NEVADA CITY, Calif. February 5, 2018 – Recently the Nevada County Board of Supervisors met for their annual board workshop to discuss priorities for the upcoming year and, most importantly, the budget. Wildfire prevention was part of the discussion, with some changes to the county’s vegetation management ordinance and a modest increase to the funding of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County proposed by staff. But, are those measures enough?
Many expenditures by local government are prescribed by local, state and federal guidelines with health and safety being the overarching priorities. These core services are the focus of the county’s budget priorities. Nevada County defines the core services as follows: “A core service is defined as that which is essential to the public’s health and safety. Areas funded by the County in this category include roads, jail, law enforcement and required maintenance of effort to leverage state or other sources of revenue for basic public/mental health services and other social services.” Note the absence of fire safety/prevention.
To be fair, in 2017 the BOS’ objective list included this tidbit as an A priority: “Prioritize the implementation of existing County policies and programs to reduce the risk of wildfire and the effects of wildfire on life, property and the environment. Continue active leadership of participation on the local Tree Mortality Task Force to coordinate emergency protective actions, and monitor ongoing conditions, secure state funding to address the vast tree mortality issue to reduce fire hazard and promote forest health and watershed.”
During the workshop, staff proposed to use social media to reach out to residents and talk about fire prevention. They’ll be launching an education campaign and started by posting some information in the Friday memo. There was also a discussion about tweaking the existing vegetation management ordinance.
Is that enough?
We, as a community, must do more to mitigate the ever-present and increasing fire danger. That includes local government stepping up and setting an example. A few suggestions include:
- Bring county-maintained roads up to the same standard required for driveways (CPRC 4291.) 39% of the 560 miles in the county’s road system are unpaved rural roadways. While the roads themselves are well-maintained, what about clearance on each side and above the road?
- Adopt Firewise standards countywide. Nevada County already has the highest number of Firewise communities in California with 22 Firewise-certified neighborhoods and an additional 23 working towards certification.
- Becoming a Firewise County could allow Nevada County to leverage additional state and federal funding – while increasing public safety and awareness.
- Incentivize property owners to do more. Brush clearing and tree removal are expensive and beyond the financial ability of many.
- Exempt firewise improvements from permit fees i.e. rain catchment systems
- Expand senior assistance programs.
- Provide free green waste drop-off locations.
- Provide “street-wide” chipping at reduced costs or expand the Fire Safe Council’s chipping program.
- Revive/create plans for small biomass gasification plant.
- Provide training and education for safe burn piles or broadcast burns in cooperation with the fire agencies.
- Provide financing opportunities for established neighborhoods in the Wildland Urban Intermix (WUI) to obtain reliable water supply (non-treated water) for fire suppression, possibly in collaboration with NID.
- Make the Letter of Authority property owners can provide to local law enforcement under California Penal Section 602(o) accessible as a form on the county website.
- Lead by example.
There are many more options and ideas to increase public safety, be that additional signage on county roads for emergency evacuations, inspections of utility-maintained easements, or effectively enforcing the existing vegetation management ordinance.
Fire behavior has increased in the past ten years, with extreme fire behavior becoming the new normal. We must adapt to this new normal or suffer heartbreaking losses. The time to do it is now.