With the need to prepare for wildfires before winter even draws to a close becoming more critical as megablazes move into year-round threats — with each new fire season surpassing the last — Humboldt agricultural producers are being encouraged to apply now for a Restricted Area Access Pass.
Having the annually issued pass is a step in allowing “qualifying agricultural and cannabis producers/cultivators and/or commercial livestock operators” to get past road closures to take care of their crops and animals in the event of evacuations due to wildfire or other emergencies, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
A new study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change found the severity of drought conditions plaguing California and the West for the last two decades is the worst in 1,200 years, dating back to at least 800 A.D., when Charlemange was crowned Holy Roman Emperor of the West. The conditions, the study notes, “will very likely persist through 2022,” with humans-caused climate change playing a major role.
Currently, the U.S. Drought Monitor currently shows most of Humboldt County in moderate drought conditions, with the south-eastern portion in severe drought.
“In recent years, Humboldt County has felt the impact of wildfires, some of which required evacuations within our most rural communities,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said in a recent news release. “We realize the impact even a few days away from home can have on an agriculture business. In this last year, the Restricted Area Access Pass Program allowed ag business owners access past closed roadways to take care of business safely while firefighters worked to mitigate the Knob Fire.”
The wildfire near Willow Creek led to several days of evacuations and evacuation warnings in late August and early September. A year earlier, Humboldt County residents awoke Sept. 9, 2020, to the apocalyptic glow of an eerie orange sky created by heavy haze in the air from surrounding wildfires, including the Hopkins Fire, which prompted evacuations south of State Route 36 in Bridgeville and all communities along Alderpoint Road down to the Mendocino/ Trinity County Line.
A few weeks later, swaths of Southern Humboldt were placed under evacuation warnings due to the August Complex.
This year's applications for the Restricted Area Access Pass with the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services are due by Aug. 1 and will run through Dec. 22.
“The access pass is not a guaranteed permit to enter a restricted zone but is a necessary pre-registration step making it easier for agricultural producers to access their livestock or crops during an emergency,” OES Manager Ryan Derby said in the release. “Please make every effort to apply for this program prior to an emergency occurring.”
Read more from the HCSO about how the pass program works and how to apply below:
The passes will be administered and approved through OES, in partnership with the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and the Planning & Building Department.
Once issued an access pass, agricultural producers with operations located within an evacuation zone must notify OES or the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office of their interest in accessing the property.
Authorization to enter restricted zones will be given daily and decided based upon the conditions. The pass holder will be notified of approval.
Following notification, pass holders can access their property through a law enforcement checkpoint during daylight hours. The Restricted Area Access Pass does not grant authority to the pass holder to stay at their residence and/or business when an evacuation order is issued.
The access passes will be valid through December 31, 2022.
Humboldt County residents can learn more about the Restricted Area Access Pass Program and apply at humboldtsheriff.org/oes.
All Humboldt County residents are encouraged to prepare now for an emergency by assembling an emergency supply kit and creating a family communication plan.
Residents should also be sure to “Know Your Zone,” by checking your designated evacuation zone at community.zonehaven.com. Should an evacuation occur in your community, OES will use your evacuation zone name when announcing evacuation orders.
To ensure you receive the most up-to-date information and emergency alerts, sign up for Humboldt ALERT, Humboldt County’s emergency alert system.