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OES manager: Keep up fire preparation work in Nevada County

The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the county’s ongoing wildfire preparedness efforts, Office of Emergency Services officials told the Board of Supervisors in an update on their fire safety priority objective.

The board earlier this year made creating safer evacuation routes, improving emergency communications, establishing defensible space by reducing hazardous vegetation, coordinating preparedness and improving critical infrastructure the emphasis of its efforts to mitigate harm in case of a wildfire.

According to OES Program Manager Paul Cummings, the county and community have a responsibility to continue those efforts during this pandemic.

“We want people to remind people to continue hardening their homes, reducing fuel loads and preparing for wildfire season,” Cummings said.

To that end, the county and Fire Safe Council will be hosting three weeks of green waste disposal programs that have been adopted with social distancing and best health guidelines.

“This year we’re implementing a different model,” Office of Emergency Services administrative analyst Jenn Tamo said during an update last week. “Instead of having Waste Management bins, which we filled up last year, we’re actually doing drop-site models at larger facilities, which will allow us to collect more green waste.”

The programs, planned for May and June, will operate three days a week and will include wood chip pick-up, Tamo said.

As part of its goal to improve emergency communications, the county earlier this year targeted signing up 54,000 people for Code RED, its emergency alert system, after having about 26,000 total enrollment December.

According to Cummings, since using the alert system to publicize the state stay-at-home order last month, residential sign-ups increased by 500%.

The update also revealed the county Public Works department was awarded a more than $800,000 grant for hazardous vegetation clearing that would allow the county to increase the rate it clears its 560 miles of road from about 50-70 miles per year to around 160 miles each year for the next two years.

One of the county’s target objectives is to reduce the maintenance cycle of clearing all of its roads from every 8-10 years down to every 5-6 years.

Cummings said OES is also working with communities to advance evacuation planning, which has been of particular concern to residents.

“Alta Sierra is concerned,” Supervisor Ed Scofield said. “In Lake of the Pines, if that one route gets caught off, then it becomes very complicated and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

According to Cummings, OES is identifying particularly at-risk communities and their individual evacuation challenges, noting the difficulty in creating one plan to fit the unpredictable nature of a wildfire.

“In my district we have issues with single-egress roads,” board chairwoman Heidi Hall said. “We’re doing some great vegetation management, which is going to be critical, but that’s not a long-term solution and I want us to start thinking about secondary egress.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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