Nevada County moves forward with fire ban on South Yuba River corridor | TheUnion.com

Nevada County moves forward with fire ban on South Yuba River corridor

The threat of wildfire is foremost in the minds of many in Nevada County, and has become even more of a concern after last October's fires.

And as Supervisor Hank Weston explains it, that was the impetus for the Board of Supervisors to make reducing wildfire risk a main priority.

"We don't want to stand up in front of the public if we have a fire and have to answer the question, 'What did you do?'" Weston said. "We're doing something."

As part of the Yuba River Public Safety Cohort, a group composed of local, state and federal agencies, the county began working on an ordinance that would prohibit outdoor fires in the portion of the South Yuba River's wild and scenic corridor.

The proposed urgency ordinance was brought to the supervisors on June 12 and three public meetings were held between June and August.

The potential ban on open fires on private land along the river had drawn a lot of concern from some owners of riverfront property that they would not be allowed to have any campfires at all.

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One final meeting was held at the Rood Center Tuesday before the ordinance is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 11.

The ordinance has been tweaked in response to public concerns, said Weston, who presented the draft on Tuesday along with fellow Supervisor Heidi Hall and Jeffrey Thorsby, a senior administrative analyst for the board.

The urgency ordinance as proposed is a pilot program that will ban open fires on private property within a quarter-mile on each side of the ordinary high water mark of the river, from the confluence of the South Yuba River with Kentucky Creek below Bridgeport to Lang's Crossing. The ban would be in effect immediately this year through the end of the declared fire season and then again from Memorial Day through the end of the fire season in 2019.

Because the South Yuba River corridor is a patchwork of jurisdiction, the ordinance would make fire restriction policies more consistent between public and private lands, Thorsby said. It will prohibit any and all outdoor burning on private property on each side of the river, with four exceptions.

Wood and charcoal fires will be allowed in permanent pedestal grills and fire rings in "designated developed recreation sites" such as campgrounds, as long as they are in a cleared area.

Fires also will be allowed inside enclosed stoves, grills, barbecues or portable braziers in campgrounds or improved parcels, if they are at least 10 feet away from any combustible structure, with a readily available emergency water supply within 30 feet. A tenant or property owner must be present, Thorsby said, adding this is designed to prevent visitors from bringing a portable barbecue to the river and trespassing on private land.

A third exception will allow fires inside a fire ring or fire pit at least 25 feet away from structures with water available within 30 feet. The ban will include smoking, with exceptions for those smoking in an enclosed vehicle or building or while stopped in an area that is cleared.

The ordinance will be complaint-driven and will be enforced as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

The message from those in attendance was clear: any attempt to make the river canyon more fire-safe needs effective enforcement.

"I am supportive of this," said Pat Leach, a board member with the mostly volunteer North San Juan fire department.

She noted her department is tasked with fighting any fires within the river corridor. And that river corridor, she said, gets visitors who have "no idea" how to act in the wilderness.

"I wish we could develop more teeth in this so that people can be held responsible," Leach said.

According to Weston, there is a commitment from the Nevada County Sheriff's Office to respond to fire complaints as quickly as possible.

Hall agreed community outreach is paramount, adding that a public education campaign has been launched to educate visitors.

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

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