Vibrant Planet’s Treatment Plan Helped Reduce Fire Severity in Marin County, CA

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March 23, 2024
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3 min read
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Authored by: Mike Cartmill, Vibrant Planet Forester & Fuels Planner, and Eric Horne, Vibrant Planet Policy & Partnerships Associate in consultation with Mark Brown, Executive Officer of the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority

In 2022, Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority (Marin Wildfire) contracted Vibrant Planet to develop a comprehensive vegetation treatment approach to reduce hazardous fuels and improve the ecological health of Marin County’s highly valued wildlands.

Initial prioritization of GRFB segments based on fire threat rating and community exposure.

Vibrant Planet’s “analytics as a service” platform enables land managers to collaboratively develop multiple treatment plans and then optimize the best plan for risk mitigation and ecosystem enhancement. Within Marin Wildfire’s Greater Ross Valley Fuel Break (GRVFB) zone, the Vibrant Planet team enabled Marin Wildfire to refine their own project area, segment it to produce operable treatment units with tree-level data, then attribute treatment units by property ownership, structural vegetation characteristics, fire risk from existing modeling in conjunction with Pyrologix (now a Vibrant Planet company), and estimated wildland health condition and value.

These attributes were used to identify risk, treatment opportunities, and priority projects while minimizing ecological effects. Optimal project areas were generated based on a combination of fire probability and community asset exposure to fire intensity, generating a risk score used for prioritization. Then potential treatment effects were modeled to demonstrate the effect of the treatment on reducing predicted fire behavior.

Potential project sequencing based on combination of fire threat risk, community exposure, and treatment effectiveness.

Vibrant Planet’s analysis enabled Marin Wildfire to develop 11 sequenced projects (highest to lowest priority) with information associated with treatment opportunities and how treatment will reduce fire hazard. The cost of treatments plus the avoided loss of those treatments were also calculated. This armed Marin Wildfire with all the necessary information needed to budget, schedule and generate community buy-in to expedite the work.

Vibrant Planet’s analytics prioritized the right treatment sequence, keeping a June 2023 wildfire from becoming dangerous

Marin Wildfire began implementing hand-thinning and ground-based mechanical thinning treatments in order to create a “shaded fuel break” that followed Vibrant Planet’s sequenced recommendations. In June 2023, a fire broke out at Oak Manor, near priority project #1. The fire burned into the recently completed shaded fuel break, but stayed low to the ground, and gave responding suppression resources the upper hand to quickly extinguish the fire before it could negatively affect the Ross Valley community. The value of prioritizing the type, timing, and location of a treatment became clear for Marin Wildfire: while the GRVFB had 65 miles of shaded fuel break work planned, they were able to use Vibrant Planet’s best-in-class science and technology to pick the highest risk area to start with. With the help of fuels treatments informed by Vibrant Planet’s analytics, a fire that might have been hazardous to the community and natural resources in the area burned less than an acre.

The fire stayed low to the ground near MWPA’s shaded fuel break, causing minimum damage.

In the words of Mark Brown, Marin Wildfire Executive Officer, “Vibrant Planet’s modeling was validated by the fact that the 1st fire to impact the GRVFB area occurred where Vibrant Planet predicted the highest risk and where the highest priority treatment recommendation was located.” The same science and analysis that helped Marin Wildfire mitigate a potentially dangerous fire can now be put to use by fire districts across the country in a user-friendly decision support and monitoring platform that can be leveraged without the need for additional modeling and technical specialists.

We understand that data-driven solutions and strategic partnerships are the keys to effectively addressing the wildfire crisis, but we need to act as quickly as possible. Together, we can harness the power of technology and data-driven insights to protect our communities and natural landscapes from the devastating impact of high intensity wildfires. Join us in shaping a safer and more resilient future.