California's hope for an uneventful 2007 fire season exploded on October 19th, as Southern California was ignited by massive wildfires. Fanned by Santa Ana winds in excess of 100 mph, thousands of acres of private and public property were soon destroyed. By October 21 damage was so severe and widespread that Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed a State of Emergency in seven Southern California counties. On October 24, with the fires still raging out of control, a presidential declaration was issued for the fire ravaged areas. To ensure public safety and to allow access for emergency response, Caltrans closed many highways as the fires burned across the California transportation system. The difficult task of protecting the transportation system was already underway.
Within hours of the news that fires were raging in Southern California, Caltrans Landscape Architecture Program jumped into action to develop and implement a strategy to reduce the risk of a second disaster – winter and spring flooding and mudslides. Contacting the affected Districts, they implemented an emergency response process for Landscape Architects in Southern California to work with their counterparts in the Maintenance Program. Caltrans District Landscape Architects immediately began to assess the damage of the highway roadsides with one goal in mind - to stabilize the land as quickly as possible before the winter rainy season to reduce the potential for erosion of hillsides on and off the state highway system. A rapid assessment process of post disaster hazards and emergency actions for immediate and subsequent impacts required efficient collection, processing and analysis of field data and conditions. Obtaining accurate mapping was critical to determine the extent of damage, estimate material needs and costs.