn more about the West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council by visiting its website.

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