Statewide, there are nearly 8,000 firefighters on the frontlines of nearly a dozen major wildfires, Cal Fire reported Friday.
Two of those blazes blanketed western Nevada County in heavy smoke for several days over the past two weeks. The Swedes Fire, which burned nearly 2,500 acres southeast of Oroville in Butte County since being sparked Aug. 16, was fully contained Thursday. The American Fire, reported at 66 percent containment Friday, has grown to more than 20,000 acres since igniting Aug. 10 near Foresthill.
But even as the smoke clears, let’s not forget the need to be fire safe.
Nevada County is no stranger to the danger of wildfire, as those who lived here through the famed 49er Fire that tore through 33,700 acres — and destroyed many homes among the 312 structures it consumed — in 1988 can certainly attest (For a look back at the devastation left in the fire’s wake, see the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County’s website, http://AreYouFireSafe.com).
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported the designation of “National Preparedness Level 5” — the first time that step has been taken since 2008 — due to the combination of high fire activity, the large amounts of firefighting resources already committed to wildfires, and the expectation for more fires to erupt in the coming days as hot, dry weather continues across the West.
The U.S. Forest Service is diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill a gap created by the nation’s top wildfire-fighting agency spending $967 million so far this year, the AP reported. According to Forest Service officials, the $50 million left in its coffers prior to the diversion is typically enough to pay for just a few days of fighting fires when the nation is at its top wildfire preparedness level, which went into effect Tuesday.
The cost of fire protection is also not a new concern to Nevada County, as various fire agencies have sought more funding to maintain levels of service during tough economic times that saw the real estate bubble burst with property values, and the tax revenue they produce, dropping drastically.
Voters approved a special tax, amounting to essentially an increased assessment by $52 per residential parcel, for Nevada County Consolidated Fire District in 2012. But for Higgins Fire District in South County, in two consecutive elections, voters have defeated an additional $100 assessment — by a mere 27 votes last May, despite 65.5 percent voting in favor as two-thirds approval is required for passage.
Many continue to argue against the 2011 enactment of the State Responsibility Area fire fee — including seniors living on fixed incomes and tight budgets — and its levied rate of $150 per habitable structure, or $35 per structure within a local fire protection agency. And there are likely others who will take issue with a discussion by the Nevada County board of supervisors on requiring property owners to reduce wildfire fuels on private unimproved parcels or having the work completed and billing the cost to a property owner’s taxes.
But there are certainly a few things about fire protection on which we can all agree.
Western Nevada County is most fortunate to have the Cal Fire Air Attack Base located at the Nevada County Airport, offering the kind of fast response that helps keep small fires under control while firefighters on the ground establish quick containment and early extinguishment.
We are also blessed with a brave bunch of firefighters in our community, who work closely together across district boundaries to both battle a blaze at hand and to provide backup coverage for each other in order to provide service on other emergencies that arise during a fire response.
And we should consider ourselves lucky to have a local organization such as the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County so fully committed to raising the level of awareness on the danger of wildfire and preventative steps we can take to help keep us all safe.
For information on how you can help, please visit http://AreYouFireSafe.com.
This editorial represents the views of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff, as well as informed members of the community.