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June 4, 2013
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Cal Fire to keep Nevada City station fully staffed


A controversial decision by the California Department of Fire and Forestry to shift resources from Nevada City to Lake Tahoe has been reversed, just as the county braces for record heat and heightened fears of fire.

Cal Fire had announced earlier this year that it would move staff from Station 20 in Nevada City to a station in Carnelian Bay in Placer County. Cal Fire planned to keep an engine docked at Station 20, retaining an option to staff it on high fire danger days.

But the Nevada County Board of Supervisors decried the move, sending a letter to Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott saying the move would leave residents with a diminished level of fire protection “as we enter a new and potentially dangerous fire season on the heels of one of the driest winters in recent history … Cal Fire is reducing its initial attack capability in an area of higher fire start frequency and high risk for catastrophic wildfires.”

After Supervisor Hank Weston met with Pimlott, a decision was made to keep Station 20 fully staffed. Instead, Cal Fire will move an engine from its station in Foresthill in Placer County, Weston said Monday.

“Basically … the (squeaky) wheel gets oiled, because we complained,” he said.

After the state agency announced its plans to move staffing for two engines to the Lake Tahoe basin, the board “raised Cain,” Weston said.

“We made phone calls and sent letters,” he said. “Through (Assemblyman) Brian Dahle, I set up a meeting to talk to the director, because of being a fire chief here for nine years, I thought of a better way to go about this.”

Weston noted that Cal Fire had done an effective job of “scaring the heck” out of the public in warning of the dangerous fire season ahead and that taking engines away from the county didn’t make a lot of sense.

Pimlott and Weston met May 21, he said.

According to Weston, Cal Fire shifted an engine from a coastal area — Santa Cruz County — to the south end of Lake Tahoe; he suggested shifting an engine from a northern coastal station to Carnelian Bay.

He also suggested Cal Fire utilize a $50 million increase in emergency funding to keep Station 20 staffed full time, as opposed to only on high fire-danger days.

“To me, the better idea for the public was to take the total (available) for emergency funding and staff both engines so the initial attack equipment is staffed and ready to go,” Weston said, adding they Cal Fire did not opt for that alternative.

Instead, he said, the agency opted to move an engine from Foresthill, which is in the same ranger unit but in another county. And Cal Fire will use a portion of the emergency funding to fill in for the two engines that were moved to Tahoe, he said.

“The whole thing was poorly planned and very secretive,” Weston said. “The transparency issue was one I focused on. As supervisor, I could not get away with a stunt like that and be able to stand up to my constituents.”

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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The Union Updated Jun 4, 2013 09:13AM Published Jun 6, 2013 07:11PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.