Firewise Committee member and CFD Public Information Officer Karen Lichti addresses community members during a prior Firewise meeting on creating defensible space around properties to mitigate the possibility that flames or hot embers could ignite homes. Photo by Stacy Fisher

Firewise update provided to utility district board

During the latest regularly held Chester Public Utility District Board of Directors monthly meeting May 21, Firewise Committee member and CFD Public Information Officer Karen Lichti presented an update to the board members on the Committee’s progress.

Lichti, a firefighter herself, had given a series of three separate talks to interested community members over the course of the previous three months on preparing for fire season, most recently by providing information on wildfire mitigation and emergency evacuation and communications planning.

Evacuation planning

She told the board that at the last Firewise meeting she conveyed the importance to those in attendance of the need to be prepared to evacuate in case they are ordered to do so by fire or law enforcement officials.

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“This meant having an evacuation plan ahead of time,” she reiterated.

Continuing, she said, “There was a lot of discussion,” at the meetings, and everyone seemed genuinely interested in how they could protect themselves should a conflagration sweep through the areas of Chester, Prattville or the Peninsula the way the Camp Fire ravaged the town of Paradise and surrounding regions late last year — the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

Bake sale fundraiser

Lichti said the Committee held a bake sale in April to raise funds to help pay for fuel reduction services to seniors in Chester who were unable to afford the expense of clearing their properties of flammable materials themselves, as well as providing monies for green waste fees.

“We want people to create more defensible space around their homes,” to stop embers from starting spot fires, Lichti said, anywhere from 5 to 30 feet around their dwelling.

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Volunteer hourly work sheet

Lichti said the Firewise Committee is asking residents to fill out a Volunteer Hourly Work Sheet to record the time and money people spend on creating a defensible space along their property, adding that she would appreciate it if people could call or email her with the number of hours spent on cleanup activities.

That data is then collected to provide statistical analysis that will be sent to the “Firewise” organization at: firewisecommunitiesUSA.com. No names or addresses are needed, she added.

“We need this information for statistical purposes to retain our Firewise accreditation,” she noted.

Exploratory field trip

Also during her presentation to the board, Lichti shared that after investigations were completed, she attended an exploratory field trip to view the aftermath from the Camp Fire in Butte County.

She noted that officials established that in many areas outside Paradise where firebreaks had been created prior to the deadly conflagration, many structures were spared and were still standing, albeit with a few burned trees and bushes here and there.

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As fire approached outlying areas, “Firefighters were able to use the fuel breaks to contain the blaze because the intensity of the fire was greatly reduced. … It saved countless homes,” she said, and also possibly an unknown number of lives.

“The ember storm ahead of the fire was tremendous,” she continued, still on the subject of the firebreaks, but nevertheless, “You could see certain properties where people had cleared debris from around their homes ahead of time,” which probably saved them.

Lichti also related a story regarding a school in Magalia where the Camp Fire approached close to the perimeter of the school grounds, but was stopped from consuming the school because, again, a firebreak was created beforehand.

She also remarked that the town of Paradise itself had a vegetation reduction policy in place for years, but that it was never enforced.

“If more people had followed the vegetation reduction policy, the outcome could have been very different for many of the residents. … It was quite sobering.”

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Prevention resources

The Chester Fire Department has a web page at Chester Fire where residents can look up information relevant to protecting themselves during fire season, plus free Firewise materials are available at the station house.

Also, the fire department has a website that is regularly updated at: www.chesterpud.org.

Chipping program

In related news, Lichti said that the Plumas County Free Chipping program is now underway in the Chester area.

The rules and signups are on the Plumas Fire Safe Council website at: www.plumasfiresafe.org.

SIDEBAR 1:

Senior Defensible Space Assistance program

The Plumas County Fire Safe Council has a Defensible Space Assistance program application sheet available online for seniors and the disabled to fill out for free help by a contractor retained by Plumas Corporation, based on an applicant’s gross income.

The work would be completed as closely as possible to CA PRC 4291 requirements, and a limit not to exceed $1,500 in work is provided if an applicant is deemed eligible.

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More information on the free service is noted on the application form at www.PlumasFireSafe.org. Click on Assistance Opportunities, and from the dropdown menu choose Senior/Disabled Assistance.

All non-vegetative human debris must be cleaned up prior to requesting assistance from the PCFSC.

Proof of income is required upon the visitation of the program coordinator. A co-payment may be required.

The program coordinator is Mike McCourt, Plumas Fire Safe Council. For questions on the program email him at: [email protected], or mail Mike McCourt, Plumas Fire Safe Council, P. O. Box 1225, Quincy, CA 95971. Phone: 283-0829.

The Plumas County Fire Safe Council provides this program with funding from the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, the Plumas NF through the Plumas Resource Advisory Committee, the California Fire Safe Council Clearinghouse, with additional funds from the Forest Service and assistance from Plumas Corporation and Plumas Rural Services.