Where once was brush and overhanging branches along Sand Ridge Road, thanks to the Greater Sand Ridge Firewise Watershed Council, there is now open space.
In 2005, the Nashville-Sand Ridge Fire Safe Council began the work of clearing defensible space in case of fires. Over the past decade, multiple fires have used the brush and overhanging branches as fuel and as a way to jump over roads, burning more area, Linda Columbo, former chair of the council said.
Work began in earnest two years ago, and picked up even more last summer, when the western half of the road was annexed, covering 12.54 miles and two fire district jurisdictions. The council was tasked with clearing foliage from Highway 49 to Bucks Bar Road.
Thanks to grants and help from Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, Diamond Springs and Pioneer fire districts and the Sand Ridge community, areas began to clear of fire fuel. Miles Matlack, president of the council, noted that in some cases, if the council put up 25 percent of the cost to remove the brush, the government would assist by backing the other 75 percent of the funds. From there, it was up to the community to allow access to individual properties.
Although the main focus of the project was to clear Sand Ridge Road, a secondary project was to clear alternate route loops in case traffic from those trying to escape the fire clogged the road.
“We still have more to do,” Matlack said.
The goal for each property was to create 30 feet of defensible space from the road into the properties and to clear the road of overhanging branches between 10 and 14 feet up, which could interfere with fire engines racing to a fire. When a neighbor would see the space cleared and that it “looks like a park,” Columbo said, a chain reaction would start. They would clear their land with help from the council or in some cases by themselves, and their neighbor would see the results and do the same, and so on, said current Council Chair Suz Walker. “It’s phenomenal,” she said.
Plus, Walker said, “People help for the sake of fire safety.”
“We had to get them tuned in,” chimed in council member Gary Peters, whose property is at the junction of Highway 49 and Sand Ridge Road and was one of the first to start clearing.
“I’m so proud,” Columbo said of those helping clear the road. “We couldn’t do it if they all didn’t sign on.”
The last progress report of the council will be on May 31. Although many property owners have cleared space, leaving visibility on the road greatly improved, there are still those who have not joined the effort. The council hopes that, by then, those resisting will see the benefits of clearing foliage and help make the length of the road not only beautiful, but defensible against fires.