Packed house of concerned Nevada County residents learn about becoming Firewise |

Packed house of concerned Nevada County residents learn about becoming Firewise

Pat Leach, left, and Dr. JoAnn Fites-Kaufman were the featured speakers at a wildfire preparedness event at the Rood Center Tuesday, “Get Firewise: Organize!"
Photos by Liz Kellar/

Know & Go

Upcoming events in the Wildfire Preparedness Speaker Series include “Defensible Space,” on March 25; Situational Awareness” on April 15; and “Ready, Set, Go!” on June 10. All events will be from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Nevada County Board of Supervisors chambers, 980 Maidu Ave., Nevada City.

There will be a free screening of “Fire and Forest Health: Your Tahoe National Forest” alongside the timely “Wilder than Wild: Fire, Forest and the Future” at the Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City, at 5:15 p.m. on March 6. After the films, the community is invited to join in an ongoing conversation around the new reality of living with fire in the wildland urban interface.

For more information, go to

Not sure if your neighborhood is a Firewise Community or Firewise Community In Training? Check out the Coalition of Firewise Communities of Nevada County’s resource page.

Outside, icy gusts of rain lashed the building.

But inside, more than a hundred Nevada County residents had gathered to talk fire.

Specifically, they were there to learn how to prep for wildfire danger — a topic of increasing concern to locals in the wake of the devastating fires like the Camp Fire in Paradise last fall.

Nevada County’s Office of Emergency Services has taken the lead in putting together a series of speaker events on wildfire preparedness over the next few months. The series kicked off Tuesday with “Get Firewise: Organize!,” intended to offer tips on organizing neighborhoods into Firewise Communities.

Initially, the event was set to take place at the Madelyn Helling Library but was quickly moved to the Rood Center due to high levels of interest. Even so, the board of supervisors chamber, which holds 120, was standing room only.

Local experts JoAnn Fites-Kaufman and Pat Leach were on hand to talk about the work of the Coalition of Firewise Communities of Nevada County and the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County to support communities seeking to make their homes, neighborhoods and private roadways safer.

Leach is a board member of the North San Juan Fire Protection District for the past 15 years, and a Defensible Space Advisor for the Fire Safe Council.

“The challenge we face is that we’re not reaching enough people,” Leach said. “We have to try every avenue available to us to get this information out.”

Getting started

Leach spoke to the gathering about what it takes to start a Firewise community. Initially, she said, residents can request a defensible space advisor visit, which will not cost them anything.

“Form a neighborhood committee of two or three people,” Leach said. “It starts with one person.”

The committee members can then decide what the physical boundary will be for their Firewise Community.

“It can be thousands of residents or as little as 20,” Leach said. “You decide what works best for your neighborhood.”

Next steps include conducting hazard and risk assessments and individual home assessments, and developing an action plan.

“You don’t need to wait for certification — go ahead and start doing the work,” Leach said.

“Until we see every road that we use for evacuation (is) fire-safe around here, I’m going to keep … talking about fuels and fire behavior 101,” said Fites-Kaufman, a technical specialist with 15 years of experience working on wildfires measuring fire behavior, effectiveness of fuel treatments and fire effects.

End game

Fites-Kaufman addressed the fuels and fire behavior that can be addressed through neighborhood work projects.

“The goal is the end game, that you’re going to have a fire-safe neighborhood, and especially a way in and out,” she said, adding, “The Camp Fire was a sober lesson to us all.”

Fites-Kaufman emphasized evacuation routes and cautioned that vegetation management is a continuous project.

“It has to be neighbors helping neighbors,” Leach said after the meeting. “We as citizens need to be involved — I think that was driven home.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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