Fire Scientists have shown that the best way to predict where the next fire will burn is to look at where it has burned in the past. This site has burned four times in the last 30 years. It will burn again. If Madrona is approved, people will be put in harm's way.
The entire Carbon Canyon area is classified as a "Very High Fire Severity Zone." The only access is the two lane Carbon Canyon Road. Previous development plans have been faulted for their inability to meet emergency response time requirements, for police, paramedics and fire. The Revised DEIR states that if emergency conditions are isolated to the Project site, evacuation is possible but that emergency crews cannot guarantee assistance if emergency conditions such as wildland fires overwhelm the first-in responders. Advice from the former Brea Fire Chief originally suggested that residents should "Shelter in Place." Presumably they should then sit tight and hope for the best despite the choking smoke heading their way. Following what he witnessed in the Freeway Complex Fire, the fire chief stated he would change his recommendation to "Leave."
Every Fire Department likes to believe they can handle a fire emergency, including Brea-Fullerton Fire. However, their ability to handle big emergencies, when all of the damage typically occurs, is out of their hands. Santa Ana wind events bring the greatest risk. Because these weather conditions are region wide, other fires may strain firefighting resources and limit any fire department's ability to protect life and property the way they want to or had planned to.
In our area, Santa Ana wind events are marked by strong winds from the east, high temperatures and low humidity which dries out the vegetation quickly. This low humidity especially matters when the vegetation is a thin blade of grass as opposed to the thick bark of an oak tree. Much native vegetation has been replaced by non-native grasses because of frequent fires. The grass will dry out much quicker. It will also ignite easier and spread fire faster in Santa Ana wind conditions.
Steep topography adds even greater challenges. Most human caused fires start at the bottom of a hill, where the roads are. And they race quickly uphill. Rare natural fires (lightning) start on a ridge top and the downhill progress is slower. Ridge top development is therefore riskiest of all because the residents have less time to escape in a wind driven fire. They will need to decide quickly what to do. If they all decide to leave, they will be restricted to one lane out onto the two lane Carbon Canyon Road so that fire trucks can come in. If fire blocks Carbon Canyon Road, they are stuck because this is the only access in and out of the Canyon. Residents may also try to leave through their secondary emergency access, Olinda Drive extension. This road is steeper that what is now allowed and they will need to fight for space with exiting Olinda Village residents. But that assumes that the gate will be opened. In the recent Freeway Complex Fire two instances of secondary access gates not opening were documented, one in Chino Hills and one in Yorba Linda.
The Madrona houses will be made of fire resistant material but they are not fire proof. The defense of the community is only as strong as the weakest link. If a flame front approaches and someone left a window open, the flames can enter that house. If one house burns it jeopardizes the neighbors. The fire has a number of ways to enter a house – e.g. by using uncleared leaf litter on the roof as kindling or through vinyl windows that melted in the heat.
Madrona is supposed to have 100 acres of permanent green space surrounding the community. (In fact they are asking two neighboring landowners to absorb some of that acreage). This buffer (aka fuel modification zone) may help with the flame front but it will not help with embers which are known to be dispersed a mile ahead of the flames, as seen in the Freeway Complex Fire.