Nevada County fire concerns spark interest in Firewise communities | TheUnion.com

Nevada County fire concerns spark interest in Firewise communities

Ten years ago, there were only two Firewise communities in Nevada County.

That number had grown to 14 by 2014 and had more than doubled as of this year, with a total of 29 officially certified and seven waiting to have their applications vetted by the end of June. That should mean Nevada County will have the most Firewise communities in the state, said Jamie Jones, executive director of Nevada County’s Fire Safe Council.

And according to the Nevada County Coalition of Firewise Communities, the Fire Safe Council hopes to have enough funding to complete the certification of 15 more by the end of 2019.

The motivation for this surge in interest is understandable.

“The Paradise fire put the fear of God in everybody, to put it bluntly,” said Susan Rogers, vice-chair of the Coalition of Firewise Communities. “That really woke everybody up to the idea this could happen here.”

Even before the Camp Fire, those fears were part of why Rogers helped get the Glenwood-Maidu-Charlene Firewise Community certified in 2014.

“My neighborhood behind the Fowler Center has one exit to Nevada City Highway and is about 75 homes,” she said. “Half of our roads are really one lane only, a third are gravel and not well maintained, there are no pullouts. Even though it’s a small neighborhood, the escape or evacuation situation is not good. I live at the back, so it’s an issue.”

What is a Firewise community?

Since the mid-1990s, the national Firewise organization has provided opportunities to communities throughout the country to reduce their risk from severe wildfire. Since 2002, more than 300 communities in 36 states have successfully met the Firewise protocol.

The very first Firewise community in Nevada County — an organization dedicated to encouraging action that can minimize home loss to wildfire — was Lake Wildwood, which was certified in 2007. The communities range in size from just 30 residents in Rattlesnake Ridge Estates to 8,250 in Greater Alta Sierra.

The Coalition of Firewise Communities formed in 2018, composed of representatives from each of the Firewise communities. The coalition began taking on issues such as improving evacuation protocols and emergency warning systems and working to improve property clearance laws and ordinances to include more robust inspection, follow-through and enforcement.

“The coalition is a forum, a place for the various Firewise communities and neighborhoods interested in becoming a Firewise community to come together and share information,” said coalition chairman Bob Long. “We help people learn what is fire safe, what is defensible space, how do you harden your home on $25 or less. What are the things you can do today to protect yourself? We’re not going to tell you to cut down your trees. We advise you on how to maintain your property.”

Long’s Sherwood Forest neighborhood of 60 homes started a project to make the roads fire-safe.

“I put out the challenge, I got out a chainsaw, and the neighbors started working on creating defensible space on the side of the roads,” he said.

The end result? Twelve piles of brush waiting to be chipped.

“We also have a challenge with another neighborhood to get address signs up,” Long said.

What is the process?

The first step in becoming a certified Firewise community involves creating a committee of community members.

“The biggest advantage of getting certified as an Firewise community is that (through grant funding obtained by the Fire Safe Council), your neighborhood receives a professional hazard assessment — an on-the-ground inspection and write-up of specific threats to safety found in your community by a fire expert,” Rogers said. “From this assessment, your committee creates an action plan specifically for your neighborhood.”

No money is needed or solicited from residents in order to become a Firewise community, Rogers added. To obtain annual re-certification, a Firewise community needs to fulfill a certain dollar value of work each year. The dollar value can be achieved by individual residents working on their own property, working together on a joint neighborhood project, or by paying contractors to do the work.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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