Shirl Mendonca: Fire season is right around the corner |

Shirl Mendonca: Fire season is right around the corner

The Union photo/John Hart
John R. Hart | The Union

It is not a matter of if, but when there is another fire in our area.

Fire is the biggest natural disaster we face but it is also the easiest to mitigate. Lake Wildwood consists of small developed lots with heavy vegetation between homes, so the risk in our area is actually greater than in an urban area. This concentrated fuel loading can cause an almost immediate chain reaction to homes and trees. Remember the Oakland/Berkeley Hills fire a number of years ago?

According to Joanne Drummond of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, we know how fire moves and need to start working with our neighbors on the “cooperation zones” between houses which can ignite and spread rapidly.

Joanne suggests that residents take a walk around their home and determine where the fuel chain will likely go. If not cut back and well maintained, oily or heavy resin plants like scotch broom, rosemary, juniper, cypress, etc., can act like a roman candle with many shooting up five times their height in a couple of minutes.

You don’t have to settle for bare dirt around your home.

Google “Firewise Plants in Nevada County” for a list of what works best and which plants/trees to avoid. According to Joanne, the minimum standard for defensible space is 10 feet between all tree crowns within 30 feet of your home. For a Fire Wise Community like LWW, the goal is 18 feet between tree crowns within 30 feet of a structure. We are a work in progress and definitely have a ways to go!

So please take the time to work with neighbors on “cooperation zones” between houses and clean up any other yard debris. Also, make sure your evacuation plan is up to date. To my knowledge, there isn’t any organization that tracks and then helps persons needing additional help during an emergency — so it will be up to friends and neighbors to help each other.

If possible, help neighbors learn how to open their garage doors (or help them install a battery back-up) so emergency personnel can be freed up to focus on an evacuation if necessary.

Business and residence phones that use AT&T or a local cable company should already be in the Code Red system. Google Nevada County Code Red Alerts to add a cell phone, email, or any family member you want notified in an emergency. Persons needing help can also list a phone number for a close friend who can come and help them out.

In addition to the local Code Red, FEMA is testing a nationwide Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system involving more than 100 cell carriers, including all of the largest ones. It will be like emergency weather alerts you see on local TV. WEAs will be broadcast from area cell towers to every WEA-capable mobile phone within range; someone visiting LWW from Kentucky will get an emergency message about LWW if their phone is WEA-capable.

In April and May, fire personnel, Office of Emergency Services, Fire Safe Council, and general managers and safety committees in LWW, Alta Sierra, and Lake of the Pines will be conducting Table Top Simulations to make sure they are looking at all the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why questions of various emergency scenarios.

Then from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 27, there will be a Wildland Urban Interface “incident” in LWW to train emergency personnel and to help the homeowners involved to know exactly how defensible their homes really are. The “incident” is still in the planning stages so watch for press releases with more information.

There is a LWW Security “Town Hall” Meeting the last Thursday of each month. At the May meeting, the LWW Public Safety Committee is scheduled to introduce the Penn Valley Area Evacuation Guide which includes LWW. Stay tuned.

Got a tip about someone or something in Lake Wildwood or Penn Valley? Contact Shirl Mendonca at

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