Other Voices: Take matters into our own hands on fire prevention
As an ignition source, privately held land must be considered a priority in terms of wildfire prevention when conversely compared to the volume of land area under government control.
The exposure to the quantity of exposed fuel in the wildlands from private property and public access (roads and recreation areas) must be considered when formulating policy concerning fuels reduction and the overall issue of fire safety.
The problem now is not only of the volume of fuels reduced, but the continuity of that fuel. We may be able to reduce the risk of a fire destroying a home or an individual parcel by isolating them, but this does not address the issue of fires spreading around the protected sites and continuing on to other areas. The solution is to break up the continuity.
This problem was addressed in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the implementation of the Ponderosa Project, a 1,000-foot fire break extending from the Pit River in the north to the Kern River in the south. The idea was to prevent a lowland wildfire from reaching the timberlands of the high Sierras. This was a solution that would only work on a singular linear fashion.
Today, this solution would not only be impractical, but would be less efficient, as well. The amount and density of potential fuel load is worse and getting more so every year. The increase in population is creating what is called the urban-wildland interface. In short, this means that there are many times more homes and other structures built directly adjacent to an unnaturally dense wildland or fuel load. There are thousands of homes situated in this powder keg of potential fuel. The solution is not derived by looking at the situation as one big powder keg, but rather as several fuses connected to one large, contiguous powder keg. The solution, therefore, is to break up these fuses – disconnecting them and disarming the powder keg.
In addition to protecting structures, there should be an added emphasis placed on protecting the perimeter of individual parcels.
If single property owners were to clear around the structure and property line, they would not only protect their homes but their entire property, as well. It may even reduce the risk of a fire spreading to their neighbors, in a limited fashion. The reduction of spread, however, could be increased if adjoining neighbors were to do likewise. Imagine an entire community made up of a patchwork of individual parcels with adjoining fuel breaks. It would create a series of smaller fire breaks protecting not only individual homes, but also the entire community. The effect would be that of a Ponderosa-like fire break on a smaller scale but with a larger impact.
We need to abandon certain ideas and misconceptions. Clearing brush does not mean clear- cutting. The trick is to break up the continuity, not to remove all plant life. Isolated clumps of trees and shrubs can remain, and indeed must remain in the fuel break, in order to maintain a natural environment.
Another misconception is that in order to achieve this goal, we need to enact new laws and regulations. While not everyone will be inspired to step up to the plate, I believe there are enough community and environmentally conscious property owners willing to become voluntarily compliant in order to achieve this goal.
Many people fear that such an effort will be expensive. It doesn’t have to be. Much of this work can be done with hand-powered tools such as chain saws and weed eaters with saw blades. These tools can be rented locally. You could turn this into a family activity and get your neighbors involved. An agreement can be made between neighbors who share a property line. A commitment of 25 feet on each side would create a combined break of 50 feet.
The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County is the home owners’ best resource for information and access to free chipping. It can be contacted on the Web at http://www.firesafecouncilnevco.com or phoned at (530) 272-1122.
Fires are an ever present reality in this community. We will always have them. They are nature’s way of cleansing the ecosystem, and there will never be a single solution to the dangers they pose. The solution I propose will not remove the threat entirely but will reduce the risk.
We have a choice to make. We can wait for the government to mandate us into submission or we can take matters into our own hands. The question is, which path will yield the best results?
Chris LeGate lives in Grass Valley.
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