Forcible Forest Thinning | SierraSun.com

Forcible Forest Thinning

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Andrew Cristancho/ Sierra SunKevin Reilly of the U.S. Forest Service speaks with the operator of a cut-to-length timber harvester while Brad Harris, of CalFire, Placer County's District 5 Supervisor Bruce Kranz and North Tahoe Fire Protection Chief Duane Whitelaw listen.
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Less than one year after the Washoe Fire destroyed five homes and 20 acres two miles south of Tahoe City, a group of officials gathered in the neighborhood of the blaze to announce a new defensible space ordinance.

Placer County’s Fifth District Supervisor Bruce Kranz, flanked by CalFire Unit Chief Brad Harris and North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw, said the law covering Eastern Placer County will help protect neighborhoods and homes from devastating wildfires.

“I introduced this ordinance to the board because I realized that we needed to do whatever we can to reduce the fire threat,” Kranz said. “This ordinance is a strong step in that direction.”

The compulsory program requires property owners to create 100 feet of defensible space around housing and other structures, even if the perimeter extends into a neighbor’s undeveloped lot, according to Placer County officials. If the work is not completed, the county will clear the defensible space and charge the homeowner for the cost.

The ordinance does not apply to lots with existing structures, but language within the code amendment encourages the 100-foot rule.

Kranz went on to call the 2007 mid-August Washoe blaze a “tragic loss” and a “wake-up call.”

But the Talmont subdivision’s recent duel with wildfire was not the only thing that captured the attention of the officials. The area is being used as a pilot area for the inspection and enforcement piece of the new fuels reduction rule because it holds many characteristics of a neighborhood that could be “saved” with the correct implementation of defensible space, Harris said.

The neighborhood has one way in and out, he explained and plenty of government-owned parcels in need of thinning or in the process of being thinned.

“Talmont faces many of the challenges that we need to fix,” Harris said.

Behind Harris and the others, and perhaps illustrating his point, the U.S. Forest Service was thinning an overgrown stand of pine and white fir, said Kevin Reilly the Forest Service’s harvest inspector and contract administrator. The project was not connected to the ordinance’s roll out.

Although the ordinance applies to Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley and the greater North Tahoe area, inspection and enforcement will be focused on the West Shore neighborhood this summer.

The ordinance supplements an existing California law that requires homeowners to clear fire fuels from within 100 feet of their homes. That law stopped at the property line, while the new ordinance requires the owner of an unimproved lot to comply or be fined, according to Whitelaw.

The ordinance requires a parcel owner to pay half the county’s cost to remove hazardous vegetation and any administrative fees, if the owner does not complete the work on their own.

The defensible space ordinance took effect Feb. 1, and expires next year on Jan. 31 2009.

Homeowners who do not comply with the ordinance could force a landowner to pay a fine of up to $1,000 and spend six months in jail, according to a memorandum from Placer County.

Harris, who acts as the county’s fire marshal, said enforcement would be within his jurisdiction.

“That is a last ditch effort,” he said, explaining the idea of the ordinance is to motivate people to educate themselves about defensible space.

The county has set aside $250,000 for the project this year, Whitelaw said. Some will go toward inspections while the bulk will assist in the cost of compulsory fuels reduction.

Kranz said he hopes the program will be a model for neighboring counties like Nevada and El Dorado.

Other funding, from the district’s fire suppression assessment, passed by voters last year, will be used to provide free chipping and other services, Whitelaw said.