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Stakeholders discuss varied approach to wildfire prevention in 2021

Community stakeholders discussed their individual and collective approaches to wildfire prevention, mitigation and evacuation this coming season during a Wednesday meeting hosted by the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services.

Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Jakobs began the discussion by highlighting Zonehaven, a zone-based evacuation project created by a San Francisco software developer.

“The zone concept is where we take counties and/or cities and break them up into manageable evacuation zones based off of topography, different types of roadways and architecture,” Jakobs said. “It can also be based off of population.”



Jakobs said pre-establishing the zones eliminates the delays experienced when evacuation boundaries are devised on the fly. The zones help authorities and civilians alike identify critical infrastructure and traffic control points.

Each zone will contain details about that specific region, so the public is aware of local terrain and resources, as well as their zone’s status.




The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office is taking particular pains to use consistent language between internal and public-facing discussions of public safety.

Cal Fire introduced an evacuation management platform to help first responders prepare for evacuations, as well as collect and offer targeted information during live events.

The lieutenant is eager to take advantage of the Ready Nevada County Dashboard, which offers timely, critical information about the risk of — or ongoing — fires to residents.

Jakobs said his office will promote the dashboard through a “Know Your Zone” community awareness campaign before the fire season begins.

FEDERAL DOLLARS

Cal Fire Forester Steve Garcia reviewed the federal grant programs available to manage vegetation and mitigate the consequences of California’s annual fires. Garcia said the scale and scope of the two types of federally funded grants — for fire prevention and forest health — differ greatly.

“The fire prevention grant is basically for if you have a project where the result is to protect life, property or resources, fuels modification, education or pre-planning,” Garcia said. “There’s no minimum amount of acres, and it’s very flexible in terms of types of projects.”

In contrast, Garcia said the forest health program is a landscape-level project with a focus on biomass utilization. The minimum dollar amount applicants can request is $750,000 and the maximum is $5 million.

The forest health program requires carbon calculations, so applicants should consider the cost of hiring a registered forester.

Garcia said both grants opened to applicants on March 10 and will close at 3 p.m. May 19.

LOCAL NEEDS

Town of Washington Fire Chief Mike Stewart said the remote location of his region requires residents to think creatively about communication and power sources during a fire crisis.

“One of our locals bought cheap family system handheld radios,” Stewart said. “With that they’ve been able to distribute 75 radios and spare batteries. Channel 9 is the local hailing channel.”

Stewart said communication between residents is essential, especially because of spotty cell reception. Stewart said the town does not pick up broadcasts from either KNCO or KVMR.

Stewart said this year Washington’s 162 year-round residents are the beneficiaries of a grant that allowed his department to purchase a backup generator for the local fire station.

Stewart intends to apply for additional financial support from a number of entities, specifically to replace the 40-year-old fire truck that services the town.

Risks posed to the region increase with the regular influx of visitors, who enter the town through one main paved road.

Stewart said regardless of what people want to call the climate change phenomena, he is certain the influx in temperature and rainfall is exacerbating the wildfire risk in his mountain community.

“In my 55 years — 40 of them spent fighting fires — I’m noticing a substantial change in Washington: a decrease in precipitation and an increase in wind events,” Stewart said. “For example, in this wet season of 2021 I should have 50 to 60 inches of precipitation at my house. Right now, I have 21.”

Administrative Analyst Jenn Tamo said the county’s Office of Emergency Services will offer another round of free green waste disposal on both sides of Nevada County in the spring.

Nevada County Arts Council artist-in-residence Michael Lewellyn said he collaborated with community leaders to create an arts and education project to help support the community learn more about wildfires and mitigating their risk.

Lewellyn said he helped write a children’s book about the lineage of local land stewardship to transform people’s cultural understanding of fires. The book honors the Native Americans that occupied and stewarded this land before colonialism.

Lewellyn said using art to educate can evoke a kind of “spontaneous comprehension” from its intended audience, which is helpful in order to catalyze changes in perspective and behavior.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.


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