The city of Portola is trying to launch an ambitious new Firewise Community Program and it’s asking for all the help it can get from locals who are interested in volunteering to help preemptively defend the city against forest fires.
Councilmember Phil Oels said the Firewise program is all about creating defensible space by removing dry weeds and brush, which tend to spur fire growth.
To that end, becoming a Firewise Community will require citizens of Portola to engage in fire preventative activities which cumulatively add up to around $4,000 worth of work annually.
Credited work can range from raking up pine needles to pruning back trees so long as the work is done within Portola city limits.
Time sheets can be picked up and delivered to Portola City Hall for any community members who are interested in volunteering and a legible receipt for green waste disposal from the Delleker dump can be used to contribute toward the $4,000 requirement.
Oels said that all Portola property owners who own five acres or more of land and are interested in protecting their property from fires should also contact City Hall to see if they are eligible to receive a grant for certain fire prevention measures like building a fire road.
For the last three years, the city has been toying with the idea of joining the Firewise program, but Oels says this year’s push represents the single greatest effort yet at adopting the program.
Oels himself decided to spearhead the Firewise program upon hearing news of the fire that destroyed half of the city of Weed in 2014.
Oels’ worries are compounded by the fact that south Portola was very nearly destroyed in 1989 by a series of fires that threatened the town for days on end.
“We live in an extremely fire prone county,” Oels explained. “In 1989, the only thing that saved South Portola was that the wind changed.”
As Oels put it, it’s only a matter of time before a fire threatens Portola again, so any action that can be done to help mitigate the threat would be highly beneficial for the city and for property owners.
“If you ask a firefighter, he won’t say if, he’ll say when,” Oels said.
Council members are also updating the city’s Fire Hazard Reduction Plan, the citywide fire evacuation plan and publicly available information on the Portola Volunteer Fire Department to promote more transparency and to formulate a modern, citywide plan to prepare for and stave off the threat of fires.
Portola is currently looking for willing volunteers to help with its fire prevention efforts, and anyone interested can contact the city.
Echoing an argument he made at a city council meeting three weeks ago, Oels contended that the Firewise program must be adopted by the community at large if it has any hope of succeeding.
“For Firewise to actually work, you desperately need a community effort,” he said. “Otherwise it won’t take off.”
Anyone with questions about the Firewise program or interested in volunteering can call Oels at 832-5047.
10 ways to contribute to the Firewise Community Program
1. Volunteer to help clear flammable debris on public lands.
2. Pick up and deliver time sheets to City Hall that log all fire prevention efforts.
3. Rake up pine needles and other green waste scattered around property and bring it to the dump where it can be properly disposed of.
4. Bring receipts from dropping off green waste at the dump to City Hall so it can be added toward the $4,000 goal.
5. Prune back trees and bushes on property.
6. Clear rain gutters and roofs of all debris.
7. Remove weeds and wildflowers from property, especially if clumped together in large pockets.
8. Construct a fire road to control the spread of fires on large plots of land.
9. Contact City Hall with suggestions, concerns and advice regarding the program.
10. Spread the word and get more residents engaged in fire prevention measures.