My Turn: Get ready, fire season is almost here | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Get ready, fire season is almost here

Gary Stoddard
My Turn

This week’s warm weather makes it the perfect time to talk about forest fires. Even with our recent heavy rains and snows the agreed forecast is for a continued drought in California.

The Department of Water Resources at ca.gov states that 2009 could be the worst drought year in California history. Drought brings with it many problems and the potential for catastrophic wildfires is one of the most definite. We, as a community, cannot control the weather but there are many ways to reduce the risk of forest fire.

The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County has been a local presence here since 1998. The purpose of the Fire Safe Council is to work toward reducing the risk of life and property loss from wildfire. This is done through applying for grant money and donations to pay for fuel reduction and public education projects; and to increase public awareness of the potential for fire loss and what people can do to reduce the probability of a devastating wildfire.

One recent example of the positive nature of the work the FSC does accomplish is a 60-acre fuel reduction project around the town of Washington. This project was completed in early 2008 and when a wildfire, one of the many that raged during our “smokey summer”, came roaring down the Yuba River canyon, Washington was relatively “safe” and was used as a staging area for the firefighters.

The cost of fire suppression is staggering, well over a billion dollars a year here in California, and when taken in context of the total loss, the millions of acres burned, the greenhouse gas emissions produced, the degradation of our watersheds and water quality, the loss of wildlife habitat as well as the loss of a potential renewable clean energy source and marketable timber, now, during these nice cold and rainy days, is the time to be thinking about clearing our properties and reducing the tremendous fuel loads in our forests.

One of the programs the Fire Safe Council heads up is a team of volunteer Defensive Space Site Advisors. These volunteers will come to your home and educate you about the laws requiring defensible space, they will walk your property with you and make suggestions and point out potential problems such as “ladder fuels” that allow small ground fires to climb up into the tree canopy and become huge forest fires. The FSC also provides the advisors with a wealth of information, brochures and handouts and numerous publications to help the home owner understand the options available for more fire safe landscaping and fire safe building materials.

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The Fire Safe Council has a special needs program and will provide defensible space clean-up for Nevada County Residents who are:

– more than 65 years old;

– physically disabled;

– financially unable to hire a contractor; or

– physically unable to create and maintain their defensible space on their own.

The most widely-used service that the FSC has provided over the past several years had been the free chipping program. This service required only that the property owner stack any brush that needed chipping near the road so that it was accessible to the chipping crews. Unfortunately this program had to be suspended several months ago due to lack of funding (The program is still going on in Truckee).

As I’m sure we’re all aware there are serious budget problems at all levels of government and non-profits such as the FSC are some of the first areas to feel the lack of funding. Our Fire Safe Council is down to one paid staff member, the Executive Director, and she was forced by the lack of funding to lay off her full time Program/Office Manager and part-time bookkeeper.

The Council needs the continued support of our elected officials, our State and Federal representatives as well as our mayors, supervisors and city council members. As the fire season approaches, if you have a mind to, please write your representatives and ask for their support. Any and all private (tax deductible) donations would be greatly appreciated.

Our forests, this beautiful area that we live in, need comprehensive, sustainable management plans. Our elected officials need to be constantly reminded and prodded to make responsible decisions for the conservation, preservation and fire safety of these natural resources and our Fire Safe Council needs the financial support to be a viable asset in helping achieve these goals.

Gary Stoddard is a volunteer with the Fire Safe Council.