CalFire workers train for local inspections

Debra Moore
Staff Writer

Plumas County residents who pay the annual $150 CalFire fee should begin preparing their properties for inspection.

Four CalFire inspectors are training this week and are scheduled to begin their work April 7 and wrap up at the end of June.

During an interview last week, Shane Vargas, the local CalFire representative, said he will be training and working closely with the new inspectors as they begin their inspections.

Supervisor Jon Kennedy, who met with Vargas in advance of the inspections, said he was pleased to learn that the inspectors all had firefighting experience, so they are familiar with what would most benefit homeowners in protecting their homes. Additionally, Vargas is attending the training with the inspectors so he can evaluate whether anything should be tweaked for Plumas County.

The plan is for the inspectors to work in teams of two as they make their rounds. Vargas won’t reveal which areas of the county are slated for inspection, but said that he will notify the local fire chiefs and county supervisor as work begins in their districts.

Vargas stressed that he wants this to be constructive.

“I expect it to be a positive thing,” Vargas said.

After meeting with Vargas, Kennedy said, “He promises that it will be educational and not punitive.”

But Vargas is aware that there are those who are wary of the inspections.

“If there’s a locked gate, we won’t go there,” he said. “We will only inspect an area that we can see.”

Once the inspection is complete, an informational package with an inspection form will be left for the property owner. The package will include contact information so that the resident can call with questions.

Depending on what the inspection reveals, a property owner could face significant work, including tree removal.

Such work can be expensive and Vargas, as well as Sue McCourt, the county’s fire prevention officer, were asked what assistance could be given to the property owner.

Both identified a senior/disabled program administered by the Plumas County Fire Safe Council, but realize that won’t help everyone. “We’re working on this,” Kennedy said, and added that they are hoping that volunteer and possibly inmate labor could be available.

After they have addressed the work that needs to be done, property owners contact CalFire for a re-inspection. They have three opportunities to pass the inspection or face a possible citation.

A property owner who contacted this newspaper questioned the authority of CalFire to access private property.

“We have the authority to be on their property,” Vargas said. Property owners won’t be pre-notified and the inspections will occur whether or not the owner is at home.

Sheriff Greg Hagwood concedes that CalFire has the right to access private property, but he is very concerned about the outcome.

“I am anticipating private property owners reacting negatively to an uninvited government presence in their yards,” he said. “I can reasonably forecast some very negative response. The way that CalFire delivers this message will be very important.”

Vargas has repeatedly stressed that the inspections are meant to be positive.

“I know that CalFire said they are placing an emphasis on education this year,” Hagwood said, but fears that when people receive long to-do lists or else face fines, that they will react negatively.

Hagwood is also concerned about the costs. “People don’t have the money,” he said. As for providing inmate labor, he said he has a limited ability to do so.

“I think the citizens are in for something they’re not aware of,” Hagwood concluded.

The inspections will take place in state responsibility areas; those who reside in a fire protection district and have not been assessed the CalFire fee won’t be inspected.

Because CalFire has a fire station in Westwood that covers the Almanor Basin, the inspections will cover Canyon Dam and south.

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