Wildfire film screening, panel talk focused on protecting community | TheUnion.com

Wildfire film screening, panel talk focused on protecting community

Fire management officer for the Tahoe National Forest, Shelly Allen, talks about prescribed burns and the imminent danger of longer fire seasons during a wildfire forum following the screening of "Wilder than Wild" Wednesday at the Nevada Theater.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

Ready, Set, Go!

Cal Fire panelists recommended people download Cal Fire’s “Ready, Set, Go!” app.

Visit http://www.readyforwildfire.org for more information.

Grand, expanding smoke plumes resembling an atomic bomb’s blast exist mostly in memory. In California, however, those images have been resurrected as wildfires are becoming larger, more lethal, and increasingly expensive for the state.

And it may get worse.

According to Shelly Allen, fire management officer with the Tahoe National Forest who has been defending against fires since she was 18, Californians need to adjust to a new normal.

“Our reality of longer fire seasons and hotter summers are just here,” she said, “and that’s part of our reality.”


A documentary film on wildfire screened in Nevada City this week, “Wilder Than Wild,” says that new reality is largely due to two things: fire suppression and climate change.

“What’s going on in the background of all of this is climate change, which is constantly pushing the conditions to be drier, the fuels to be drier, the weather to be more extreme,” said Malcolm North of the U.S. Forest Service says in the film.

More arid conditions, coupled with fire fighting in the past century, particularly small fires, has increased the likelihood of uncontrollable wildfires, according to the film.

“We’ve succeeded in removing fire from the landscape, and so we’ve now set ourselves up to have landscapes very continuous in fuels,” Mark Finney of the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab says in the film. “When fires start 20 miles away, they literally can move all across that landscape in one burning period.

The rise of dying trees, due to drought and bark beetle infestation, and overcrowded forests leaves much of Golden State’s land susceptible to fire, according to the filmmakers. The Paradise Camp Fire, the most deadly and destructive fire in California history, is the latest example, but the documentary discusses many others.

To add fuel to the proverbial flame, California’s rising population, and subsequent increase of individuals living in a “Wildland-Urban Interface,” or community that melds wildlife and economic development, puts an ever-increasing number of people at risk.


Nevada County residents convened Wednesday to watch “Wilder Than Wild: Fire, Forest and the Future” at the Nevada Theatre, and held a subsequent panel discussion to talk about larger, quickly spreading wildfires, and the best practices for defending against them.

The Nevada County Resource Conservation District and the County Office of Emergency Services partnered to host the free public screening of the film, as well as “Fire and Forest Health: Your Tahoe National Forest” along with “Wilder than Wild.” The filmmakers and panelists shared practices for protecting against such fires. Although some of the tactics vary significantly based on one’s home, community, and surrounding weather patterns, most panelists advocated two things: activity and education.

Judging by the screening’s turnout, the number of residents participating in Firewise Communities, and neighborhoods working to defend against wildfires, Brian Estes, interim chief for the Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba Placer Unit, said Nevada County is on the right track towards prevention.

“This county is proud to have one of the largest Firewise communities in the state,” said Estes.

Still, the more people involved in preventing fires, the better, said Donn Thane, chairman of Fire Safe Council.

“People need to get involved, and become a Firewise Community,” Thane said.

The Fire Safe Council consists mostly of volunteers who operate an advisory council, engage in chipping projects to clean up more flammable trees, and help senior citizens keep their homes protected from fire. Since 1998, the Fire Safe Council has helped jumpstart 22 certified Firewise Communities in Nevada County, which is the second-highest number in the state.

Steve Garcia, a Cal Fire forester, added that active community members can do much more for fire prevention in totality than the local or state fire safety officials.

If one million property owners each ensure 1 acre of land is protected from fire, one million acres will be protected, Gardic said, which is impossible for state and local administrators to cover.

coordinated APPROACH

Shelly Allen, of the Tahoe National Forest, said her team takes a collaborative approach with other agencies to defending against catastrophic fire.

“We’ll go in and we’ll do some sort of mechanical treatment first,” she said, which includes thinning from the base of a tree canopy, so a fire stays on the ground. Her team may also use a chipper to grind up brush.

“And then we come in with some kind of prescribed fire,” she said, noting controlled burning tactics, long used by Native Americans, which prevent against overgrown forestation.

It’s not only public safety officials working to prevent fires. PG&E Senior Manager James Monninger told Wednesday’s audience his company has expanded its restorative vegetation program in order to also help reduce the risk of wildfire.

“Our goal is to complete that 400 miles (of restorative vegetation) by June 1st,” he said at the event.

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

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