Our View: Can Nevada County come together to make our community fire safe?
With each report from Amador, Calaveras, Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties on major wildfires burning thousands of acres and hundreds of homes, western Nevada County residents should realize the real potential for a similar situation right here in our own backyard.
Monday’s vegetation blaze on East Bennett Road also serves as a reminder how fortunate we are to have fast responses to fires, and the tremendous threat they pose to our community.
“The County’s single largest risk for human life and financial loss is fire.” That is a statement straight from the Nevada County General Plan. “… the best strategy to date has been to thin fuel sources at wildland urban interfaces, educate residents, and provide a rapid response to wildland fires when they start.”
We have been blessed by such rapid response from our firefighters that even large blazes that recently threatened our community, including this year’s Lowell Fire (2,304 acres) and last year’s Dog Bar Fire (247 acres), that the acreage and structures consumed have come nowhere near the scope of the Butte Fire (70,760 acres burned, 365 homes destroyed) and Valley Fire (73,700 acres, 7,473 homes) — or the 1988 49er Fire that burned 33,700 acres and 312 structures right here in western Nevada County.
And, as also outlined in the General Plan, our community has benefited from the educational efforts and volunteer hours of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, which continually asks our community — through its very Web address, no less — http://www.AreYouFireSafe.com?
The third leg outlined in the General Plan’s strategy to protect from threat of fire, the thinning of “fuel sources at wildland urban interfaces,” appears to be one area growing more troublesome, with more fire fuels finding the forest floor due to the drought. Earlier this year, new Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Chief George Morris III told Nevada County Supervisors it’s time to get more proactive.
“We need a paradigm shift to move to a fire prevention focus, as opposed to fire suppression,” Morris said. “We need to understand that we have to be in a proactive footing when it comes to fire … We need to be getting an aggressive fuels management plan in place this year. We have a significant drought, so this year is going to be critical.”
Taking proactive and preventive measures is not a new approach, but perhaps one that would be more well-received than in the past. Environmentalists and property rights advocates alike have, at times, taken issue with such efforts. Even a Nevada County Fire Plan that required proactive measures from property owners — a plan that took five years to complete and included the signatures of emergency personnel, fire chiefs, environmental groups, neighborhood associations, BLM and forest service officials — lacked the “teeth” necessary to make a difference by the time it was finally approved, as a Nevada County Grand Jury report contended.
Last year, supervisors approved brush-clearing mandates on unimproved properties of 5 acres or less, but no requirement was made on improved parcels.
Reducing fire fuel is a growing problem with trees dying in larger numbers due to the drought and beetle infestations. So much more fuel is now available that Gold Country Community Services has already been offered more donated wood than its volunteers can split, store and deliver free of charge to area senior citizens for the coming winter. And seniors and working families alike often struggle with the work and cost involved in clearing brush and reducing fire fuels from their properties.
Perhaps the community itself could step forward and support such an effort. For an example, look no further than today’s collaboration at 30 sites along more than 80 miles of creek and river shorelines in Yuba, Sierra and Nevada counties, with the 18th annual Yuba River Cleanup. The South Yuba River Citizens League has led this effort to protect a community treasure with more than 8,000 volunteers removing more than 140,000 pounds of trash — and another estimated 38,000 in recyclables — from the river.
What if a similar effort could be launched in support of the Fire Safe Council’s ongoing efforts to reduce fire fuels in our community, and provide the kind of proactive measures that result in the defensible space and healthy forests that help protect from catastrophic fire?
How many homes could we help protect in a single day with hundreds of volunteer hands?
Surely the cost of such preventative action would pale in comparison to the millions being expended reactively in fighting these fires.
And by helping to ensure that our community is, in fact, fire safe, fewer of us who live here and the firefighters who protect us and our property, would be put in harm’s way.
The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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