Cal Fire has awarded $43 million in grant funding for communities to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season. Local efforts will be focused on fuel reduction and the creation of safe spaces around homes. (The Associated Press)
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Cal Fire has awarded more than $43 million in fire prevention grants to help local communities prepare for the upcoming fire season. Along the North Coast Cal Fire has coordinated with local communities to identify areas where wildfire preparation is most needed.

“In Bridgeville, there are 18 acres that are our top priority for fuel reduction,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Paul Savona. “The HUU (Humboldt-Del Norte Unit) has identified places like Bridgeville as vulnerable communities and we are trying to get the fuel reduction project done by June. Then you will see a bunch of fuel reduction projects across Humboldt County. We have hired six fuel reduction companies who are doing fuel reduction projects across the state.”

More than 1.8 million acres burned in California in 2018 and the Mendocino complex, which scorched nearly 460,000 acres, became the largest complex fire in the state’s history. Residents to the south in both Mendocino and Lake counties were hit hard by wildfires, while to the east, residents in Redding and Paradise were forced from their homes due to large fires that were enormously destructive.

In a proclamation issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, the governor announced the plans to immediately address wildfire preparedness and fuel reduction projects to assist some of the state’s most vulnerable communities.

“On my first full day in office, I issued an order directing Cal Fire to recommend immediate, medium-term and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires,” the statement read. “Cal Fire had identified 35 top priority fuel reduction projects that collectively cover approximately 90,000 acres and, when complete, will help protect over 200 of the state’s most wildfire-vulnerable communities.”

A combination of climate factors, ongoing drought and large fuel loads are the primary cause behind the destructive fires seen in California over the past four years. The state will hire additional year-round fire personnel and has allocated $1 billion for active forestland management.

Locally, Cal Fire has coordinated with the Humboldt County Fire Safe Council and the council has recently completed an update to the county’s wildfire protection plan, including the reduction of human-caused fires, disaster preparedness to increase community resilience, and the restoration of beneficial fire where fire is used to reduce fuel loads.

“We do not have a fire response role; we work on several fronts intended to raise awareness about wildfire risks and find ways to mitigate them,” said Cybelle Immitt, natural resources planning manager with Humboldt County’s Department of Public Works. “For example, a grant application submitted to Cal Fire was recently selected for funding.”

Immitt went on to list several local projects the money will be used for including incentivizing defensible space compliance in 14 county neighborhoods; creation of defensible space around the homes of approximately 28 senior citizen/disabled/low-income residents; and increased awareness of how to fire-safe homes through the production and distribution of literature.

“We are beginning to staff our equipment and we are getting everybody trained up for what everyone seems to think will be another busy fire season,” Savona said. “Anything we can do to slow a fire down, the use of natural breaks in the landscape and water features, we will do. We do have multiple public education classes scheduled and I will speak at the fire fair in Southern Humboldt because it’s a community issue. We need to all work together to limit ignition and we need to work on fire safety and have the public let us help them be fire safe.”

For more information about local wildfire preparation, check the fire council’s protection plan at https://humboldtgov.org/DocumentCenter/View/72087/Living-with-Wildfire-in-Northwestern-California-3rd-Edition.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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