Group says it’s putting a damper on wildfire risk |

Group says it’s putting a damper on wildfire risk

The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County reports it has gone door-to-door, chewing up 718-acres-worth of brush.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

An area nonprofit has released its first-ever report on how it is chipping away at a huge problem in the West – brush that could fuel wildfires.

More than just a nuisance, built-up brush can erupt in flame with devastating consequences, like the Los Alamos, N.M., wildfire that caused $1 billion in damage in 2000, or the 49er fire here in 1988 that burned 148 homes.

Every spring for the last two years, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County has gone door-to-door, chewing up 718-acres-worth of brush that could otherwise erupt with explosive results if a wildfire flares up.

The council has chipped up more than 40,000 cubic yards of brush for 1,282 residents and helped seniors create defensible space around their homes on 41 acres, according to the council’s 2002 Fire Prevention Annual Report.

The council also conducts education and drop-off programs for brush that has been cleared away.

Michelle Phillips, the program’s executive director, said she thinks the chipping has made a dent in the problem. But it is a huge problem, built up over the last 100 years. And with 43,000 homes in the county, there is obviously still a long way to go.

“We can’t expect to correct it immediately,” said Phillips.

Charlie Jakobs, the county’s fire protection planner, said the council has made a difference by increasing awareness of wildfire and the potential for destruction.

When one person clears out their yard, their neighbors see it and it creates a synergy, said Jakobs.

One person the council reached is Mariah Winterholler.

Ever since she saw a huge grass fire in Florida, Winterholler has been afraid of fire.

The Blackberry Place resident helped organize the neighborhood last fall to clear brush away from the narrow roadways that serve the Clipper Creek Road Association’s neighborhood in the Banner Mountain area.

Winterholler said the chipping program has been a big help by ridding people of brush for free, once they clear it away. Otherwise, they would have to pay to have it chipped, or haul it away somewhere to dispose.

Clearing out the brush made the neighborhood safer, though there is still plenty of work to do, said Winterholler – both on her five-acre property and in the Banner Mountain area.

Winterholler said the Banner Mountain area is overgrown with manzanita – fuel for a wildfire.

“If a fire started, it would be one big firestorm just from the manzanita,” said Winterholler.

The council had a $788,000 budget last year, with funding from various agencies and donations, including the Allstate Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, Nevada County and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Chipping through the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County starts March 3. For information, call the council at 470-9193.

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