Ed Scofield: It’s up to all of us to prevent and contain wildfire in Nevada County
Our local fire districts are independent special districts with their own elected boards of directors. While we as the Board of Supervisors have little to say on the operations of fire districts, with our current wildfire situation, it’s essential that Nevada County have a strong partnership with all of our fire districts.
In 2019, the county funded a report on the possibility of consolidating our Western Nevada County Fire Districts. The need for the support came out of meetings of the western Nevada County fire chiefs exploring the option of aligning the districts. The report was to determine the interest of each district, and to determine if citizens of our county would support and agree to the tax increase that was being proposed.
I supported the concept believing that bringing our districts together would create a more efficient operation and one that could respond quicker to any location when a potentially catastrophic wildfire is ignited. If the report had said it was favorable, it would have been placed on the ballot in November of this year. At the same time, a citizens committee was formed at the local level calling for another fire tax measure for Higgins Fire.
The report was completed in November of 2019. It showed a majority of voters would support the consolidation effort in order to improve fire protection and 911 emergency medical response times; enhance firefighter and emergency paramedic positions to fully staff fire engines; and support defensible space and fuels reduction programs. However, the measure as drafted with explicit tax rate ($459) would not receive the required two-thirds majority necessary for passage.
Wildfire is a huge concern of our county. We all live in fear of the fire that breaks out during extreme weather conditions that could level our communities as our neighbors in Butte County experienced in 2018. If we’re unable to add to our protection as a consolidated district, we need to look at each district and consider how each district can work to benefit all of western Nevada County.
In looking at all of the county’s fire districts, I see one major weakness. The station on the eastern side of the Higgins Fire District is unmanned. In the case of wildfires, minutes count. We’re fortunate to have Cal Fire air attack base at our county airport. But first responders are almost always the first to arrive at fires within our county. Currently, Higgins incidence response time is eight to 16 minutes. That’s not too bad for a district that encompasses 91 square miles. However, the recommended time as recommended by the National Fire Prevention Association is five to eight minutes. An additional eight minutes can make a major difference in containing a wildfire; not to mention a medical emergency. The Dog Bar station is critical for the protection of not only Lake of the Pines, but also Alta Sierra, east towards Cascade Shores and to our southern neighbors in Placer County.
There is only so much that the county can do to mitigate wildfires. We can pass ordinances that enforce vegetation management on private lands; we can allocate dollars beyond our traditional amounts to increase clearing and management on county roads; we can partner with Cal Fire for additional inspections of properties; we can apply for grants that will increase wildfire prevention; and we’re doing all of that.
However, if I look at the one thing that would have the greatest impact on wildfire prevention and containment, it’s reinforcing our eastern area of the Higgins Fire District by putting personnel in the Dog Bar Station — and the county can’t do that.
I highly encourage you to go online and study the proposed tax initiative. It’s up to you to decide what it’s worth to enhance our wildfire response system, increase medical response time and improve Advance Life Support, and possibly making fire insurance more available.
I’m trying not to make this a political statement. However, I think it’s important for you to know how strongly I feel about increasing the parcel tax to bring the Higgins District to its maximum efficiency.
As we saw in Paradise, Santa Rosa, and other major fires, catastrophic wildfires pay no attention to districts. It’s up to all of us to do our part in being as strong as we can in preventing and containing wildfire.
District 2 Supervisor Ed Scofield is running for re-election to a fourth term on the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
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