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Grass Valley neighborhood searching for safety (PHOTO GALLERY)

If there’s one thing people need to prepare for in densely forested community, it’s wildfires.

Three Gold Hill Drive, Grass Valley residents – Mary McClain, Dimitri Keriotis and Jeanne Pincha-Tulley – have done just that, but they ran into a problem: they say the Empire Mine State Historic Park buttressing their properties isn’t fire safe.

“We’ve noticed the overgrowth for years,” said Keriotis, noting the state park’s fire hazard, sitting adjacent to his residence.



In early September, Keriotis worked with his neighbors to advocate the state park clean up near their homes. McClain met with Rich Adams, state parks forester for California State Parks.

“Rich Adams said, ‘We have the money and the budget this year for exactly what you’re talking about,’” said McClain. Pincha-Tulley added that Adams said the park would be fire safe near their homes by the spring of 2019.



The state parks forester, however, appeared to slide on his promise, according to the trio. In January he said there was “no decision yet” about whether state officials could create a fire safe park, said McClain.

Adams says he warned the group in September about uncertainties for the clean up grant.

“I just didn’t know what the timeline (for the funding) would be,” he said.

For the past seven months, Gold Hill Drive residents believe state park and local officials have been responsive. The first call the residents made to California State Parks, a representative had met with the them within 24 hours, said Matt Green, acting Sierra District superintendent.

“My first role as a public servant has been to be responsive,” said Green.

The trio agrees that officials have been responding to their concerns.

“We haven’t been brushed off at all,” said Keriotis. “But the point is, the clock is ticking.”

WHAT IS BEING DONE?

In February, public officials met and relayed the message that there was combined grant funding for a fire safety project in three state parks – Malakoff Diggins, Donner and Empire Mine.

“The Gold Hill project disappeared,” said Pincha-Tulley, which left concerns about the opaqueness of the project as they didn’t know what defense measures would be taken at which parks.

“If the money came (for the project), would we be prioritized?” asked McClain.

Setting priorities is difficult, said Adams. The focus is on cutting down dead trees.

“What becomes highest priority is when we have large (dead) trees threatening to fall on structures,” said Adams

Recently, Adams spoke with a state official about ensuring the clean up of Empire Mine where the park brushes against Gold Hill Drive.

“Cal Fire has offered some resources to be able to get some work in mid-April,” said Adams.

There are current efforts adopted to clean up certain parts of the neighborhood, said Green.

“Right now, efforts are underway to clean up dead and dying trees along the Hardrock Trail in the area of the 2016 Auburn Fire that entered Empire Mine State Historic Park from near South Auburn Street,” Green wrote in an email to The Union.

This winter, state officials have done thinning and chipping work along the Osborne Hill Fire Road, Green said.

Still, Adams is trying to prioritize Gold Hill Drive.

“We recognize the urgency to work behind peoples’ homes,” he said.

LOSING INSURANCE

Gold Hill Drive has not seen much clean up near the residences since 2008, said Pincha-Tulley. Adams says the Gold Hill neighborhood had nearby fire clean up in 2013.

Pincha-Tulley says she lost her home insurance due to Empire Mine’s fire hazards and the resulting safety concerns near her home.

“Just before Paradise we lost insurance and it took us forever to find insurance,” said Pincha-Tulley.

When she did find insurance to cover her home, it was a lot more expensive.

“It’s three times more than what we were paying, and they say the same thing: ‘You live on a slope next to a park,’” she said.

RECENT ACTION

The trio gathered 28 signatures from their neighbors in support of a letter sent on March 5 to fire officials and legislatures ensuring Empire Mine Historic State Park cleans up its land before fire season.

Their letter wanted state officials to remove brush, fend out trees and uproot pine-beetle-killed trees on park grounds near their homes.

The Gold Hill Drive residents scheduled a meeting for April with Adams and Green, and invited representatives from Cal Fire. State legislatures have not responded to their letter.

The Sierra District, where Empire Mine is located, has 17 state parks that have to be made fire safe.

“I’m happy with what we got going near Empire Mine and I’m going to keep pushing to do more,” said Adams.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.


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