2020 Critical Update to Caltrans Wildfire Vulnerability Analysis

Catastrophic wildfires over the past five years (2015-2020) have caused damage to the Caltrans road network in 81 separate wildfire events, leading to expenditures of over $590,000,000 to repair highway assets. To reduce the risk of further wildfire damage and to improve public safety, particularly for disadvantaged communities, Caltrans has engaged in assessing the priority locations for vegetation treatment within the lands it owns called the Right of Way (ROW). A 2019 analysis provided a map showing the top 17% of vulnerabilities in the road network, representing both the risk of wildfire and to disadvantaged communities that might need to use the transportation network as means of evacuation. This UC Davis research project was designed to support efforts within Caltrans in conducting a wildfire vulnerability risk assessment for fuels reduction in the ROW to protect Caltrans’ infrastructure and travelers. The project involved four components: 1) conducting a rigorous peer review of the 2019 GIS-based study commissioned by Caltrans; 2) collecting and assessing the outputs of several climate change, fire, and other models currently developed or under development for California, as well as future climate projections; 3) developing a framework for the use of the prioritized segment model with other data further identify priority areas for fuels and risk reduction; and 4) interviews with Caltrans staff on opportunities and obstacles to increasing the pace and scale of vegetation treatments. The results contribute to infrastructure risk assessments, can be used to prioritize areas for treatment, to create a tracking system of areas treated and risk lowered over multiple years, and to engage local governments and wildfire fighting units to coordinate landscape fire risk reductions.