In the zone: Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone nearly finished, more fuel abatement projects to follow |

In the zone: Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone nearly finished, more fuel abatement projects to follow

Forty-year rural Nevada County resident John LeLange looks out over his 11-acre property Wednesday off Dixon Road that was recently masticated and abated of fire prone vegetation. LeLange’s property sits within the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone shaded fuel break.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone project is close to wrapping up, with about 907 acres of land having been cleared of potential wildfire fuel out of a target of 1,200 acres.

An additional 60 acres are expected to be cleared by the end of April, with homeowners in these parcels having agreed to have their properties abated, said Jamie Jones, executive director of the Nevada County Fire Safe Council. The remaining 200-250 acres in the defense zone are owned by homeowners who have not yet responded to the county’s request to treat their properties for fuel abatement.

The project was initiated in September 2019 as a countywide effort led primarily by the Fire Safe Council. The defense zone, which runs from the McCourtney Road Transfer Station in the south to Squirrel Creek Road in the north, asks homeowners to allow brush clearing crews to remove clusters of hazardous fuel from their properties.

While the Fire Safe Council’s goal was to have the zone completely abated by March 2022, the project will finish well ahead of schedule, Jones said.

“The technical date to finish up is March 15, 2022, but it will definitely be completed well before then,” she said.

The program will cost $3.5 million, according to Jenn Tamo, an analyst with the county’s Office of Emergency Services. Approximately $2.5 million in funding has been provided through grants from Cal Fire, Tamo said, with an additional $1 million coming through an order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 that increased funding for wildfire prevention programs.

The acreage within the zone was strategically selected for fuel abatement by the fire council, so as to protect densely populated communities in the county, Jones said.

“If you’re looking at a holistic approach to wildfires, this fuel break protects the city of Grass Valley, Penn Valley, and other large populaces,” she said.

Oak trees to be saved are earmarked with pink tape on John LeLange’s Dixon Road property, as well as others who have had their property abated of nuisance vegetation as part of the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone.
Photo: Elias Funez


With weather experts warning of an extreme fire season this year, more homeowners in the defense zone are recognizing the importance of the program and are asking to have their properties cleared, Jones said.

“Folks are seeing neighbors’ parcels being abated and saying we need to get on board with this. We have a severe fire season coming up and they’re thinking I should do this while I can,” she said.

John LeLange lives near Rough and Ready, and had been concerned about the threat posed by wildfires to his 11-acre property. When a neighbor told him about the defense zone, he was eager to have his property treated. LeLange said that the fuel abatement crews in his area have been thorough in helping protect his home and the surrounding properties from wildfires.

“They came in and took out all of the brush, the needles, the pine trees, and then chipped it all into wood. They cleared my whole property, all 11 acres,” LeLange said.

“What they’ve done is really going to protect the whole community. My house is on a big property, but it’s fully prepared now for a fire,” he added.

The county is also planning on kickstarting additional fuel abatement projects in the near future, Tamo said.

The fire council is looking to move forward with Phase Two of the Ponderosa zone, which would extend roughly 1,200 acres northward from the first phase of the project toward Rough and Ready Highway. There’s also a fuel break planned in South County that will clear approximately 400 acres to help secure better egress and ingress routes in the event of a wildfire, Tamo said.

The fire council also recently met with Cal Fire and the Yuba Watershed Institute to discuss the South Yuba Rim project, a long-term fuel break program that will likely take place over the next several years and cover even more acreage than the Ponderosa zone, Tamo said.

To raise money for the South Yuba Rim fuel break, as well as the South County and Ponderosa Phase Two projects, the fire council has applied for additional grant funding from Cal Fire. The county has also applied for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant program, and is seeking support through the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant program, Tamo added.

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at

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