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Prevention focus of fire meeting

Erich Sommer, Sierra Sun

Nearly 40 Truckee residents and a panel of fire officials met Tuesday night at Town Hall to air their concerns about the present fire conditions, then worked together to find possible solutions.

The two-hour session was called by Nevada County 5th District Supervisor Barbara Green in hopes of addressing concerns that have risen from the ashes of the Martis Fire, which started near Truckee June 17 and burned 14,500 acres.

The panel included Truckee Fire District Chief Mike Terwilliger, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Gary Jacobson, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Doug Rinella, United States Forest Service District Ranger Joanne Roubique, Fire Safe Council of Nevada County representative John Benzon and two business owners.

Terwilliger, Rinella and several in the audience opened the meeting by voicing their concerns about the current fire situation and the lack of preparedness of some residents.

Terwilliger, citing costs of $70,000 to $100,000 a year to hire an inspector, funds which he said the fire district doesn’t have, put the responsibility on homeowners to clear their property.

“I’m tired of telling people to clear around their house,” Terwilliger said. “Five engines were protecting 42 houses (in Floriston). Which houses do you think they were focusing on?”

“It’s totally your responsibility to have defensible space … If you are unwilling to do it, your house (may) burn,” said Gary Waters, chairman of the Truckee Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

Terwilliger said homeowners unable to clear defensible space themselves can hire private contractors.

“There are plenty of local companies that do that (kind of work),” he said.

The owner of one of those companies, Cindy Wood of Wood’s Fire and Emergency, was also part of the panel.

Wood said her company is available for consultations and to do the necessary work to make a house fire safe.

Terwilliger added that clearing property is not a once a year event.

“Because of the shedding of (pine needles) of jeffery pines, houses around here are in and out of compliance all year.”

Talk about clearing pine needles and other fuels led to discussion of what to do with the materials.

Benzon said the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County is formulating a pilot program that will run in Glenshire later this summer. The program will offer free collection of cleared pine needles.

Benzon said high participation levels by Glenshire residents will keep the program going.

“But we are not going to drive (from western Nevada County) for 20 minutes of work,” he said.

“We are going to run a test case and see if the community cares,” Terwilliger said. “If we set a date for collection of pine needles (in Glenshire), and 10 out of 1,300 homes do it, we aren’t going to continue the program.”

Green said the collected pine needles could then be used in erosion control projects.

Michael Hogan, owner of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services, Inc., a Tahoma-based company that specializes in soil-based revegetation and restoration using organic materials, was also on the panel. He said shredded pine needles are superior to straw for stabilizing a slope.

“Straw lasts a couple of years, and has no nutrient value. Pine needles will last longer than straw and are far superior in nutrient content.”

Green and several members on the panel did caution that while pine needles are ideal for soil erosion projects in certain areas, they need to be cleared away from and off of structures on a regular basis.

Terwilliger went a step further, noting a difference in philosophy between fire experts and soil scientists regarding the reapplications of pine needles.

“What’s more important, erosion, or a wildfire burning your home?” he asked.

Unauthorized campfires associated with illegal camping were also cited by several as a potential threat.

“We need the Forest Service to enforce their rules better,” said audience member Karen Sessler. “We want the Forest Service patrolling out there.”

Roubique said the USFS was patrolling “areas that are known problems. But it’s not as simple as (illegal campers) always being in one place.”

Jacobson noted that police have to be able to prove that people are camping illegally.

“You don’t have to have written permission to camp on someone’s property,” he said. “(The police) have to be able to contact the property owner and have them say ‘We don’t want (the campers) there.”

Gene Stewart, a Prosser Lakeview resident, expressed concerned about illegal campers and off road vehicles riding on property off East Alder Creek Road. Stewart said ORVs are a potential fire threat because of sparks and hot exhaust pipes.

Noting that the land adjacent to East Alder Road is USFS land, Stewart asked Roubique, “What can be done to limit or curtail ORV use back there?”

Roubique said the USFS had placed restrictions on that area.

Benzon said a more comprehensive approach for the whole region to take is the formation of a chapter of the Fire Safe Council in eastern Nevada County.

Green concurred.

“We need to form a Fire Safe Council here. I think one of the best things we can do is form a Fire Safe Council here.”

According to Terwilliger, a 24-page booklet produced by the Fire Safe Council contains “everything you need to know about fire prevention and defensible space.”

Copies are available at the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce office at 10065 Donner Pass Road.


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