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Feather River Bulletin
Quincy, California
June 23, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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June 23, 2010

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Plumas County Grand Jury Report Page 10 take emergency fire protection staff and equipment to arrive at an incident. The second essential necessity in the saving of persons' property from structural fire is an immediately available emergency water supply. Current structural fire fighting vehicles here in Plumas County pump water at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute and require sustained water flows approx- imating one hour to save a typical residential struc- ture; that would amount to a sustained water supply of 60,000 gallons per pumper truck. There was consensus among fire experts providing tes- timony that Plumas County could support one to five fire emergency services districts. Those fire and emer- gency service providers are needed to protect all parcels and structures within the County Clearly, increasing the number of districts is not what the experts have rec- ommended, nor would it be cost effective. Plumas County Fire Safe Council Individual wildland fires cause the most property destruction of all categories of fire emergencies. All Californians, as well as Plumas County residents, will not soon forget the Oakland Hills Inferno, the Malibu Canyons wildfires, or the very recent Angora Fire located in the South Lake Tahoe Basin that destroyed 309 residential and business structures. Etched in everyone's memories are those vivid televised images of block after block of destroyed buildings. Wildland fires occur in what has been termed a community-at- risk (CAR). All Plumas County communities are com- munities-at-risk. Typically homeowners prize these zones as they represent the aesthetically attractive midpoint between the edge of suburbia and most typ- ically beautiful forested areas. Hilly terrain offering premium vistas are frequently a distinct asset of a community-at-risk. Unfortunately, extreme fire haz- ards are commonly ignored by individuals purchasing property in these zones. Here in Plumas County one voluntary organization, the Fire Safe Council, has made tremendous strides by developing a model that mitigates the wildland fire danger inherent to all community-at-risk zones. The Grand Jury found that the use and enforcement of fire codes and standards varies depending on whether they are being applied to a structure (homes, outbuildings, and commercial buildings), to the area immediately surrounding a structure (defensible space, access roads, turnarounds, fuel tanks and emergency water for fighting fires) or to the nearby wlldlands (national and private forests as well as grasslands). In Plumas County, responsibility for prevention and mitigation of hazardous fire con- ditions in forests next to family residences belongs to the US Forest Service, if the forest is a national for- est. If the forest is privately owned, it is the respon- sibility of the landowner with the possibility of addi- tional assistance from a private, nongovernmental organization, the Plumas County Fire Safe Council. Thousands of Plumas County residents' homes are located in or next to forests, in what has been termed communities-at-risk. The overriding concern facing homeowners located in this environment is the threat of wildland fire. While the State of California has enacted legislation extending the defensible space perimeter requirement around homes from 30 to 100 feet, wildland fires represent an even greater threat than ever before to homeowners in forested areas. This is because most forests have not benefit- ed from naturally occurring, periodic forest fires that consumed naturally occurring fuels. This haz- ardous situation has been compounded as the num- ber of homes being built in the forest interface has rapidly increased during the last 10 to 15 years. During the past several years the Plumas County Fire Safe Council (PCFSC) has developed grant funded pro- jects that have served groups of homeowners, home- owners associations, and other groups in-mitigating or reducing the quantity of wildland fire fuels on our for- est floors. These projects thin forested areas, remove fire ladder vegetation that frequently leads to devastat- ing crown fires in addition to removing combustible materials that result in healthier, safer and more attractive forested areas. In summary, these projects provide a responsible alternative to periodic wildfires. The Mission Statement of the PCFSC is: To reduce the loss of natural and manmade resources caused by wildfire through Firewise community programs and pre-fire activities. The Council maintains an informa- tive webpage: Fire Services - CAL FIRE In round figures, two-thirds of the Plumas County land surface is part of the Plumas and Lassen National Forest. and Lassen Volcanic National Park; the remaining one-third is comprised of privately owned parcels of which a substantial majority are located in what California has designated as this county's State Responsibility Area (SRA). Exceptions to this classification are parcels within Local Responsibility Areas (LRA) that include the lands within the City Limits of Portola, a relatively large area surrounding Chester, two small areas of several blocks each located in Quincy, and small areas near the fire houses in Graeagle, Whitehawk, Beckwourth, and Chilcoot. Plumas County's SRA includes numer- ous approved subdivisions as well as privately owned forest production and agricultural parcels. The SRA and LRA designations were actually made by CAL FIRE on behalf of the State a number of years ago and every five years that agency is required to revisit and evaluate those classifications. Currently that every five-year evaluation is being implemented in this county. CAL FIRE is also fiscal- ly responsible for protection from and prevention of wildland fires including forested and agricultural lands as well as structures. Superficially it would appear to be a "good thing" that a majority of Plumas County residents' homes are located in designated SRNs. Statewide CAL FIRE has an outstanding reputation for its emergency fire protection services. CAL FIRE's presence in Plumas County is extreme- ly limited. CAL FIRE does not employ any emer- gency responders, nor does it house any firefighting equipment Within our county. The situation occurred almost 20 years ago in 1991 with the adop- tion of a "Cooperative Fire Management Agreement" (CFMA) between the US Forest Service and CAL FIRE. CAL FIRE traded off its Plumas County acreage emergency services responsibilities to the US Forest Service in exchange for acreage located somewhere else. The missions of the Federal and State agencies are quite different. The US Forest Service attempts to protect the national forests, while CAL FIRE protects forests and also provides structural fire protection in locales where it has an active presence. CAL FIRE does maintain a small administrative presence in Quincy; however, the reality of having a SRA designation is essentially meaningless for our county residents. In designated SRA's, CAL FIRE has the fiscal responsibility for provision of the following services: 1. Insure fire safe conditions, based on California State fire codes (4290 and 4291), including road construction, signage, access, vegetation clear- ance, turnarounds, fuels reduction and defensi- ble space, and water sources, by: Evaluation of plans for building permits and new developments Inspection of construction sites for new and remodeled homes Inspection and enforcement on properties with existing homes 2. Issuance and enforcement of burning permits. 3. Suppression of fires involving residences and other structures. 4. Suppression of fires in wildlands (grasslands and forests). 5. Repair of suppression related activity damage (e.g., spreading of dozer berms, installation of water bars, minor road repairs, minor fence repair, etc.) will be done as an integral part of overhaul/mop-up. 6. Operation of information and education pro- grams including: Red Flag Alerts, press releas- es regarding fire management and risk, Smokey Bear, and local education. CAL FIRE does not provide these services in Plumas County. CAL FIRE has'eight fire fighting units, located in other counties, which provide mutual support to the USFS, if needed, for fighting fires in the State Responsibility Areas in Plumas County, There are two in Lassen County (Susanville, Westwood); four in Butte County (Jarbo Gap, Feather Falls, Hart's Mill, Robinson Mill) and two in Yuba County (Dobbins and Loma Rica). The USFS has seven fire fighting units in Plumas National Forest that fight fires and carry out other CAL FIRE responsibilities in State Responsibility Areas in Plumas County: Challenge Work Center, Brush Creek Work Center, Strawberry Guard Station, Greenville Wnrk Center. Gansner Bar, Doyle Fire Station, and Boulder Creek Work Center.