Big picture: Local wildfire prevention and preparedness

Fuels reduction on county-owned land, work provided by CAL FIRE’s Washington Ridge crews.

NEVADA CITY, Calif. January 13, 2019 – Ahead of Nevada County’s annual workshop on Board priorities, we are taking a look at the bigger picture of wildfire prevention and mitigation. Reducing the risk of catastrophic fire and the effects of wildfire on life, property and the environment was a top priority for Nevada County last year. If anything, more attention and resources will be needed in very short order to prepare for the next high fire season.

Taking responsibility for your property is not limited to individuals or businesses – so do public agencies with the added task of making sure the public is fully prepared and informed.

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Below, in no particular order, are ideas compiled from reader suggestions, research papers and procedures implemented by other jurisdictions.

  • Fly Red Flags outside government buildings and fire departments on Red Flag Days to heighten awareness of the fire danger.
  • Acquire changeable message signs (CMS) and display fire weather warnings along high traffic routes on critical fire weather days.
  • Remove illegally parked vehicles in posted locations (i.e. Purdon and Edwards Crossing) on high fire danger days. This has been implemented in L.A. County.
  • Incentivize property owners to do more by providing complimentary chipping services.
  • Expand senior and low-income assistance programs.
  • Provide free green waste drop-off locations.
  • Revive/create plans for small biomass gasification plants to dispose of the woody biomass created by these greater fuel reduction efforts.
  • Provide financing opportunities for established neighborhoods in the Wildland Urban Intermix (WUI) to obtain reliable water supply for fire suppression, possibly in collaboration with NID.
  • In collaboration with CAL FIRE, expand the use of firefighter and inmate crews to conduct prescribed burns on both public and private properties to establish and maintain community protection fuel breaks.
  • In more densely populated areas, including towns and cities, install sirens to complement emergency notification systems like CodeRED or Nixle. The use of sirens would be restricted to evacuation warnings only.
  • In collaboration with Sierra College, create an apprentice curriculum to provide training and career pathways for landscape management/forestry technician. The program could serve as an entryway into firefighter careers.
  • Require any real estate transaction to include an informational package on fire danger and wildfire preparedness with defensible space requirements and resources.
  • Create a countywide fine for illegal debris burns with a mandatory $5,000 fine per violation. The fee would be split equally between the responding fire department and the County. Fees collected by the County would be used to help finance assistance programs.

Editor’s note: Implementing policy changes and new programs is always dependent on funding. With uncertainties regarding federal funding and finite resources available through the State of California, Nevada County should consider a bond/tax measure to finance a robust set of policies and programs. The cost of such a measure is a fraction of the damage one single wildfire can cause in this community. The political will to save lives is a fiscally prudent investment to protect life and property of all residents. Also, job creation!

Contribution to benefit from federally funded WUI fire mitigation grants

The National Institute of Building Sciences Multihazard Mitigation Council (MMC) undertook a study in 2017 to update and expand upon the findings of its 2005 Mitigation Saves study on the value of mitigation. Their conclusion: At the Wildland Urban Interface, Federal Grants for Mitigation of Fire Provide $3 Benefit for Each $1 Invested.